HISTORY OF THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY
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CHAPTER 1 -
Quarrel between Henry VIII. and the Pope
THE remark has frequently been made, accompanied with expressions of surprise and regret, that no separate historical account of the Westminster Assembly of Divines has yet been written. Every person who has directed his attention to the events of the seventeenth century, whether with regard to their civil or their religious aspect, has felt that it was impossible fully to understand either the one or the other line of study, without taking into view the character of the Westminster Assembly, the purpose for which it met, and the result of its deliberations. Yet, notwithstanding this universally felt necessity, the subject has never received an adequate investigation, and consequently still remains in such obscurity as renders it exposed to every hind of misrepresentation. Some have regarded it as comparatively an isolated event, not very influential on those around it, and serving chiefly to display, in a combined form, the characters of the men and measures of those times; others have viewed it as the abortive attempt of a parcel of narrow-minded and yet ambitious fanatics, serving to reveal their dangerous pretensions, and then, by its failure, exposing them to deserved ridicule. The mere student of civil history will doubtless see little in it to attract his notice, engrossed, as his attention will be, by the schemes of politicians and the din of arms; while, on the other hand, the mere theologian will generally be little disposed to regard any thing about it, except its productions. But the man who penetrates a little deeper into the nature of those unrevealed but powerful influences which move a nation’s mind, and mold its destinies, will be ready to direct his attention more profoundly to the objects and deliberations of an assembly which met at a moment so critical, and was composed of the great master-minds of the age; and the theologian who has learned to view religion as the vital principle of human nature, equally in nations and in the individual man, will not easily admit the weak idea, that such an assembly could have been an isolated event, but will be disposed earnestly to inquire what led to its meeting, and what important consequences followed. And although the subject has not hitherto been investigated with such a view, it may, we trust, be possible to prove, that it was the most important event in the century in which it occurred; and that it has exerted, and in. all probability will yet exert, a far more wide and permanent influence upon both the civil and the religious history of mankind than has generally been even imagined.
Intimately connected as the Westminster Assembly was both with the civil and the religious history of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland, it will be absolutely necessary to give a preliminary outline of the leading events in both countries, from the time of the Reformation till the meeting of the Assembly, in order that a clear conception may be obtained of the cause of its meeting, the circumstances in which it met, and the object which it was intended to accomplish. We shall then be in a fit condition to investigate the proceedings of the Assembly itself, to understand their true character, to mark their direct bearing, and to trace their more remote results.
The circumstances that led to the disagreement between Henry VIII. and the pope are so well known, that it is unnecessary to do more than merely allude to them. Whether Henry actually began to entertain conscientious scruples respecting the lawfulness of his marriage with Katherine of Arragon, his brother Arthur’s widow, before he came enamored of Anne Boleyn, or whether his incipient affection for that lady induced him to devise a method of being released from his wife, is an inquiry of no great moment in itself, except as to its bearing on the character of the monarch.
Suffice it to state, that the king consulted the Archbishop of Canterbury, and required him to procure the opinions of the bishops of England on the subject. All, with the exception of Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, declared that in their judgment it was an unlawful marriage. But as a dispensation had been obtained from the pope, before the marriage took place, it became necessary to procure a papal recognition of the intended divorce; which was a matter of no little difficulty, both because such a measure would seem to invalidate a previous papal bull, to the discredit of the doctrine of infallibility, and because there would arise a serious question respecting the legitimacy of the Princess Mary, and offense might be taken by the King of Spain. All these dangers were clearly seen by Cardinal Wolsey; who, accordingly, without venturing directly to oppose the king’s desires, contrived to cause delays, to procure evasive answers, and to protract the proceedings by every method which fear of the issue could prompt and deep craft could devise. At length Cranmer, till then a comparatively unknown man, suggested, that, instead of a long and fruitless negotiation at Rome, it would be better to consult all the learned men and universities of Christendom, to ascertain whether the marriage were unlawful in itself, by virtue of any divine precept; for if that were proved, then it would follow, that the pope’s dispensation could be of no force to make that lawful which God has declared unlawful. When the king heard of this suggestion, he immediately adopted it, sent for Cranmer, received him into favor, and placed such confidence in his honor, integrity, and judgment, that it was never afterwards thoroughly shaken, either by the artifices of enemies, or the varying moods of the capricious sovereign himself.
Cranmer prosecuted the scheme which he had suggested so successfully, that he procured, both from the English universities, and from nearly all the learned men in Europe, answers to the effect, that the king’s marriage was contrary to the law of God. These answers were laid before the Parliament, which met in January 1581, and assented to by both Houses, as also by the Convocation of the Clergy, which was met at the same time. Still the pope had not consented, and the hostility between him and Henry was necessarily increased. by what had taken place regarding the proposed divorce. Henry was not disposed to pause now, till he should. have secured his power over the clergy; and as they were all implicated in some of Wolsey’s proceedings, which had been declared to have involved him in a praemunire , they were held to be amenable to all its penalties. Their danger rendered them submissive, and in the convocation at Canterbury, a petition was agreed upon to be offered to the king, in which he was styled, “The Protector and Supreme Head of the Church and the Clergy of England.”
Gratified with this title, the king granted a pardon to the clergy; but did not, as they had probably expected, permit it to remain an empty title. In May 1582, he informed the House of Commons that he had learned that all the prelates, at their consecration, swore an oath quite contrary to that which they swore to the crown
To this fatal dogma of the king’s supremacy and headship of the Church of England may be directly traced nearly all the corruptions of that Church, and nearly all the subsequent civil calamities of the British Isles. For it would not be difficult to prove, that there can be no security for either civil or religious liberty in any country where the supreme civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions are both possessed by the same ruling power. It matters little whether the ruling power be ecclesiastical, holding the civil subordinate to it, as does the Papacy; or civil, holding the ecclesiastical subordinate, as in the case of Henry and his successors; for in either case the result is despotism, under which the people must sink into utter degradation, or against which they are provoked, from time to time, to rise in all the dangerous fierceness of revolutionary convulsion. Rut it is enough merely to suggest this view at present; it will demand more particular examination in future stages of our inquiries.
Almost the first public use made by the king of his acknowledged supremacy in religion, was to send Cranmer, now Archbishop of Canterbury, on a visitation of the monasteries throughout the kingdom. It was no difficult matter to convict these popish institutions of such crimes and abominations as are not fit to be mentioned, “equal,” says Burnet, “to any that were in Sodom;” so that their suppression was but the sweeping away of a great moral nuisance, too loathsome any longer to be endured. It served, at the same time, as a measure by which the king’s coffers were replenished, some of his favorites enriched, and the better part of the nation gratified by the removal of a system of enormities which had been long regarded with extreme detestation. About the same time, it was resolved that the Bible should be translated into English, and published for the instruction of the community; though this was strenuously resisted by a large proportion of the clergy, and carried only by the influence of Cranmer and the queen. The fall of the queen, which took place soon after, threatened to retard the progress of reformation, and the pope attempted a reconciliation with the king. But Henry had no inclination to subject himself again to papal control; and, following Cranmer’s advice, he proceeded to make further changes. In the year 1586, the Convocation were induced to agree to certain articles of religion, which were accordingly promulgated on the royal authority. In these articles, the standards of faith were declared to be,
The fall of Cromwell, caused in a great measure by the intrigues of the popish party, allowed them to regain considerable ascendancy, and retarded the progress of reformation, though it still continued slowly to gain ground. An attempt was made by the popish bishops to procure the suppression of the Bible, on the ostensible ground of its being an inaccurate translation. This, however, they did not obtain; but an act was made “about religion,” the effect of which was to empower the king to confirm, rescind, or change any act, or any provision in any act, that treated of religion. A more complete and arbitrary supremacy in all matters of religion, than was now possessed by Henry, it is almost impossible to imagine. And the effect was correspondent to the cause; for the king, guided alone by his own fierce and capricious will, was almost equally hostile to both parties, popish and reforming, indicting the extreme penalty of death upon either with indiscriminate severity. But the death of the king rescued the nation from intolerable oppression, and gave opportunity for the more earnest and successful prosecution of the great work of reformation under his young and amiable successor. No sooner had a suitable arrangement of civil affairs been effected by the regency, than Cranmer, supported by the Protector Somerset, and countenanced by the young king, Edward VI., resumed the important duty of prosecuting the reformation of the Church. By an act of the preceding reign, the proclamation of the king, or of his counselors if under age, was of sufficient authority to enable them to proceed, as if by act of Parliament, in cases not otherwise provided for, so as not to encroach on the just liberties of the subject, or to interfere with other acts or proclamations.
They accordingly sent out visitors over England, which was for that purpose divided into six circuits. The duty of those visitors was to inquire into all Church matters, to redress all wrongs, and remove all abuses, and particularly to ascertain the sufficiency or insufficiency of the clergy throughout the country. Along with these visitors, they sent the most eminent preachers that could be found, to communicate sound and full instruction in the true principles of religion to both clergy and people. And to remedy the deplorable ignorance which everywhere prevailed among the clergy, some were appointed to compile homilies, explanatory of the most important doctrines and duties of Christianity. Several of these homilies contain very clear and forcible statements and, elucidations of sacred truth, others are less valuable, and some are, not a little erroneous in several respects. They were, however, well fitted to meet the necessities of an ignorant clergy and an uninstructed people; but it could scarcely have been dreamed by Cranmer, that the method devised by him for the remedy of a disease would be retained for its perpetuation,
A catechism was soon afterwards prepared by Cranmer. And proceeding to investigate the offices, or ritual of the Church, it was at length determined that a new Liturgy should be prepared, as the best method of getting quit of the superstitions by which that in present use was disfigured. This Liturgy was con-armed by act of Parliament, in the year 1548-49, and its use commanded on the ultimate penalty of imprisonment for life. About the same time, there were several severe proceedings against Anabaptists and other sectaries, one of whom, Joan of Kent, was condemned to the stake; but the mild and gentle young king could not be induced to sign the warrant for her execution without the urgent persuasions of Cranmer himself, who, in this instance, as also in those of Lambert, and Anne Askew, in the preceding reign, forgot the spirit of that gentle and gracious religion of which he was so eminent a teacher and reformer. 1550-51 The Book of Ordinations was next made and ratified, which had a strong tendency to give a character of axed rigidity to the Church of England. The evil consequence of undue strictness in matters of mere form and ceremony was soon apparent, when Hooper refused to be consecrated as a bishop in the episcopal vestments. This simpleminded and sincere Reformer condemned these vestments as human inventions, brought in by tradition or custom, and not suitable to the simplicity of the Christian religion. Few impartial persons will doubt that he was perfectly in the right, both in point of fact and in propriety of feeling; for no one can deny the human origin of such matters, and few will regard them as conferring dignity on the gospel, so glorious in its divine simplicity. Rut he was to learn one direct consequence of the sovereign’s supremacy, namely, that there was to be an order of the clergy decked, with courtly adornments, and in that respect at least “conformed to the world,” contrary to the apostolic precept. A great and wide-spread controversy arose on this subject. Correspondence was held with foreign churches and divines, with the view of ascertaining their opinion respecting the lawfulness of obeying the civil magistrate’s order to use such vestments in the worship of God. Various opinions were given, many of the best and wisest men being extremely grieved that dangerous disputes should arise about matters not in their own nature of vital importance. Bucer recommended compliance; but wished these vestments disused, as connected with superstition, and a more complete reformation established. At length a compromise was effected. Hooper was required to wear the episcopal vestments when he was consecrated, and when he preached before the king, or in a cathedral; but was permitted to lay them aside on other occasions. This slight matter was a sufficient indication, that the reformation was to be stopped whenever it had reached as far as the king and court thought proper; and that those who wished for further reformation, and aimed at again realizing primitive simplicity and purity, would be constrained to pause, and painfully to submit to what they could not remedy. It might have been regarded. as of little consequence what vestments were worn in public worship; but it was a matter of grave and serious import to find, that conscientious feelings in affairs of religion were to be overborne by the dictate of the civil magistrate. From this time forward there began to be a party in England who longed for a more complete reformation than had been or could be obtained, although it was not till a considerably later period that this party attracted public attention under a distinctive name. In the year 1552, the alterations which had been made in the Book of Common Prayer by the reformers during the course of the preceding year, were ratified by act of Parliament, and ordered to be universally employed, under the penalties by which the previous Liturgy had been enforced. In the same year the Articles of Religion were prepared, chiefly by Cranmer and Ridley, and published by the king’s authority, a short time before his lamented death. A book was also drawn up for giving rules to the ecclesiastical courts in all matters of government and discipline; but this was never ratified, as the king’s decease took place before it was fully prepared. This was, perhaps, the greatest misfortune that befell the Church of England in consequence of the premature death of Edward, as it was thereby left totally without government or discipline, such as, though limited by the acknowledged regal supremacy, might yet have been, in the first instance, administered by its own courts. Hence it became impossible for the Church of England to exercise any direct influence in checking immorality, reforming abuses, or even in preserving its own most sacred ordinances from profanation. Even Burnet laments its want of the power to exercise discipline, and suggests the desirableness that the power of excommunication might yet be brought into the Church. Such, however, was the inevitable consequence of making the king the Supreme Head of the Church, rendering it necessarily impossible for the Church to reform itself beyond what he or his state advisers might choose to permit. The truth of this was immediately made apparent on the accession of queen Mary, in the year 1553. An early act of her sovereignty was the issuing of a proclamation, in which she declared her adherence to the religion that she had professed from her infancy, disclaiming the intention of compelling her subjects, till public order should be taken in the matter by common consent; and, in the meantime, straitly charging that none should preach, or expound Scripture, or print any books or plays, without her special license.
The deprived popish bishops were speedily restored to their sees, and the reformed bishops, some sent to prison at once, and others thrust out of the House of Lords, because they refused to reverence the mass at its opening.
The laws passed by King Edward concerning religion were repealed; and a negotiation commenced for procuring a reconciliation with the pope. The mass was everywhere resumed, the laws against heresy revived, and every step taken for bringing the nation once more under the degrading thralldom of Popery, with all possible expedition. All this was done directly by the authority of the Queen, as Supreme Head of the Church of England; for this title she took care to retain and enforce at the commencement of her reign, though it was afterwards disused. Indeed, she could not so readily have accomplished her purpose without the power which this title was admitted to confer; so fatally was it productive of evil, so soon had it ceased to be available for good, even when held by the pious Edward.
But it is quite unnecessary to relate the events that successively followed, and to sketch even the outlines of the fierce persecution which characterized the reign of a queen so well known by the fearfully emphatic title of “The Bloody Mary.” Life alone was wanting to her to have completely overthrown the Reformation in England, and to have placed again the kingdom beneath the Romish yoke. And it deserves to be carefully remarked, that this dread consummation was so nearly accomplished almost entirely by two conjunct influences
Reference has been already made to the opposition which Hooper offered to the episcopal vestments, and other unimportant and superstitious ceremonies, as probably exhibiting the very origin of what afterwards became the great Puritan party in England. Another event must also be mentioned, which certainly very much increased, and has by many been thought to have first caused, that unpropitious schism. During the persecution in the reign of Mary, many Protestants, both lay and clerical, sought safety by right to the Continent. Of these a considerable body took up their residence at Frankfort, while others went to Strasburg, Zurich, and Basle. The Frankfort exiles at first entered into communion with a congregation of French Protestants, on the agreement that they should subscribe the French Confession of Faith, and not insist upon retaining the forms and ceremonies of the English Liturgy. For a time all went on in peace and harmony, under three pastors, chosen by the congregation, of whom John Knox was one; but the English having invited some of their countrymen at Strasburg and Zurich to come and join them, they replied, that they could not do so unless they would conform strictly and entirely to the religious service appointed by King Edward. The Frankfort congregation refused to do so; stating, that if the Strasburgh divines had no other views but to reduce the congregation to King Edward’s form, and to establish Popish ceremonies, they had better stay away. The Frankfort brethren consulted Calvin, and other leading continental reformers, who all censured the English Liturgy, thought it more becoming godly ministers of Christ to aim at something better and purer, and expressed surprise that they were so fond of “Popish dregs.” The controversy might probably have gone no further, but for the inopportune arrival at Frankfort of Dr. Cox, who had been tutor to King Edward, and possessed great influence among his countrymen. He at once broke through the whole previous agreement, interrupted the usual service, by answering aloud after the minister, and, by private intriguing, got the majority to consent to his aggressive innovations. The injured party applied to the magistrates, who gave order that the original agreement should be observed, threatening to shut up the place of worship if this command were disobeyed. With a baseness which has few equals, Cox and his party went privately to the magistrates, and accused Knox of treason against the Emperor of Germany, his son Philip, and queen Mary of England; founding this charge on some expressions in his small treatise, entitled “Admonition to England.” The magistrates were in great perplexity; for though they utterly disapproved of the conduct of Cox and the informers, they were afraid to offend the emperor’s council. In this dilemma they advised John Knox to withdraw from Frankfort, for his own safety, and for the sake of peace. He consented, and withdrew amidst the complaints and tears of his attached friends. Following up his disgraceful victory, Cox falsely represented to the magistrates that the English Liturgy was now universally acceptable to the congregation, and procured an order for its unlimited use. He then abrogated the code of discipline, procured the appointment of a bishop, and rejoiced in having now “the face of an English Church.” Thus, by intolerance, treachery, and despotism, they succeeded in overthrowing a Church whose scriptural simplicity and purity they might have rejoiced to imitate, and in setting up human inventions, in which pride and selfishness might glory; giving, likewise, an ominous intimation of the spirit likely to prevail in such a Church as theirs, should, it regain the ascendancy, and become established in England. For in this instance they had not to plead, as in the case of Hooper, respect for the civil authority by which vestments and ceremonies were enjoined, the Frankfort magistrates having actually discountenanced them; but it was with them as it ever is when man mingles his own devices with God’s appointments,
This gave rise to the Court of High Commission, by which afterwards so many acts of cruelty and despotism were perpetrated, both in England and in Scotland; especially in the latter country, when Prelacy was forced upon it by the treacherous tyranny of King James.
Some of the reformed divines were next appointed to revise King Edward’s Liturgy, and to see whether any such changes could be made in it as would tend to render it more likely to include some whose opinions were yet short of a thorough reformation. In particular, it was proposed to have the language of the communion service so modified that it might not necessarily exclude the belief of the corporal presence. After several alterations, all leaning rather to Popery than to Protestantism, had been made, the revised Book of Common Prayer was ratified by act of Parliament, and uniformity in worship according to it enjoined. The Popish bishops refused to take the oath of supremacy, and were, in consequence, deprived of their offices and powers. This enabled the queen to supply their places with men better affected to reformation; which was accordingly done, though not without difficulty, the very best men being reluctant to undertake situations of such responsibility, and many being decidedly opposed to the ceremonies, rites, and vestments which were required, and which they regarded as remnants of superstition, and inconsistent with Christian simplicity.
The reforming divines soon became aware that in these points they had to encounter her majesty’s opposition. The queen was naturally vain, and therefore fond of pomp and magnificence in every thing; nor did her reverence for religion teach her to abstain from presuming to seek the gratification of her personal tastes and prejudices in matters too sacred for mortal creature to tamper with. It was with great difficulty that they prevailed with her to insert in her injunctions a command for the removal of all images out of churches; but they could not induce her to abandon the use of a crucifix in her own chapel.
The controversy concerning vestments, and rites, and ceremonies continued, with increased asperity, on both sides. All the court divines, as they may be termed, headed by Archbishop Parker, supported the queen’s desire for retaining as much show and pomp in religious matters as might be possible; while Jewell, Grindal, Sampson, Fox the martyrologist, and all the most distinguished for piety and liberal-mindedness, did their utmost to procure a more complete reformation; and for this purpose maintained a close correspondence with the most eminent of the continental reformers. Jewell, in particular, exerted himself to the utmost against these vain frivolities. “Some,” said he, “were so much set on the matter of the habits, as if the Christian religion consisted in garments; but we,” added he, “are not called to the consultations concerning that scenical apparel; he could set no value on these fopperies. Some were crying up a golden mediocrity; he was afraid it would prove a leaden one.” In short, it is not too much to say, that all the best, wisest, and most pious and learned. divines of the Church of England
A Book of Discipline was also prepared by the same Convocation.
Whether it was the reformation of the ecclesiastical laws proposed formerly by Cranmer, does not appear; but it did not receive the approbation of the House of Lords, and sunk into complete oblivion. Perhaps the reason why it received so little countenance in high quarters, is explained in a letter from Cox, now Bishop of Ely, to Gualter of Zurich: “When I consider the sins that do everywhere abound, and the neglect and contempt of the Word of God, I am struck with horror, and. tremble to think what God, will do with us. We have some discipline among us with relation to men’s lives, such as it is; but if any man would, go about to persuade our nobility to submit their necks to that yoke, he may as well venture to pull the hair out of a lion’s beard.” Several other points tending towards reformation were also proposed, but in vain; nothing more could be accomplished; so that it may be fairly said, that with the Convocation of 1562 ended the reformation of the Church of England, before much more than half its work had been done. And it will be admitted by all who are sufficiently acquainted with the condition of the people throughout the country districts of the kingdom, that the reformation proper of the English nation is yet to begin.
From the time of the Convocation in 1502, the disagreement between the court divines and those who wished for further reformation, became gradually more and more decided. It may be expedient briefly to examine the views entertained by these two great opposing parties. The main question on which they were divided may be thus stated: Whether it were lawful and expedient to retain in the external aspect of religion a close resemblance to what had prevailed in the times of Popery, or not? The court divines argued, that this process would lead the people more easily to the reception of the real doctrinal changes, when they saw outward appearances so little altered, so that this method seemed to be recommended by expediency. The reformers replied, that this tended to perpetuate in the people their inclination to their former superstitions, led them to think there was, after all, little difference between the reformed and the papal Churches, and consequently, that if it made them quit Popery the more readily at present, it would leave them at least equally ready to return to it should an opportunity offer; and for this reason they thought it best to leave as few traces of Popery remaining as possible. It was urged, by the court party, that every sovereign had authority to correct all abuses of doctrine and worship within his own dominions: this, they asserted, was the true meaning of the Act of Supremacy, and consequently the source of the reformation in England. The true reformers admitted the Act of Supremacy, in the sense of the queen’s explanation given in the injunctions; but could not admit that the conscience and the religion of the whole nation were subject to the arbitrary disposal of the sovereign. The court party recognized the Church of Rome as a true Church, though corrupt in some points of doctrine and government; and this view it was thought necessary to maintain, for without this the English bishops could not trace their succession from the apostles. But the decided reformers affirmed the pope to be antichrist, and. the Church of Rome to be no true Church; nor would they risk the validity of their ordinations on the idea of a succession through such a channel. Neither party denied that the Rible was a perfect rule of faith; but the court party did not admit it to be a standard of Church government and discipline, asserting that it had been left to the judgment of the civil magistrate in Christian countries, to accommodate the government of the Church to the policy of the state. The reformers maintained the Scriptures to be the standard of Church government and discipline, as well as doctrine; to the extent, at the very least, that nothing should be imposed. as necessary which was not expressly contained in, or derived from, them by necessary consequence; adding, that if any discretionary power in minor matters were necessary, it must be vested, not in the civil magistrate, but in the spiritual office bearers of the Church itself. The court reformers held that the practice of the primitive Church for the four or five earliest centuries was a proper standard of Church government and discipline, even better suited to the dignity of a national establishment than the times of the apostles; and, that, therefore, nothing more was needed than merely to remove the more modern innovations of Popery. The true reformers wished to keep close to the Scripture model, and to admit neither office bearers, ceremonies, nor ordinances, but such as were therein appointed or sanctioned. The court party affirmed, that things in their own nature indifferent, such as rites, ceremonies, and vestments, might be appointed and made necessary by the command of the civil magistrate; and that then it was the bounden duty of all subjects to obey. But the reformers maintained, that what Christ had left indifferent no human laws ought to make necessary; and besides, that such rites and ceremonies as had been abused. to idolatry, and tended to lead men back to Popery and superstition, were no longer indifferent, but were to be rejected as unlawful. Finally, the court party held that there must be a standard of uniformity, which standard was the queen’s supremacy, and the laws of the land. The reformers regarded the Bible as the only standard, but thought compliance was due to the decrees of provincial and national synods, which might be approved and enforced by civil authority. In this point, the view entertained by the reformers might have been carried to the extent of oppression; but it never could have been very direct and immediate, and was subject to so many checks, that it amounted to little more than a remote possibility. At the same time, it is perfectly evident that the true principles of religious liberty and toleration were not understood by either party; and it may be fairly questioned, whether, even in the present day, these principles are rightly understood.
Such is a brief outline of the direct cause of the conflict between the court party of the English reformers, and their brethren who desired a more complete reformation, and of the leading arguments used on both sides. It cannot fail to strike every attentive reader, that precisely the same conflict is again renewed, both in England and Scotland, and in all its leading principles. So close indeed is the resemblance, that it is difficult to peruse the writings of those times without insensibly beginning to think we are reading some of the controversial works of the present day. And, perhaps, in order to arrive at a full understanding of the real nature and bearing of the present controversies, no better plan could. be devised than to prosecute a careful study of the writings of the court divines, and the Puritans of the Elizabethan age.
But to resume. It seems to have been expected by the court party that the proceedings of the Convocation, and the acts of Parliament, injunctions, and proclamations, would, speedily produce an entire conformity. In this expectation they were disappointed. The regular parochial clergy, both in town and country, not only disliked. the vestments themselves, but perceived that, in general, the people bore towards these relics of a persecuting and oppressive system at least an equal aversion. Some, indeed, wore them occasionally, in obedience to the law, but more frequently officiated without them; and although the bishops, most of whom, though at first opposed, had become reconciled to the “scenic apparel,” cited such persons into their courts, and admonished them, yet this had little effect, as they had not yet proceeded to suspension and deprivation. At length, information of these irregularities was given to the queen. Her majesty was highly displeased, especially on the ground that so little regard was paid to her laws, and gave strict command to the Archbishop of Canterbury, “to take effectual methods that an exact order and uniformity be maintained in all external rites and ceremonies, as by law and good usages are provided for.” This severe and peremptory command immediately roused the bishops to activity, and, in particular, stimulated Archbishop Parker to such a degree of fierce and unrelenting sternness, as seemed completely contrary to all his former life and character. He did his utmost to urge forward Grindal, Bishop of London, to compel the ministers within his diocese to conform, though he well knew that the opinions of that pious prelate were not only averse from every thing like oppression, but were opposed, in particular, to the sacerdotal vestments. Parker framed some articles to enforce the habits, and requested the queen to give them the authority of her sanction. But the pride of Elizabeth could not endure that a subject should frame articles to enforce her decrees, and, instead of ratifying them, she issued a proclamation, requiring immediate uniformity in the habits, on pain of prohibition from preaching, and. deprivation from office.
And now the storm burst forth in earnest. The whole ministers of London were summoned to Lambeth, and the question put to them, Whether they would conform to the apparel established by law, and subscribe their admission on the spot? Those who should refuse were to be suspended immediately, and after three months deprived of their livings. Threats, persuasions, and the dread of poverty, induced sixty-one out of one hundred to subscribe; thirty-seven absolutely refused, and were immediately suspended,
These severe measures adopted by the court party, and prosecuted with such unrelenting rigor against their better brethren, attracted the attention of the reformed churches in other countries. The continental divines wrote frequently to England on the subject, but without effect. The Church of Scotland, which had. been reformed. and re-organized on a truly scriptural model, by the blessing of God on the strenuous exertions of John Knox, also addressed an earnest and, affectionate remonstrance to the English prelates, imploring them to treat their faithful and suffering brethren with greater tenderness, disapproving, at the same time, of their preposterous attachment to the superstitious trappings of Rome. But all was in vain: brotherly kindness and Christian charity must equally be sacrificed to gratify the queen’s taste for idle pageantry, and to cover the mean and selfcondemned compliance of her courtly prelates. The ejected Puritan ministers found extreme difficulty in obtaining opportunities for preaching; and some remained entirely silent. Many pamphlets, were, however, written by them, which tended to keep alive and spread their opinions, and which were eagerly read by the people. This drew from the Star Chamber a decree, strictly prohibiting the publication of all such writings, under heavy penalties. Thus, commanded to conform even against the dictates of conscience, ejected from their churches and forbidden to preach anywhere else, and deprived of the liberty of the press, the Puritans were driven to that extreme point where endurance ceases and active resistance begins.
Accordingly, they met, and gravely and solemnly deliberated, Whether it were not now both lawful and necessary to separate from the Established Church? After much earnest consultation, they came to the solemn and important conclusion, That since they could not have the word of God preached, nor the sacraments administered, without “idolatrous gear,” as they termed the vestments and ceremonies, and since there had been a separate congregation in London, and another in Geneva, in Queen Mary’s time, in which there was a book and order of preaching, administration of sacraments and discipline, free from the superstitions of the English service, it was their duty, in the present circumstances, to separate from the public churches, and to assemble, as they had opportunity, in private houses or elsewhere, to worship God in a manner that might not offend. against the light of their consciences. This most important event took place in the summer of the year 1500, and from that time onward the Puritan party may be regarded as forming a body distinct from the Church of England, although they were the true successors of the first and greatest reforming fathers of that Church.
It would be a great mistake to suppose, that the only subject in dispute between the Puritans and their antagonists was that respecting clerical vestments. That formed, indeed, a very prominent point in the controversy, because it was so apparent, and so easily brought under the terms of a royal proclamation. But there were many, and these still more important matters, which they wished to have reformed. Of these, the most prominent were the following. They regarded the assumed superiority of bishops over presbyters, as a higher order, and the claim, on their part, of the sole right of ordination, discipline, and government, as unscriptural in itself, and tending both to secularize them, and to produce an intolerable despotism.
Along with this, they complained of the whole array of cathedral practices as of the same character, and equally unwarranted. They lamented the want of discipline, in consequence of which it was impossible to maintain the purity of the most sacred. ordinances. Regarding set forms of prayer as properly intended to meet the necessities of a time of ignorance, they did not dispute their lawfulness, while they wished a greater liberty in prayer, where such help was not required; and. they disapproved also of too many repetitions, of responses, and of several exceptionable expressions, particularly in the marriage and funeral services. They disapproved of the reading of the apocryphal books in the church; and while they regarded the homilies as in themselves valuable, they held that no man should be ordained to the ministry who was not himself able to preach, and to expound the Scriptures. While they complained of pluralities, nonresidence, and an unpreaching clergy, they viewed these as caused chief by patronage exercised by the queen, bishops, and. lay-patrons, and held that it ought to be abolished, and ministers to be appointed by the election of the people. They condemned, on the one hand, the keeping of churchfestivals and saints’ days, and on the other, the open and vagrant violation of the Lord’s day, as equally contrary to Scripture. Cathedral worship, chanted prayers, and instrumental music, they also condemned, as tending rather to amuse than to edify. And they declared their great reluctance to comply with certain rites and ceremonies which were strictly enjoined, and which they regarded as superstitious or unmeaning, such as the sign of the cross in baptism, baptism by midwives, the exclusion of parents and the employment of godfathers and godmothers, the rite of confirmation, kneeling at the communion, as implying transubstantiation, bowing at the name of Jesus, the ring in marriage, and certain foolish words used in the ceremony, and the wearing of the surplice and other ceremonies used in divine service.
When so many, and such important topics were all equally in dispute, and not the slightest redress could be obtained, but conformity in every particular was enforced with the most oppressive and unrelaxing rigor, it was not strange that the persecuted Puritans should determine to separate themselves from a Church which they regarded as but half reformed, and which sternly refused to advance to a more pure and perfect reformation, according, not to the will of princes, but to the Word of God. And the time may come, when the Church of England will bitterly bewail the insane conduct of those who, in that reforming period, took up and pursued a course which crushed the life-spring out of its heart, and swathed up the cold and paralyzed remains, to lie in state, a decent but a dead formality. The chief leaders of the separation, according to Fuller, were the Rev. Messrs Colman, Button, Halingham, Benson, White, Rowland, and Hawkins, all of whom held benefices within the diocese of London. No sooner was the queen informed that the Puritans had begun to form separate assemblies for worship, than she commanded her commissioners to take effectual measures to keep the laity to their parish churches; and to let them know, that if they frequented conventicles, or broke the ecclesiastical laws, they should, for the first offense, be deprived of the freedom of the city, and then abide what further punishment she would direct. But the requirements of conscience are stronger than a sovereign’s threats. They continued to hold their private meetings; and, on the 10th of June 1507, they agreed to have a sermon preached and the communion dispensed at Plumbers’ Hall, which they engaged for that day. The day came, and they assembled to worship the God of peace, but their peaceful worship was rudely interrupted by the entrance of the armed officers of the civil power, who seized upon the chief, dispersed the rest, and dragged their victims to prison. Next day they were brought before the Bishop of London, and the chief magistrate of the city, charged with the heinous offense of forsaking the Church which persecuted them, and setting up separate assemblies for worship. They defended their conduct ably; but because they would not yield, they were, to the number of twenty-four men and seven women, sent to Bridewell, where they endured the hardships of more than a year’s imprisonment. A parliament was held in 1571, in which there were some attempts made to procure a further reformation. One member, Mr. Strickland, proposed to bring in a bill for that purpose, asserting that the Prayer-Book, with some superstitious remains of Popery in the Church, might be altered without any danger to religion. Her majesty was so displeased, that she sent for him to the council, reproved him sharply, and forbade his attendance in Parliament; but this caused such an alarm in the House of Commons, as a dangerous invasion of their privileges, that she found it convenient to remove her prohibition. An act was passed, ratifying the Thirty-nine Articles, which had been framed by the Convocation of 1562; and one clause in that act admitted the validity of ordination by presbyters alone, without a bishop. This clause was greatly disliked by the bishops, and has been repeatedly condemned by their successors, but remains still unrepealed. The House of Commons were desirous also that articles of discipline should be framed and enacted; but when this was discountenanced by the bishops, they presented an address to the queen, representing the grievous injuries sustained by the Church and kingdom for want of true and efficient discipline, supplicating her majesty that proper laws might be provided and enacted for the reformation of these abuses.
But the queen dissolved the Parliament without answering this supplication.
Although little was done in the Parliament to relieve the oppressed Puritans, some steps were taken by the Convocation which tended to increase their oppression. A canon of discipline was framed, empowering the bishops to call in all their licenses for preaching, and to issue new licenses to those only whose qualifications gained their approbation; and among the qualifications specified, subscription to all the points of which the Puritans complained was particularly mentioned. These canons were not sanctioned by royal authority; but the bishops, knowing well the queen’s inclinations, did not hesitate to enforce them with great rigor.
Numbers of the Puritan divines were immediately deprived of their licenses to preach, because they refused to subscribe canons not yet legalized; and it became apparent that a formidable crisis was at hand.
At the very time that the bishops were thus silencing the persons whom they themselves admitted to be the best preachers in the kingdom, the state of religion throughout the country was truly deplorable. Of this Strype, no Puritan, presents the following outline:
Some lived without any service of God at all. Many were mere heathens and atheists. The queen’s own court an harbor for epicures and atheists, and a kind of lawless place, because it stood in no parish. Which things made good men fear some sad judgments impending over the nation.” Perceiving that there was no prospect whatever of any further reformation in religious matters proceeding from either the sovereign or the convocation, and lamenting the wretched ignorance and immorality which prevailed in the kingdom, the Puritans now resolved to exert themselves to the utmost of their means and opportunities for their own instruction, and that of their perishing countrymen. And as Dr. Scambler, Bishop of Peterborough, was less intolerant than many of his order, the ministers within his diocese, particularly those of Northampton, with his approbation and that of the mayor of the town, formed an association for promoting the purity of worship and the maintenance of discipline. The regulations of this association were very temperate, involving no departure from any of the established modes of worship, nor any rigid disciplinary arrangements. And as they were aware of the extreme inability to preach instructively, which characterized very many of the clergy, they endeavored also to provide a remedy for this evil. For this purpose they instituted what they termed “prophesyings,” taking the designation from 1Corinthians 14:31, “Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.”
In these prophesyings one presided, and a text previously selected was explained by one of the ministers to whom it had been assigned. After his exposition, each in turn gave his view of the passage; and the whole exercise was summed up by the president or moderator for the day, who concluded by exhorting all to persevere in the discharge of their sacred duties. This scheme, it is evident, was admirably calculated to increase the scriptural knowledge, and promote the usefulness of the clergymen who engaged in it; and it deserved the cordial approbation of all who were desirous to promote the religious welfare of the community. But it was regarded with jealousy by the bishops, and ere long encountered the keen hostility of Elizabeth herself. When the Parliament met in 1572, an attempt was made by the House of Commons to mitigate the sufferings of the Puritans, and they passed two bills for that purpose. This gave such offense to the queen, that she sharply reproved them for interfering in such matters, and commanded them to deliver up the bills. One of the members boldly complained of this conduct, as trenching upon the liberty of Parliament, and for his boldness was sent to the Tower. The Puritans, who had reason to expect some countenance from the Parliament, prepared a full statement of their grievances and. their desires, in a treatise entitled, “An Admonition to the Parliament.” But while the Parliament was not permitted to grant any redress, the authors of the Admonition were cast into prison, and treated with great severity. Whitgift was appointed to answer the Admonition, and Cartwright answered Whitgift, which led to a lengthened controversy between these learned and able men. Each, and still more eagerly the partisans of each, claimed the victory; but the controversy did not terminate with the writings of these antagonists, nor is it yet terminated. It is waged in the present day with equal keenness, and not inferior ability; it may be added, with no novelty in its leading principles, and very little in its arguments. Cartwright maintained, that the Scriptures were not only the sole standard of doctrine, but also of discipline and government, and that the Church of Christ in all ages was to be regulated by them. Whitgift held, that the Scriptures were a rule of faith; but not designed to be a standard of discipline and government,
All hope of legislative assistance in prosecuting further reformation being cut off by the queen’s arbitrary procedure, the Puritans resolved to take another step, still more daring and decisive than any on which they had previously ventured. Several of the ministers of London and its vicinity met together and determined to form themselves into a presbytery, to be held at Wandsworth, a village on the banks of the Thames, about five miles from the city. On the 20th of November 1572, about fifteen ministers met, eleven elders were chosen to form members of the body; their offices were described in a register, entitled, “The Orders of Wands-worth;” and this was the first fully constituted Presbyterian Church in England. The intelligence of this event soon reached the bishops; the Court of High Commission took alarm; the queen issued a proclamation for enforcing the Act of Uniformity; but the Presbytery of Wandsworth for a time eluded the fury of their enemies, and other presbyteries were formed in neighboring counties.
There was now little possibility of reconciliation between the High Church and the Puritan parties; for the unbending determination of the former not to grant the slightest relief to the sufferings of their brethren, nor the least accommodation to their aggrieved consciences, had driven them from mere nonconformity into the adoption of a different form of Church polity, possessing in itself the elements of perpetuity and growth. Puritanism had thenceforward not only a vital principle, but also systematic organization, enabling it to live on, and increase in spite of any amount of persecution; for a system dies not with the individuals that held it, but draws into itself the fresh life of succeeding generations.
Having thus traced the rise of Puritanism, and seen its systematic organization, it will not be necessary to follow its progress so minutely in what remains of this introductory outline. We shall content ourselves with touching briefly on the main events which mark the growing development of the leading principles characteristic of the two contending parties.
The sufferings of the Puritans continued unabated during the remainder of the life of Archbishop Parker; many of them being silenced, imprisoned, banished, and otherwise oppressed by that relentless prelate. In vain did the House of Commons, and several influential noblemen, repeatedly interpose in their behalf; they were detested by the queen, and Parker was ready to gratify her majesty without scruple, and to any extent. In particular, he strove to suppress the “prophesyings,” declaring that they were nests of Puritanism; and by his complaints he succeeded. in directing against them the vengeance of the despotic sovereign. He did not, however, live to direct the storm which he had raised, but died in May 1570, and was succeeded by Grindal.
Grindal, aware of the opposition to the exercises or prophesyings which had. been raised by his predecessor, attempted to regulate them so that no offense might be taken, or at least that they might be the more easily defended. But the queen had formed her resolution, from which she could not be moved by the most respectful and elaborate arguments, and the most humble entreaties of the afflicted archbishop. She “declared herself offended at the numbers of preachers, and also at the exercises, and warned him to redress both, urging that it was good for the Church to have few preachers , and that three or four might suffice for a county ; and that the reading of the homilies to the people was enough. In short, she required him to do these two things,
These harsh and oppressive measures had, however, as might have been expected, an effect the very reverse of that which their authors intended.
Some of timid and wavering minds might be terrified and subdued; but the bolder and more high-principled men became only the more determined in proportion to the severity and intolerance of the treatment which they had to encounter. In their indignation they began to entertain feelings and opinions from which they would have shrunk, had they not been driven to extremities. Ceasing to complain of Popish vestments and ceremonies, and to supplicate a further reformation, some began to question whether the Church of England ought to be regarded as a true Church, and her ministers true Christian ministers. They not only renounced communion with her in her forms of prayer and her ceremonies, but also in the dispensation of word and ordinance.
The leader of these men of extreme views was Robert Brown, a person who held a charge in the diocese of Norwich, whose family connections gave him considerable influence, and procured him protection, he being nearly related to Lord Treasurer Cecil. Brown appears to have been a man of hot and impetuous temper; rash and variable, except when opposed, and then headstrong and overbearing. Throwing himself headlong into the Puritan controversy, he traversed the country from place to place, pouring out the most fierce and bitter invectives against the whole Prelatic party, and also against all who could not concur with him in the rude violence of his mode of warfare. After repeated imprisonments, and many attempts to form a new party, he at last partially succeeded in collecting a small body of like-minded adherents; but was soon afterwards compelled to leave the kingdom, and to withdraw to Holland with a portion of his followers.
There he formed a Church according to his own fancy; but it was soon torn to pieces with internal dissension, and Brown returned again to England, and exhibiting one of those recoils by no means rare with men of vehement temperament, he renounced his principles of separation, conformed to that worship which he had so violently assailed, and became rector of a parish in Northamptonshire. The remainder of his life was by no means distinguished by correctness of deportment, or purity of manners; and at length he terminated his unhonored days in the county jail, in the eightyfirst year of his age. From this person the first form of what has since been termed the Independent, or Congregational system of Church government, appears to have had its origin, the great majority of the Puritans either retaining their connection with the Church of England in a species of constrained half-conformity, or associating on the Presbyterian model. Brown not only renounced communion with the Church of England, but also with all others of the reformed Churches who would not adopt the model which he had constructed. The main principles of that model were, that every church ought to be confined within a single congregation; that its government should be the most complete democracy; and. that there was no distinction in point of order between the office bearers and the ordinary members, so that a vote of the congregation was enough to constitute any man an office-bearer, and to entitle him to preach and to administer the sacraments. Those who adopted these opinions, and formed Congregational Churches on the same model, were at first termed Brownists, and were regarded by the main body of the Puritans with nearly as much dislike as they were by the Prelatists.
In stating that the Independent, or Congregational system of Church government may be said to have originated with Robert Brown, it is not meant that those who at present adhere to that form of ecclesiastical polity are Brownists, as that term was applied at first; but merely that Brown appears to have been the first who actually, in the formation of a Church, embodied that idea, and that too in a much more rigid and repulsive form than it subsequently assumed, when again taken up and reconstructed by wiser and better men. Rut it is of importance to mark beginnings, especially when these teach lessons of great practical value. One of these may be here very easily learned. The extreme pertinacity with which the queen and her obsequious servants the bishops strove to enforce entire conformity, produced an antagonist principle, whose very essence was direct antipathy to their eager wish, rendering it for ever impossible that their purpose could be accomplished. Another remark may be made: the system devised by Brown was, in its first appearance, altogether as intolerant, both in principle and in practice, as that of its opponent, Prelacy; but in the stern strife which afterwards ensued between these equally intolerant antagonists, they so far neutralized each other, as to give occasion to the gradual, though even yet incomplete, development of the great principle of religious toleration,
She reprimanded the Commons for interfering with ecclesiastical matters, which was touching her prerogative, and they were compelled, to yield. The Puritans, thus driven from all legislative remedy, yet regarded it as their duty, in their character of Christian teachers, to exert themselves to the utmost for their own improvement, and for the instruction and reformation of the ignorant and neglected people. They accordingly formed a Book of Discipline, for their own direction in the discharge of their ministerial and pastoral duties; and this book was subscribed by above five hundred of the most eminently pious and faithful ministers in the kingdom. This body was far too numerous and important to be easily or wantonly crushed; and yet, as Neal informs us, it constituted, in reality, but a small portion of those over whom the terrors of suspension at that period hung, amounting to not less than a third part of the ministers of England. A new principle was now promulgated, for the support of prelatic power, of a more formidable nature than any that had hitherto appeared, and destined to produce the most disastrous results. Dr. Bancroft, the archbishop’s chaplain, in a sermon which he preached at Paul’s Cross, January 12, 1588, maintained that bishops were a distinct order from priests or presbyters, and had authority over them jure divino , and directly from God. This bold assertion created an immense ferment throughout the kingdom. The Puritans saw well, that, if acted upon, this principle would increase their oppression to an incalculable degree, inasmuch as it must subject them to an accusation of heresy, in addition to that of resistance to the queen’s supremacy. The greater part of even the Prelatic party themselves were startled with the novelty of the doctrine; for none of the English reformers had ever regarded the order of bishops as any thing else but a human institution, appointed for the more orderly government of the Church, and they were not prepared at once to condemn as heretical all Churches where that institution did not exist. Whitgift himself, perceiving the use which might be made of such a tenet, said, that the Doctor’s sermon had, done much good,
In the year 1501 the Parliament again met, and the House of Commons once more attempted to rescue the suffering Puritans, by instituting an inquiry into the conduct of the High Commission, in imposing oaths and subscriptions not sanctioned by law. The queen was highly incensed, commanded them not to meddle with matters of state or causes ecclesiastical, and threw several of the members, and even the attorneygeneral, into prison. The Parliament, with a tameness unworthy of the spirit of free-born Englishmen, not merely yielded, but passed an act for the suppression of conventicles, by which was meant all religious meetings, except such as the queen and the bishops were pleased to permit, on pain of perpetual banishment. The principle of this act was of the most despotic nature, converting any difference from the religion of the sovereign into a crime against the State, and rendering the mere want of conformity equivalent to a proof of direct opposition. Great numbers were subjected to the most grievous sufferings through this enactment. Some went into voluntary exile, to escape the horrors of imprisonment; some endured a lengthened captivity, and then were banished; and some, chiefly of the Brownists, were condemned to death, and on the scaffold declared their loyalty to their sovereign, while they ceased not to testify against the tyranny of the prelates. The controversy between the High Churchmen and the Puritans obtained the full development of all its main principles in the year 1505. At this time Dr. Bound published a treatise on the Sabbath; in which he maintained its perpetual sanctity, as a day of rest equally from business and recreation, that it might be devoted wholly to the worship of God. All the Puritans assented to this doctrine, while the Prelatists accused it as both an undue restraint of Christian liberty and an improper exalting of the Sabbath above the other festivals appointed by the Church. About the same time, a controversy arose in Cambridge respecting those doctrinal points which form the leading distinctions between the Arminian and the Calvinistic systems of theology. Till this period there had existed no doubt in the minds of any of the English divines that the Thirty-nine Articles were decidedly and intentionally Calvinistic. Indeed they could have no other opinion; because they were perfectly aware how much influence the writings of Calvin exercised over the minds of those by whom these Articles were framed. After the controversy had prevailed in the university a short time, an appeal was made to Whitgift, who, with the aid of other learned divines, prepared nine propositions, commonly called the Lambeth Articles, to which all the scholars in the university were strictly enjoined to conform their judgments. These Lambeth Articles were more strictly Calvinistic than Calvin himself would have desired; and certainly prove that, in its early period, the Church of England was any thing but Arminian, whatever it may have since become. But though Whitgift was himself still a thorough Calvinist, considerable numbers of the Prelatic party were veering towards Arminianism; so that, partly on that account, and partly on account of their more strict observance of the Sabbath sanctity, the Puritans were now led to a more important field of conflict than that on which they had hitherto striven against their antagonists; and instead of contending about vestments and ceremonies, they now strove respecting great and important doctrines, and began to be termed Doctrinal Puritans.
This led to two directly opposite results. It caused the Prelatists to swerve more and more widely from those doctrines which the Puritans maintained; and it impelled the Puritans to prosecute a profound study of those points, which had thus become the elements of controversy. This may account for the remarkable power and accuracy with which the Puritan divines of that and the succeeding generation state and explain the most solemn and profound truths of the Christian revelation.
At length what may be termed a cessation of hostilities ensued. The queen was now evidently sinking under the infirmities of age, and both parties began to speculate upon the probable measures which might be adopted by her successor, James VI of Scotland. The Puritans hoped that his Presbyterian education might predispose him to be favorable to their views; and the Prelatic party were unwilling to exasperate, by continued severity, those who might possibly, ere long, be the ruling body in the Church. Both parties paused, at least in action; but there is no reason to suppose that their feelings of mutual jealousy and dislike were abated. Nor was it consistent with the usual policy, or king-craft of James, to declare his sentiments and intentions, but rather to hold out plausible grounds of expectation to both parties,
The place appointed for this conference was the drawing-room at Hampton Court. On the High Church side the disputants were
On the part of the Puritans there were only four ministers,
The greater part of the third day’s conference was occupied by the king and the prelates in matters relating to the High Commission, the oath ex officio , and the slight alterations proposed in the Prayer-Book. Of all these the king expressed his approbation; and then the Puritan divines were again called in to this mock conference. They now knew that no alterations such as they had desired would be obtained; and, therefore, they contented themselves with supplicating some concessions in point of conformity, in behalf of those ministers who could not in conscience submit to the rites and ceremonies of the Church. The king sternly declared that they must conform, and that quickly too, or they should hear of it. Thus ended the Hampton Court Conference, “which,” says Dr. Warner, “convinced the Puritans that they were mistaken in depending on the king’s protection; which convinced the king that they were not to be won by a few insignificant concessions; and which, if it did not convince the privy council and the bishops that they had got a Solomon for their king, yet they spoke of him as though it did.” Even this does not fully express the extravagant strain of adulation in which they spoke. The Archbishop of Canterbury(Whitgift)”said that undoubtedly his majesty spake by the special assistance of God’s Spirit.” Bancroft, Bishop of London, “upon his knee protested, that his heart melted within him with joy, and made haste to acknowledge to Almighty God the singular mercy we have received at his hands, in giving us such a king, as since Christ his time the like he thought hath not been.” Little wonder that the vain and pedantic monarch was delighted with his bishops. In the Convocation which met in 1604, Bancroft presided, Whitgift having died a short time previously. Soon after they met, Bancroft laid before them a Book of Canons, collected out of the articles, injunctions, and synodical acts passed in the reigns of Edward and Elizabeth, to the number of one hundred and forty-one. To these canons both Houses of Convocation assented, and they were ratified by the king’s letters patent, but not confirmed by act of Parliament, so that, though binding on the clergy, they have not the force of statute laws. Of these canons, about three dozen are expressly directed against the Puritan opinions, rendering their junction with the Church impossible without sacrifice of conscience; and one of them requires that no person be ordained, or suffered to preach or catechize, unless he first subscribe willingly, and ex animo , the three articles already mentioned as Whitgift’s articles.
Bancroft was promoted to the archbishopric of Canterbury, vacant by Whitgift’s decease, and immediately proved how well qualified he was to discharge the function of grand inquisitor. He enforced subscription to canons and articles with the utmost rigor, silencing or deposing those Puritan ministers who refused to comply. Considerable numbers were thus reduced to the greatest distress, and some were driven into foreign countries to escape from persecution in their own. And that the archbishop’s persecuting zeal might obtain as full a sanction as could be given to it by a partial and one-sided process, the king summoned the twelve judges to the Star-Chamber, and, in answer to three interrogative propositions, obtained as their legal opinion, That the king, having the supreme ecclesiastical power, could, without Parliament, make orders and constitutions for Church government; that the High Commission might enforce them, ex officio , without libel; and that subjects might not frame petitions for relief without being guilty of an offense finable at discretion , and very near to treason and felony . This strange opinion ascribed to the king power in ecclesiastical matters of the most arbitrary and despotic kind, without limitation or redress; and as the enforcement of it necessarily required the exercise of civil power in the indiction of punishment, it deprived one large class of subjects of all liberty, civil and sacred, and if allowed in one class, might naturally introduce an equal exercise of despotism over every other. This may be regarded as perhaps the first distinct intimation to the kingdom at large of the peril in which civil liberty was placed by the arbitrary proceedings of the sovereign and the prelates in religious affairs; and it is not undeserving of notice, that it was founded on the opinion of civil judges, who, in their interpretation of law, were the subverters of the constitution, and the destroyers of both civil and religious liberty.
By means of the authority thus acquired, the prelates urged on their persecuting career with double eagerness and severity; and the Puritans became, in consequence, so much the more determined in their adherence to their principles. Not merely suffering, but calumny of the grossest kind, was their portion; and ambitious churchmen found that the readiest road to preferment in the Church was to pour forth violent invectives and dark aspersions against the detested Puritans. As an answer to these reproaches, and to vindicate their character, the Puritans published a treatise entitled “English Puritanism,” which Dr. Ames(better known by his Latinized name, Amesius)translated into Latin for the information of foreign Churches. It contains a very full and impartial statement of the peculiar opinions of the much calumniated Puritans; and ought to be enough to vindicate them in the judgment of every candid and intelligent person. The violent proceedings of the Prelatic party, and the dangerous nature of the principles avowed by them, began to arouse the kingdom to a sense of the danger to which all liberty was exposed; and the Parliament prepared to interpose, and to seek redress of grievances which were becoming intolerable. But the king met all their remonstrances and petitions for redress with the most lofty assertions of his royal prerogative, in the exercise of which he held himself to be accountable to God alone, affirming it to be sedition in a subject to dispute what a king might do in the height of his power. The Parliament repeated the assertion of their own rights, accused the High Commission of illegal and tyrannical conduct, and advocated a more mild and merciful course of procedure towards the Puritans. Offended with the awakening spirit of freedom thus displayed, the king, by the advice of Bancroft, dissolved the Parliament, resolving to govern, if possible, without Parliaments in future. This arbitrary conduct on the part of James aroused, in the mind of England, a deep and vigilant jealousy with regard to their sovereign’s intentions, which rested not till, in the reign of his son, it broke forth in its strength, and overthrew the monarchy. When the Puritans found, not only no hope of redress, but a constantly increasing severity of treatment, many of them, as has been stated, fled to the Continent, and there continued to discharge their sacred duties as they could find opportunity. Embittered somewhat by the persecution which they had suffered, and constrained to minister in congregations not united in any common body, several of them began to adopt the opinions at first taught by Brown, to the extent, at least, of regarding the Congregational or Independent as the best system of Church government, though not, like him, to the extent of denying the lawfulness of any other. Of these Mr. Henry Jacob was one, who, having fled to Holland, became acquainted with Mr. Robinson, pastor of a Congregational church at Leyden, and embraced his system. Returning to England in the year 1616, Mr. Jacob imparted his views to several others of the suffering Puritans, who, considering that there was now no prospect of a thorough national reformation, resolved to separate themselves entirely from the Church of England, to unite in Church fellowship, and to maintain the ordinances of Christ in what they had come to regard as the purest form. They met, and in the most solemn manner declared their faith, pledged themselves in a mutual covenant to each other and to God, to walk together in all his ordinances, as he had already revealed, or should further reveal them, chose Mr. Jacob to be their pastor, elected deacons, and thus formed the first congregation of English Independents. Such and so small was the beginning of a body which afterwards became so powerful, and influenced so strongly the movements of the revolutionary period. The strongly contrasted tendencies of the two contending parties, Prelatists and Puritans, were rendered. very apparent in the year 1618, by the publication of the king’s Book of Sports. This book was drawn up by Bishop Moreton, at the king’s direction, and dated from Greenwich, May 24, 1618. The pretext for producing such a book was, that the strictness of the Puritans in keeping the Sabbath-day alienated the people, and left them exposed to the temptations of the Jesuits, who took occasion to seduce them back to Popery. To prevent this his majesty proposed, not that the people should be more carefully instructed in religion, but that, after divine service, they should be indulged in such recreations as dancing, archery, leaping, May-games, Whitsunales, morrice-dances, setting up of May-poles, and such like amusements. That the people should meditate on their religious duties, and prepare to practice the instructions given them in God’s Word, did not seem to his majesty at all a desirable matter,
Thinking men cannot be slaves; and both these sovereigns were desirous of establishing a complete despotism. Religious men must think, and think solemnly and loftily; therefore, to prevent this, religion must give place to giddy mirth, and God’s hallowed day must be profaned by every kind of idle recreation. And what must be said of the High Church party, who lent their aid in this fearful desecration and despotic scheme? Were they the friends of pure and holy religion, of rational improvement, of public freedom?
This Book of Sports, however, was at first ordered to be read merely in the parish churches of Lancashire; but one author asserts that it would have been speedily extended over the kingdom, but for the decisive refusal of Abbot, who had recently succeeded. Bancroft in the archbishopric of Canterbury. But though a partial enforcement of this desecrating production was all that it could, at that time, obtain, its promulgation gave serious ground of dissatisfaction and dread to all the more decidedly pious persons in the kingdom, both Puritans and Churchmen, and tended not a little to confirm the growing jealousy of High Church measures.
The “king-craft,” of which James considered himself so great a master, was perpetually leading him astray, and involving him in dangerous political errors, which, blending with the religious struggles that had so long prevailed, both increased the numbers and gave intensity to the feelings of those who regarded with jealousy the arbitrary measures of the Court. In one of his wise speeches the king gave a large explanation of his views with regard to Puritanism; from which it appeared, that he considered all to be Puritans who dared to oppose his absolute prerogative, and to maintain the rights and liberties established by law. At the same time he discountenanced that system of theology generally termed. Calvinism, though he had previously professed to hold it, and had sent divines to the Synod of Dort, where the opposite system, Arminianism, was condemned.
But perceiving that the Puritans were Calvinists, he turned the sunshine of his favor towards those of the clergy who had begun to support Arminian tenets. In this manner he most unwisely brought about a combination of two false and dangerous principles on the one side, and of two true and salutary principles on the other;
The combination thus begun in theory was soon forced into actual existence, when, in 1620, the king, offended with the Parliament for mentioning the subject of grievances instead of bestowing money, commanded them to forbear intermeddling with his government; and upon their recording in their journals a remonstrance and protestation in defense of their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges, he, in a storm of fury, tore out the protestation with his own hand, dissolved the Parliament, and issued a proclamation forbidding his subjects to talk of State affairs. This was despotism undisguised, and the heart of England understood and felt it. The element of resistance to political tyranny began to work in the minds of men, many of whom had but little regarded the sufferings of the Puritans under an equal tyranny of an ecclesiastical kind. But the storm was delayed, partly by the natural timidity of James, who was incapable of boldly executing what he tyrannically conceived, and partly also in consequence of his death, and the pause which naturally ensued at the commencement of a new reign, till its principles should be ascertained. Charles I, at his ascension to the throne in 1623, found the kingdom in a truly deplorable condition,
It would have required a wise and prudent king, and sage and able counselors, to have rescued the nation from such imminent and formidable perils. Rut Charles was narrow-minded and obstinate, impatient of advice except when it coincided with his own notions, bigoted in religious matters, entertaining the most despotic ideas of his royal prerogative, and so full of dissimulation, that neither his word nor the most solemn treaties could bind him, as subsequent events amply proved; and his most trusted counselors were his father’s recent courtier-race of sycophants and oppressors. His marriage to Henrietta, daughter of the French king, and a zealous Papist, caused an additional ground of jealousy, lest persons of that religious persuasion should obtain undue and pernicious influence; and many events tended to strengthen that apprehension. Instead of relaxing the severe and persecuting measures under which the Puritans had so long groaned, Charles, instigated by Laud, Bishop of London, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, continued to oppress that body of excellent men with increasing severity.
A contest arose between Charles and his first Parliament, chiefly on account of their remonstrances respecting the dangerous increase of Popery, and their determination to proceed with the impeachment of his favorite, the profligate Duke of Buckingham. To stop these measures, the king suddenly dissolved the Parliament; and as he had not obtained the supplies which he desired, he proceeded to raise money by forced loans, ship-money, and other arbitrary and illegal exactions. These violent encroachments upon liberty and property increased the spirit of disaffection which was already strong, compelling all who valued freedom to perceive that some decided stud must be made, unless they were prepared to sink into the degradation of utter slavery. During the interval which elapsed before the calling of the next Parliament, the clergy were employed to inculcate with all possible earnestness the doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance, and to prove that the absolute submission of subjects to the royal will and, pleasure, was authoritatively taught in the Holy Scriptures. Eagerly did the courtly divines comply with these directions, vieing with each other who should most strenuously promote the cause of despotism. In this glorious strife Sibthorp and Manwaring were peculiarly distinguished, broadly asserting that the king is not bound to observe the laws of the realm,
The contest continued in both its converging lines. On the one hand, the king strove to obtain supplies without redressing grievances, employing already that dissimulation which afterwards caused his ruin, and assenting to a bill, or petition of right, the provisions of which he never fulfilled. On the other, Laud, who, on the death of Buckingham, obtained an undivided ascendancy over Charles, prohibited doctrinal controversy respecting the Arminian tenets, and commanded the suppression of afternoon lectures, which were generally conducted by those Puritan divines who could not conform to the reading of the Liturgy in the forenoon service. This cunning prelate was well aware, that controversy on important doctrinal subjects cultivates the power of thought, and that lecturing cultivates knowledge; he knew also, that men who have been trained to think, and whose minds have acquired a store of sound religious knowledge, are incapable of becoming the slaves of either tyranny or superstition. And as the full development of his measures required the people of England to become superstitious slaves, it was necessary to suppress every thing which had a counteracting tendency. The same sort of instinctive perception of the readiest method of promoting mental and moral degradation led Laud to persuade the king to revive the Book of Sports. This was accordingly done in the year 1083, in the name of that sovereign whom the Church of England still delights to style “The Martyr,” though it would not be easy to tell of what cause he was the martyr, unless it were of prelatic profanity, superstition, and despotism. It was not over one county that the Book of Sports was now to be set up, in opposition to the Word of God; the bishops were directed to enforce the publication of it from the pulpit through all the parish churches of their respective dioceses. This caused great distress of mind to all the pious clergymen. Some refused to read it, and were suspended in consequence; others read it, and immediately after having done so, read also the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy;” adding, “This is the law of God, the other is the, injunction of man.”
In the meantime, the tide of political conflict was advancing broad. and deep. And as it had been caused at first by the course of persecution on account of religion, when the Parliament sought from time to time to interpose in behalf of the suffering Puritans, it continued to retain its religious character. Very strong and earnest language was used by several of the leading members of the House of Commons, condemning equally the Arminian doctrines and the tyrannical proceedings of the Prelatic party; and with similar directness and energy did they assail the illegal methods adopted by the king to raise money, and the oppressive conduct of the persons employed in that service. The king finding the Commons determined to defend their religious and civil liberties, and to refuse subsidies till the grievances of which they complained should be redressed, sent them orders to adjourn. This arbitrary command they refused to obey, till they should have prepared a remonstrance against the levying of tonnage and poundage, and, accordingly, proceeded to frame their remonstrance and protestation. This document declared, in substance, that whosoever should introduce innovations in religion, or advise taking of tonnage and poundage not yet granted by Parliament, or submit to such illegal impositions, should be held as betrayers of, and enemies to, the liberties of England. The Speaker refused, to put these propositions to the vote, and attempted to leave the chair; but he was forced back to it, and held there till they were read and carried by acclamation. The Commons then adjourned; and four of the leading members, Eliot, Hollis, Valentine, and Cariton, were committed to the Tower, where Eliot was detained till he died, the others being released upon payment of heavy fines. Charles having now learned that the Parliament would not submit to be made a passive instrument in his hands to accomplish what he might please, determined to assume the whole powers of the Legislature, disregarding the form, as well as violating the spirit of the constitution, and realizing the absolute despotism so fervently advocated by his sycophantic clergy. He ventured even to avow his desperate intention by a proclamation, in which he forbade the very mention of another Parliament. He had yet to learn, that to shut up a strong feeling in the heart, is to increase its suppressed strength, and to give it entire possession of the inner being.
As if for the very purpose of imparting additional intensity to the growing indignation of the kingdom, Laud, now Archbishop of Canterbury, proceeded with equal eagerness in imposing fresh ceremonies of the most absurd character upon the Church, and in the indiction of excessive cruelties upon the Puritans. These Popish ceremonies drove numbers into nonconformity; and the barbarities perpetrated upon those who dared to complain or to refuse compliance, provoked the nation almost beyond endurance. Alexander Leighton was condemned to have his ears cut off, and his nose slit, to be branded on the cheek, to stand in that condition in the pillory, and then to be east into prison till he should pay a fine utterly beyond his means,
Burton, Bastwick, and Prynne suffered similar cruelties. And great numbers were reduced to entire destitution, because they dared to write or speak against Laud’s popish ceremonies, or against the prelatic system of Church government. Numbers forsook the country, and retired some to the Netherlands, others to the settlements recently formed in America. Never, probably, was there a period in which the principles of religious and civil liberty, and the feelings of human nature, were more shocked and outraged.
But a course of crime is also a course of infatuation. At the very time when the cruel tortures of these wronged and oppressed sufferers were awakening the most intense sympathy in the nation, the king adopted a measure which roused a corresponding degree of political indignation.
Finding it difficult to procure supplies as readily as his necessities required, he devised the plan of assessing not only the maritime, but also the inland counties for sums of money, for the ostensible purpose of building ships of war. This tax, as even Clarendon admits, was intended not only for the support of the navy, but “for a spring and magazine that should have no bottom, and for an everlasting supply for all occasions.” This was clearly perceived, and immediately opposed by the bold and wise assertors of national liberty. The celebrated Hampden refused to pay his share of the tax, and determined to bring the legality of levying such an impost to a public trial. About the close of the year 1639, the cause was tried before the twelve judges in the Exchequer Chamber. The judges hesitated. They perceived clearly that the law was in favor of Hampden; but they held their situations during the royal pleasure, and seven decided that the tax was legal, while one doubted, and four condemned it. His majesty gained the decision; but Hampden and freedom gained the cause, in the strong feeling which was roused throughout the entire kingdom.
Another act of infatuation speedily followed. For a time the suffering Puritans alone had sought refuge from oppression in a voluntary exile; but now the defenders of civil liberty began to adopt the same course. At length even Hampden, and his cousin, Oliver Cromwell, discouraged with their long and hitherto fruitless struggle, resolved also to seek in the New World that liberty which seemed to have forsaken its ancient English home. But an order was published, forbidding any to leave the kingdom without permission from the privy council. They remained, returned to the field of danger and of duty, and resumed a contest which: presented now no medium between complete freedom and absolute slavery,
There was still another element introduced about this time, as if to render the dreadful combination perfect for evil. Although Laud did not attempt to deny the king’s supremacy in all matters ecclesiastical, yet the principle first promulgated by Bancroft
At length the king reached the turning point of his will and reckless course.
Instigated by his evil genius, Laud, he strove to impose upon the Presbyterian Church and people of Scotland the whole mass of prelatic rites and ceremonies, for the sake of which he had already driven England to the extreme point of endurance. But that point had been long previously reached in Scotland, and the attempt provoked an instantaneous and determined resistance. A large portion of the nobility, nearly all the middle classes, the whole of the ministers, and almost the entire body of the people, united in a solemn national covenant in defense of their religious liberties, resolved to peril life, and all that life holds dearest, rather than submit to the threatened violation of conscience. The king raised an army to subdue them by force, but shrunk from the perilous encounter, and framed an evasive truce. This abortive attempt exhausted his treasury, and compelled, him reluctantly to call a Parliament, from which he hoped to procure supplies. The Parliament met on the 13th of April 1640, after an interval of twelve years; but the spirit of liberty was now stronger in the bosom of its members than it had formerly been, and still less disposed to prostrate itself before the royal prerogative. His majesty demanded supplies, and promised then to grant time to take their grievances into consideration. The Commons began with applying for the redress of grievances, and. refused to proceed with the grant of a subsidy till these should be redressed. Disappointed and enraged, the king dissolved the Parliament, and threw the leading members into prison. But as his need of money was urgent, he commenced exacting it more oppressively than ever, by forced loans, by ship-money, by granting monopolies, and by every artifice which want could suggest and tyranny employ. And, as if conscious that Episcopacy was the cause of the sovereign’s distress, the Convocation which met at the same time, continued sitting after the dissolution of the Parliament, contrary to law and custom, and granted a considerable sum of money to his majesty, to enable him to prosecute the “Episcopal war.” This appeared a dangerous precedent, fraught with peril to the liberties of the kingdom, since, on the one hand, the king could augment the revenues of the clergy, and on the other, they could replenish his coffers, be his purposes what they might, without legislative authority, and thereby give him the means of completing his despotic encroachments. Seventeen canons were also published by this Convocation, in the sixth of which all clergymen are required to take an oath, expressing approbation of the doctrine, discipline, and government of the Church of England, one clause of which says, “Nor will I ever give my consent to alter the government of this Church, by archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, etc., as it stands now established.” From this clause it obtained the name of “the et cetera oath ,” and became an additional element of strife between the Prelatists and the Puritans, driving many ministers into the latter body, because they could not consent to swear adherence to they knew not what.
Charles having again obtained a sufficient sum of money to enable him to maintain an army, broke off all pacific relations with his Scottish subjects, and marched northwards to subdue them by force. Rut they were not unprepared for such an event. The long course of intriguing dissimulation which they had detected and baffled, during the previous stages of their transactions with his majesty, had led them to the conclusion, that he would observe the terms of the most solemn treaty no longer than till he could violate them with safety. They had therefore retained their military officers in pay, and were in a condition to raise an army at a moment’s notice. There had been also begun a private correspondence between them and the leading English patriots; and they had received assurance, that if they should advance into England itself, they would be welcomed as deliverers. They accordingly crossed the border, defeated a strong party which opposed their passage of the Tyne at Newburn, took possession of Newcastle, and advanced into England. Alarmed with their progress, and finding it impossible to raise and maintain a sufficient force to resist them, in the disaffected state of his English subjects, the king appointed commissioners to treat with the Scots at Ripon. This led to a cessation of hostilities for two months, commencing October the 26th, during which the Scottish army were to be maintained at his majesty’s expense; the remaining negotiations for peace were transferred from Ripon to London.
It had again become necessary to call a Parliament, for the adjustment of the important matters in dispute; and great exertions were made on both sides in the election of members. But the heart of England was now fairly warmed, and its strong spirit roused. By far the majority of the elections were decided in favor of the defenders of liberty; and as all knew that the crisis had come, all were thoroughly prepared for the struggle. In that Parliament was collected not only the flower of living Englishmen, but it may be fearlessly said, that no age or nation has ever produced men of greater eminence, in abilities and character, than were the leaders of that celebrated assembly. To mention the names of Pym, Hampden, Cromwell, Selden, is to mention men of almost unequaled. distinction, in sagacity, patriotism, strength of mind, and extent of learning; and those who held but a secondary position, were, nevertheless, men who were possessed of talents and energy enough to have earned high renown in any period less prodigal of human power. Such was that House of Commons, afterwards so famous under the name of the Long Parliament.
Scarcely had this Parliament met, on the 3d of November 1640, when ample proof was given that its members were fully aware of the great task they had to perform. They appointed four committees to conduct with rapidity the important matters before them: for religious grievances,
The complaint of the Scottish commissioners against Laud, as the real author of all the commotions which had taken place in Scotland, formed a large and heavy portion of the charge which led to the impeachment of the unfortunate archbishop. An accusation, consisting of fourteen articles, was drawn up, presented to the House of Lords, and. the charge being sustained, he was committed to the Tower.
About the same time, or rather a few days before it, the Earl of Strafford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was also impeached, and committed to the Tower. The letters and dispatches which passed between Laud and Strafford clearly prove that they were the prime instigators of all the tyrannical measures which had characterized the government of Charles for the preceding twelve years,
Redress was granted to several of those who had suffered, under prelatic tyranny. Prynne, Burton, and Bastwick were released from their imprisonment in the Channel Islands, and conducted through London in a sort of triumphal procession. Alexander Leighton was also released from prison, and appointed keeper of Lambeth Palace. Several bishops and other clerical dignitaries were accused of illegal and oppressive conduct, and felt some portion of the weight of retributive justice. And so strong was the indignation which, long suppressed, now burst forth with proportionally greater vehemence, that some difficulty was experienced in restraining the people from inflicting upon their oppressors what Bacon terms “wild justice.”
The flood-gates were now opened, the popular mind began to rush forth, and it required both great strength and great dexterity to guide it into a safe channel. It had been part of the Laudean policy to prevent all public discussion respecting the high pretensions of Prelacy; but freedom of discussion was now procured, and the press began to pour forth treatises of every kind and size, in which not only were the abuses of Prelacy fully stated, but also the Prelatic form of Church government itself was strenuously assailed. Bishop Hall wrote in defense of Episcopacy, and was answered by a celebrated treatise, under the title of “Smectymnuus,” a word formed from the initial letters of the names of its authors, – Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstowe. Even the mighty Milton employed his pen in this keen literary warfare; and it is no rash matter to assert, that in learning, talent, genius, and strength of argument, the Puritan writers immeasurably surpassed their antagonists, and produced an impression on the public mind so deep and strong that it decided the controversy, so far as Prelatic Church government was concerned, even at its beginning.
Along with the literary warfare, another method of assault, not less formidable, was employed. Petitions were poured into the House of Commons from every part of the country, signed by almost incredible numbers, against the hierarchy; some desiring its reformation, others praying that the whole system might be destroyed. Of the latter kind, that which attracted chief attention was one from the city of London, signed by about fifteen thousand persons, and generally termed “The Root and Branch Petition,” on account of an expression which occurs in its prayer, viz., “That the said government, with all its dependencies, roots and branches, may be abolished.” Counter-petitions were also brought forward in defense of the hierarchy, scarcely, if at all, less numerous. Debates arose in consequence, and very strong language was employed by several members, condemnatory of the oppressive conduct of the hierarchy. Bills were also introduced, chiefly with the view of taking away legislative authority from the bishops, by relieving them from the discharge of civil duties in the Upper House; but the House of Lords rejected these measures, and, after a protracted struggle, there seemed to be no prospect of getting that grievance remedied.
A difficulty of a legal nature occurred in the trial of Strafford. Although his accusation specified matters of the most arbitrary and oppressive character, yet it was not clear that they fell within the express terms of statutedefinition of high treason. The charge was therefore so altered as to enable the Commons to proceed with a bill of attainder, which passed that House, and was brought before the Lords. There seemed to be great probability that it would be lost in that House, when an event occurred which changed the whole aspect of affairs, so far as that was pacific. A plot was formed by some leading officers in the army and the courtiers, to bring the army to London, in order to overawe the Parliament, rescue Strafford, and take possession of the metropolis. This plot was discovered, traced out, publicly stated to Parliament by Mr. Pym, on the 2d May 1641, and immediately the conspirators absconded,
Another important measure passed at the same perilous moment. The king was anxious that the Scottish army should return to Scotland, being well aware that its presence in England was a source of great strength to the patriots, paralyzing, at the same time, his own military preparations. He repeatedly urged Parliament to relieve the country from the oppressive burden of maintaining these two armies, the Scottish and his own. The House of Commons had already borrowed large sums for the payment of the current expenses; and a still larger sum would be required for the completion of the transaction. But when the plot against the Parliament was detected, the citizens of London, who had hitherto advanced the necessary supplies on Parliamentary security, refused to contribute any more on a security which appeared to be so precarious. Public credit being thus overthrown, the only expedient for its recovery which presented itself was, to secure the continuation of the Parliament till these troubles should terminate. A bill was framed for this purpose, enacting, “That this present Parliament shall not be adjourned, prorogued, or dissolved, without their own consent.” This bill passed both Houses with very slight opposition, and received. the royal assent by commission, along with the bill of attainder against the Earl of Strafford. It would seem that the detection of the plot against the Parliament had completely stunned the king and his advisers, so that, in their guilty confusion, they were incapable of perceiving the vast import of such a concession, which rendered the Parliament completely independent of, and coordinate with, the king during its own pleasure.
Yet another step was taken, of scarcely less importance. Mr. Pym moved, that both Houses might join in some bond of defense, for the security of their liberties and of the Protestant religion. A protestation was accordingly framed, almost identical in principle with the National Covenant of Scotland, though somewhat different in form, and less minute in detail. The protestation was as follows:
This protestation was subscribed by the whole House of Commons on the 3d of May, and next day by all the Peers present in Parliament, except two; it was then printed, and sent to every part of the kingdom, to be taken by the whole nation; and when it was opposed, the Commons passed a resolution, declaring, “That whosoever would not take the protestation was unfit to bear once in the Church or Commonwealth.” To this course of procedure the king offered no opposition; and let it be observed, that the English House of Commons acted a much more arbitrary part, in the enforcing of this protestation, than had been done in Scotland with regard to the National Covenant: and as this took place more than two full years before the Solemn League and Covenant between the two kingdoms was even thought of, and was done by a House of Commons all nominally Episcopalians, it proves that it is directly contrary to fact and truth, to ascribe the severe measures of the Long Parliament to Presbyterian intolerance.
Events of great moment now followed each other with startling rapidity. A bill was passed abolishing the Court of High Commission; and another, putting an end to the Star-Chamber. Both these bills were signed by the king; and thus the main engines of oppression were destroyed. Acquiring fresh confidence by success, the House of Commons resumed their proceedings against the bishops, and actually prepared articles of impeachment. The king, perceiving that he was waging an unsuccessful warfare, changed his course, and suddenly intimated to the Parliament that he intended to pay a visit to Scotland, to complete the pacification with that country. The long-pending treaty was concluded and ratified, and his majesty journeyed to his native country with such expedition as to show that some important measures were in his mind. The leading Parliamentary politicians penetrated his design,
He had felt the strength of that support which the presence in England of the Scottish army gave to the patriotic party; and he justly imagined, that if he could not only detach the Scots from the English Parliament, but gain them to himself, he would then be able to reduce his refractory subjects to his own terms. The king’s absence necessarily led to the adjournment of the Parliament; but its chief committees continued to meet, and a small committee was formed. to accompany his majesty to Scotland. The secret purpose of this committee was, to give to the leading Scottish statesmen such private information as should put them on their guard against the arts of royal dissimulation which might be practiced. For this the Scottish leaders were already prepared by their own painful experience, and although the king exerted himself to the utmost to give satisfaction to them, and bestowed honors on the chief of the Covenanters, yet he could not remove their suspicions,
Not only were his majesty’s expectations disappointed, but additional cause was given to his people to watch all his movements with increasing jealousy. Before the king’s arrival in Scotland, the Earl of Montrose had been detected forming a conspiracy to betray the Covenanters, even while acting as one of their commissioners at Ripon. For this, and other similar matters, he had been imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. Even in his confinement he found means of corresponding with his associates, and, through them, with the king; and a plot was formed, of which there is strong reason to believe the king to have been aware, to seize Argyle and Hamilton, and either put them to death, or hurry them on board a frigate which lay in Leith roads, and having thus struck terror into the Covenanters, to put the army into the hands of the king, at the head of which his majesty might return and overpower his refractory Parliament in England. The discovery of this plot excited a sudden and strong commotion; but the king endeavored to cause it to be regarded as entirely a groundless alarm, and redoubled his efforts to give all possible satisfaction to the Covenanters. This event, known by the name of “The Incident,” sunk deep into men’s minds, and led them to entertain the belief, that the king was capable of conniving at any measure, however dark and bloody, provided that it could promote his progress towards absolute despotism.
The fearful outburst of Popish fury, termed the Irish Massacre, taking place at the same time, gave to all these suspicions the most dark and dreadful aspect, and filled the heart of both England and Scotland with intense horror and alarm. And although it may be difficult to prove that Charles directly instigated the Irish Papists to this insurrection, or anticipated the terrific deeds that were done, yet it would be still more difficult to acquit him of knowing that it was intended, and of conniving at it, with the expectation of turning it to his own advantage, by means of the armed forces which would be placed under his command. Such was the state of matters, and such the agitated temper of the kingdom, when Charles returned to London, again to resume his contest with the Parliament, now roused to a pitch of almost desperate determination. A committee had been appointed, a considerable time before, “to draw out of all the grievances of the nation such a remonstrance as might be a faithful and lively representation to his majesty of the deplorable state of the kingdom.” This remonstrance, consisting of two hundred and six articles, was read in the House of Commons on the 22d of November 1641. It had to encounter a very strong opposition; and after a debate which lasted from three in the afternoon till three in the morning, it was carried by a majority of 11, the votes being 159 to 148. Within a few days after the remonstrance had, been presented to his majesty, and before he had returned an answer, it was printed and dispersed all over the kingdom. By this step, certainly defective in courtesy, the Parliament fairly took their ground, threw themselves and their cause upon the principle and intelligence of the kingdom, and thenceforward the struggle was one between the sovereign and the nation.
The trial of the bishops, who had been impeached as authors of the nation’s grievances, came next. The bishops attempted to stay the proceedings by entering a demurrer. Great and dangerous tumults arose in consequence of the position taken by the prelates; and they, alarmed, and considering themselves exposed to personal danger, determined to abstain from going to the House of Lords, and drew up a protestation against whatsoever should be done by Parliament in their absence, as null, and of no effect. Their greatest enemies could not have suggested to them a more self- destructive course. They were immediately accused of acting in a manner destructive of Parliaments, and assuming a negative voice in the Legislature, possessed by the king alone; and a new impeachment being framed on this ground, ten of them were sent to the Tower. These proceedings exasperated the king to such a degree, that he immediately resolved to retaliate; and sent the attorney-general to the House of Commons to impeach of high treason five of the leading members, namely, Lord Kimbolton, Sir Arthur Hazelrigge, Denzill Hollis, John Pym, John Hampden, and William Stroud. The Commons not having ordered them into custody, the king himself went to the House next day(January 4th)to seize them, attended by a crowd of armed men. They had received notice of his intention and withdrawn, so that when he placed himself in the Speaker’s chair, and looked around him he perceived that this violent and unconstitutional attempt was abortive. The most intense excitement arose, Parliament adjourned for a week, the citizens of London protected the five members, and offered to raise the trained bands for the protection of Parliament itself. In vain did the king attempt to overawe them by fortifying Whitehall, and placing artillerymen in the Tower. They were equally resolute, and prepared to bear back force by force if necessary. In this great moment, when every measure was surcharged with peril, the king’s infatuation again prevailed; and instead of remaining either to amend his error, or to confront the danger, he forsook Whitehall on the 10th of January, removing first to Hampton Court, then to Windsor, and soon afterwards to York, leaving all the elements of strife, which his despotic proceedings had aroused, to combine and rush onward in a torrent of irresistible might.
Very soon after his majesty’s departure from London, the bill to remove the bishops from the House of Lords, that they might not “be entangled with secular jurisdiction,” was again brought forward, passed by a large majority on the 6th of February, and on the 14th of the same month obtained the royal signature by commission.
But the intentions of the king soon began to display their hostile aspect too evidently to be any longer misunderstood. From York he made a rapid movement upon Hull, at the head of a considerable body of cavalry, on the 23d of April, for the purpose of seizing upon that important town, and taking possession of its magazines. Sir John Hotham refused to admit him with more than twelve attendants, having been appointed to his situation as governor by the Parliament, to whom he was responsible for its custody; and the king, in his disappointment and anger, declared him a traitor. Several manifestoes passed between the king and the Parliament, both on account of this event, and with regard to the command of the militia; but the progress of negotiation, instead of producing an agreement rendered the breach wider and wider, preparatory for an entire disruption.
Considerable numbers of both Houses forsook the Parliament and joined the king; an army was formed, and Hull was invested in regular form. To meet this hostile movement, the two Houses, on the 12th of July, resolved that an army should be raised for the defense of the king and Parliament, and gave the command to the Earl of Essex. On the 9th of August, the king proclaimed Essex and his adherents traitors; and also declared both Houses guilty of high treason, forbidding all his subjects to yield obedience to them. The Parliament, on the other hand, proclaimed all who should join the king’s army traitors against the Parliament and the kingdom. In another proclamation, the king summoned all his faithful subjects to repair to him at Nottingham, where, on the 22d day of August 1642, he caused his standard to be erected in a field adjoining the castle wall. Few complied with this warlike summons; but the standard was erected amid the gathering gloom and the rising gusts of a commencing tempest, which, ere evening, increased to a perfect hurricane, and dashed to the earth the royal banner, as if ominous of the fierce storm of civil war then bursting on the land, and the disgrace and ruin that awaited the royal cause.
It had for some time been clearly perceived by the Parliament that war was inevitable, especially after the king’s attempt upon Hull; and they accordingly began to make all necessary preparations. The friendly countenance and support of Scotland was of the utmost importance, and this, therefore, they resolved to secure. Twice had the Council of Scotland attempted to mediate between the king and the Parliament, first in the beginning of the year, and again in May; but though the Parliament accepted their mediation, it was rejected by the king in a peremptory tone, commanding them to be content with their own settlement, and not to intermeddle with the affairs of another nation. The English Parliament, understanding that the General Assembly was to meet in Edinburgh about the end of July, addressed a letter to that body, stating the perilous aspect of affairs, and expressing their desire to avoid a civil war, and yet to promote reformation in both Church and State. The assembly’s answer, dated 3d August, expresses sympathy with the sufferings and dangers of England, recommends unity of religion, “That in all his majesty’s dominions there might be one Confession of Faith, one Directory of Worship, one public Catechism, and one form of Church government,” accusing the prelatical hierarchy of being the great impediment against obtaining that desirable result. A letter from a number of English divines was addressed to the same Assembly, in which, after expressing gratitude for previous advices, they state, “That the desire of the most godly and considerable part amongst us is, that the Presbyterian government, which hath just and evident foundation, both in the Word of God and religious reason, may be established amongst us, and that(according to your intimation)we may agree in one Confession of Faith, one Directory of Worship, one public Catechism and form of government.” From these expressions it is evident that both the English Parliament and the Puritan divines were perfectly aware of the views entertained by the Scottish Parliament and Assembly; and yet did not hesitate to seek assistance, and to assent to the idea of a uniformity in religious worship, which Scotland regarded as an indispensable condition.
Nor does it appear that the English Parliament entertained any reluctance to procure Scottish aid on such terms. For, in the month of September, a bill was passed through the House of Commons, and on the 10th of that month through the House of Lords, entitled “An Act for the utter abolishing and taking away of all archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissaries,” etc.,
The sword was now unsheathed; and for a period the more harmless war of negotiations and manifestoes was abandoned, and a sterner conflict waged.
Several battles were fought, some with doubtful success, and in others to the disadvantage of the Parliament. When the approach of winter led to a partial cessation of hostilities, proposals were again made for peace, and commissioners were sent from the Parliament to Oxford to endeavor to frame a treaty. The Scottish Council sent commissioners also. And hopes were for some time entertained, that the king would consent to such terms as might restore peace to the kingdom without the absolute surrender of its liberties. But it was discovered that his majesty was busily engaged in framing a double plot;
Before that period the Parliament had been endeavoring to advance in what they felt to be of primary importance,
And for the better effecting hereof, and for the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the Church of England from all false calumnies and aspersions, it is thought fit and necessary to call an Assembly of learned, godly, and judicious divines, to consul” and advise of such matters and things, touching the premises, as shall be proposed unto them by both or either of the Houses of Parliament, and to give their advice and counsel therein to both or either of the said Houses, when, and as often as, they shall be thereunto required: “Be it therefore ordained, by the Lords and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, that all and every the persons hereafter in this ordinance named, that is to say,” [Here follow the names] “and such other persons as shall be nominated and appointed by both Houses of Parliament, or as many of them as shall not be letted by sickness, or other necessary impediment, shall meet and assemble, and are hereby required and enjoined, upon summons signed by the clerks of both Houses of Parliament, left at their several respective dwellings, to meet and assemble at Westminster, in the chapel called King Henry the Seventh’s Chapel, on the first day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and forty-three; and after the first meeting, being at least of the number of forty; shall from time to time sit, and be removed from place to place; and also, that the said Assembly shall be dissolved in such manner as by both Houses of Parliament shall be directed. And the said persons, or so many of them as shall be so assembled or sit, shall have power and authority, and are hereby likewise enjoined, from time to time during this present Parliament, or until further order be taken by both the said Houses, to confer and treat among themselves of such matters and things, touching and concerning the Liturgy, discipline, and government of the Church of England, or the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the same from all false aspersions and misconstructions, as shall be proposed to them by both or either of the said Houses of Parliament, and no other; and to deliver their opinions and advices of or touching the matters aforesaid, as shall be most agreeable to the Word of God, to both or either of the said Houses, from time to time, in such manner and sort as by both or either of the said Houses of Parliament shall be required, and the same not to divulge, by printing, writing, or otherwise, without the consent of both or either House of Parliament. “And be it further ordained, by the authority aforesaid, that William Twisse, Doctor in Divinity, shall sit in the chair, as prolocutor of the said Assembly; and if he happen to die, or be letted by sickness, or other necessary impediment, then such other person to be appointed in his place as shall be agreed on by both the said Houses of Parliament. And in case any difference of opinion shall happen amongst any of the said persons so assembled, touching any of the matters that shall be proposed to them, as aforesaid, that then they shall represent the same, together with the reasons thereof, to both or either the said Houses respectively, to the end such further direction may be given therein as shall be requisite in that behalf.
And be it further ordained, by the authority aforesaid, that for the charges and expense of the said divines, and every of them, in attending the said service, there shall be allowed unto every of them that shall so attend the sum of four shillings for every day, at the charges of the Commonwealth, at such time, and in such manner, as by both Houses of Parliament shall be appointed. And be it further ordained, that all and every the said divines, so as aforesaid required and enjoined to meet and assemble, shall be freed and acquitted of and from every offense, forfeiture, penalty, loss, or damage, which shall or may arise or grow by reason of any nonresidence or absence of them, or any of them, from his or their, or any of their, church, churches, or cures, for or in respect of the said attendance upon the said service, any law or statute of nonresidence, or other law or statute enjoining their attendance upon their respective ministries or charges, to the contrary thereof notwithstanding. And if any of the persons before named shall happen to die before the said Assembly shall be dissolved by order of both Houses of Parliament, then such other person or persons shall be nominated and placed in the room and stead of such person or persons so dying, as by both the said Houses shall be thought fit and agreed upon: And every such person or persons so to be named, shall have the like power and authority, freedom and acquittal, to all intents and purposes, and also all such wages and allowances for the said service, during the time of his or their attendance, as to any other of the said persons in this ordinance named is by this ordinance limited and appointed. Provided always, that this ordinance, or any thing therein contained, shall not give unto the persons aforesaid, or any of them, nor shall they in this Assembly assume to exercise, any jurisdiction, power, or authority ecclesiastical whatsoever, or any other power than is herein particularly expressed.” Such was the Ordinance calling together the famous Westminster Assembly of Divines; and while that Ordinance is immediately before the reader, it may be expedient to direct his attention to some of its peculiarities. About nine months had elapsed since the passing of the bill for abolishing the hierarchical form of Church government, during all which period there was no form of Church government in England at all. It was impossible, therefore, that the Assembly could meet in any ordinary form, either as a Convocation, according to the Prelatic system; or by the votes of the ministers, according to the Presbyterian system; but it was of necessity called by the Parliament, who nominated all the members themselves, for the purpose of obtaining their advice respecting the further reformation which should take place, and the organized form which should be assumed by the Church of England. For though the Prelatic system had been abolished, yet the Parliament did not imagine that the Church had therefore ceased to exist, as the language of the Ordinance proves. Let it be observed also, that one object in view by the Parliament in calling this Assembly, was for the express purpose of procuring a “nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland, and other reformed Churches abroad;” so that, as there were no other kinds of national Churches but the Episcopalian and the Presbyterian, it must have been the intention of the English Parliament to bring their Church nearer to the Presbyterian system, if not to adopt that system entirely. It is therefore equally calumnious and absurd to accuse the Church of Scotland of attempting to constrain the English Parliament in its intended ecclesiastical reform, for the purpose of getting the Presbyterian polity introduced. The Parliament had to choose,
Having now arrived at the actual calling of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, it may be expedient, before proceeding to relate its deliberations, to give a very brief outline of the leading topics contained in the history and character of the Church of Scotland, so far as it is necessary that these should be known, in order to obtain a full understanding of the subject.
The Reformation in Scotland began and was carried on in a manner the direct reverse of that which took place in England. In the latter country it began in royal caprice or passion,
But a few years elapsed till the rapacity and the overbearing force of the nobility began to pillage and assail the Scottish Church; and where direct power could not prevail, fraud and dissimulation were employed. The first attempt against the free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, was that of Regent Morton, who devised the well known scheme of tulchan bishops, that by their instrumentality he might at once seize its revenues and corrupt its courts. When King James assumed the reins of government he followed a similar course, with less energy, but greater cunning, and with unwearied pertinacity. His theory of government was absolute despotism; and he had sagacity enough to perceive, that where the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions were distinct, his theory could not possibly be realized. And as the Church of Scotland was equally opposed to either aspect of his theory, refusing to intermeddle with civil affairs herself, and refusing to permit civil rulers to intermeddle with matters of a spiritual character, the wily tyrant saw the necessity of subverting the Presbyterian form of Church government, and establishing Prelacy in its stead; well aware that he would easily acquire an influence over titled and wealthy clergy at Court, which he could never obtain over a free General Assembly. But neither force nor treachery could succeed till after he ascended the English throne; when, by means of the combined power of English wealth and English influence, he so far changed the government of the Scottish Church as to procure the appointment of bishops, the half submission to certain rites and ceremonies, and the partial suppression of General Assemblies. Still a considerable portion of the nobility, the greater part of the ministers, and by far the majority of the people, remained Presbyterians in principle, and bore an insurmountable dislike to Prelacy. James had foresight enough to see that it would be hazardous to proceed farther; and refused to comply with the solicitations of Laud, who was eager to impose the whole of his beloved Episcopalian forms on the Church of Scotland.
When Charles I ascended the throne, he found England in a state of discontent swelling towards insurrection, in consequence of the long course of tyranny, civil and religious, which it had uneasily endured.
Unfortunately for him and for the kingdom, he had imbibed all his father’s despotic notions of the absolute and irresponsible nature of the royal prerogative; and to little less than his father’s dissimulation and insincerity, he added far greater strength of mind, and strength, or rather obstinacy of purpose. Yielding himself entirely to the counsels of Laud, and of his beautiful but imperious and relentless queen, he not only refused to mitigate the sufferings of the English Puritans, but resolved to complete what his father had begun, and to bring the Scottish Church into an entire conformity with that of England. A Book of Canons, and a Liturgy, were framed by the Scottish bishops, chiefly by Maxwell, bishop of Ross, revised by Laud, and sent to Scotland to be at once adopted and used, without even the formality of having them laid before any Scottish civil or ecclesiastical court. The free spirit of Scotland was roused by this mingled insult and tyranny. At first a sudden tumult broke out, and rendered the scheme abortive; and then followed a wide, deep, and steady determination to wrench asunder the despotic yoke of Prelacy, and to restore to Scotland, in all its original purity and freedom, her own dearly purchased and beloved Presbyterian Church. Pledging themselves in a sacred National Covenant, the noblest, the wisest, and the best of Scotland’s sons and daughters prepared to encounter every peril, and to sacrifice all that life holds dear, rather than yield up their most precious birthright and inheritance,
But the English Parliament had, with deep interest, marked the power of high principles in the triumph of the Scottish people; and refused to gratify their despotic sovereign, perceiving well that the overthrow of that free country would be speedily followed by the loss of their own remaining liberties. A secret, but a constant intercourse, was begun and carried on between the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters, for their mutual support in defending their civil and religious liberties against the aggressions of the king. And when Charles again raised an army for the prosecution of the bellum Episcopale , the “Episcopal war,” the Scottish Covenanters no longer acted only on the defensive, but boldly entered England, declaring, at the same time, their pacific intentions, their friendship towards England, their loyalty to the king, and their desire only to procure the removal from his majesty’s councils of those persons who were plotting the overthrow of religious and civil liberty in both countries.
The Scottish commissioners experienced the most friendly treatment in London; and the preaching of the ministers, who were empowered to treat for the Church, while in the metropolis, attracted crowds, and appears to have produced a deep and favorable impression respecting both themselves and their cause, as even the bitter and contumelious language of Clarendon sufficiently proves.
The king perceiving that the presence of the Scottish commissioners in London tended to confirm their intimacy and influence with the Parliament, at length hastily concluded the treaty of pacification, and set out for Scotland, with the avowed intention of completely terminating all the necessary transactions with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of that kingdom; but, as afterwards appeared, with the deep design of maturing the embryo plots of Scottish conspirators, and the intended insurrection of the Irish Papists. The intrigues of Montrose, the dark event termed “The Incident,” the sudden outburst of the Irish Massacre, and the king’s attempt, after his return, to seize the five members of the English Parliament, have all been already related briefly, and need not be here retraced. Suffice it to say, that, while considered separately, they were sufficiently startling, when viewed in the light of the king’s previous conduct, and as they occurred in the order of time, they gave to all who valued religious and civil liberty in both England and Scotland a fearful impression of the terrible deeds which the king could do or sanction for the recovery of his shaken power, and the establishing of his desired absolute despotism. They saw with deep regret, that they had to deal with a sovereign who regarded treaties but as a species of diplomatic warfare, in which parties strive to overreach each other, and by whom the most solemn stipulations would be observed no longer than till his safety would permit, or his interest induce, him to break them. It became, therefore, imperatively necessary for the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters, that is, the Scottish nation, to enter into some common bond of union, by means of which they might prevent the danger of being deceived, divided, and overpowered by their unscrupulous antagonist, and both countries reduced to slavery and degradation.
In devising this common bond, there was some difference of opinion between the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters, though a difference rather of accident than of essence, arising out of the different points of view from which they contemplated the common object. In England, the long course of oppression pursued by Elizabeth, James, and Charles, fell chiefly on the Puritans, who never, at any time, had formed a majority in the nation; and it was not till spiritual despotism began to produce civil tyranny, as it always does, that England fairly awoke. For that reason the main aspect of the struggle in England was one in behalf of civil liberty; and, consequently, what they chiefly wished to form with Scotland was a civil league. On the other hand, the contest had from the first, in Scotland, been of a religious character, the king attempting to overthrow the religious liberties of the vast majority, and to place a religious despotism in the hands of a very small minority. And although civil liberty was also assailed inevitably, yet the primary and main object of attack was religion; so that when the people of Scotland united to defend their sacred rights and privileges, their bond was almost entirely of a religious character, as is proved from the tenor of the National Covenant. And as it had been by means of English influence that the Church of Scotland had been overpowered, the statesmen and divines of Scotland were fully convinced that they could not safely enter into any close alliance with England, unless their great enemy Prelacy were first abolished, and that no secure and lasting intimacy could be maintained between the two countries if there were not at least a close approximation towards uniformity in religious worship, discipline, and government. This idea the Scottish commissioners strenuously, yet most delicately, pressed upon the notice of the English Parliament so early as the beginning of the year 1641; and in this they were supported by nearly all the Puritan ministers, those only excepted who had adopted the Congregational system. What Scotland chiefly wished, therefore, was to enter into a religious covenant with the English Parliament. This, then, was the difference produced by these different circumstances. England wished for a civil league with Scotland for the preservation of their mutual civil liberties, but was willing that it should have also a religious aspect and influence. Scotland desired a religious covenant for the preservation of their mutual religious liberties, but was willing that it should have also a civil aspect and influence. And neither country wished to dictate to the other in either subject, but to leave national inclinations and peculiarities untouched. It is evident, that in these circumstances a union could be formed; but it is as evident, that in directness and sacredness of purpose, the superiority was on the side of Scotland; and also, that hers must be the greatest danger, from the certainty that thus leagued together she must share the fortunes of her mightier neighbor.
If the reader has at all attended to the facts stated, and the principles evolved in the preceding introductory pages, he must have perceived their extreme importance in themselves, and also the light which they throw on the subject to which he is now to direct his concentrated attention. In the earliest ages of Christianity, the civil power everywhere was hostile, because it was pagan, that is, idolatrous. When the civil power became avowedly Christian, it did so at a time when all the principles of Popery were already in existence, and wanted but a favorable opportunity for obtaining ascendancy. This opportunity was furnished by the ignorance of the barbarian overthrowers of the Roman empire; and thus Popery arose into full power. One of its distinctive features was its assumption of supremacy in all matters, both civil and ecclesiastical. The fatal effect of this blending of jurisdictions was not at once apparent; but it led to absolute despotism and its counterpart, absolute slavery. At the Reformation, an attempt was generally made to separate the two jurisdictions, the civil and the ecclesiastical; but the importance of the idea was not fully appreciated, and the attempt was but partially successful.
In England, in particular, the sovereign, seizing upon the power formerly possessed by the pope, assumed both jurisdictions, and became head of the Church as well as head of the State. The pernicious consequences were soon apparent,
These consequences advanced steadily, though with varying rapidity, during the reigns of Elizabeth, James, and Charles I, till they produced the absolute necessity of resistance, unless men were willing to submit to the entire loss of natural, national, and religious liberty. For though we have but touched the main points of the events of those reigns, it must be evident to every intelligent person, that there was not a single thing in which a human being could claim liberty to act, as a man, as a responsible and free agent, and as a member of the Christian Church, which was not directly and violently assailed by the prelates, under the authority of the sovereign’s ecclesiastical supremacy. And as man can never be entitled to denude himself, or to suffer others to wrest from him his essential characteristics of a responsible and religious being, it had become a sacred duty to assert and defend his natural, national, and religious rights and responsibilities.
Further, when Prelacy, at first avowedly a human invention, arrogated a divine right, it assumed an aspect that could no longer be endured. Men may, in certain circumstances, abstain from asserting their natural rights; but when an attempt is made to abolish these rights even in God’s name, it becomes a duty which they owe to God himself, to prevent the perpetration of a grievous wrong, so wrought as to involve a violation of His glorious and holy character and attributes. It was, therefore, a holy deed, to resist that form of prelatic tyranny; for it was a vindication of the King Eternal from a despotism usurped as if by his authority.
And let it be well observed, that the awfully pernicious character here ascribed to the assumed divine right of Prelacy, cannot be charged against Presbytery, when it, too, claims to be of divine right. Because, while it asserts that Christ, the only supreme Head and King of the Church, has appointed a government and office bearers in his spiritual kingdom, it recognizes equally the religious rights and responsibilities of the people, the free subjects of that kingdom, whose right to liberty of conscience is also a divine right. Nor can it ever become a Popery, by usurping civil authority, and exercising a spiritual and civil despotism; because it owns and teaches the divine right of the civil magistrate in his own department as also and equally an ordinance of God. But upon this subject it is needless to dwell at present; it will come more fully before us as we proceed in tracing the discussions of the Westminster Assembly.
CHAPTER 2 -
First Meeting of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster
The Scottish Convention of Estates met in June, but came to no definite resolution; and public matters were postponed till it should be more clearly known what terms would be proposed by the King and the Parliament, the Covenanters being unwilling directly to interpose, if that could be avoided.
The following is the list of names contained in the ordinance by which the Assembly was called; amounting to one hundred and fifty-one in all, namely, ten Lords and twenty Commoners, as lay assessors, and one hundred and twenty-one Divines:
Algernon, Earl of Northumberland.
William, Earl of Bedford.
Philip, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery.
William, Earl of Salisbury.
Henry, Earl of Holland Edward, Earl of Manchester.
William, Viscount Say and Sele.
Edward, Viscount Conway.
Philip, Lord Wharton.
Edward, Lord Howard of Escrick.
John Selden, Esq.
Francis Rouse, Esq.
Edmund Prideaux, Esq.
Sir Henry Vane, Senior.
John Glynn, Esq., Recorder of London.
John Whyte, Esq.
Bulstrode Whitelocke, Esq.
Humphry Salloway, Esq.
Mr. Serjeant Wild.
Oliver St. John, Esq., Solicitor.
Sir Benjamin Rudyard.
John Pym, Esq.
Sir John Clotworthy.
John Maynard, Esq.
Sir Henry Vane, Junior.
William Pierpoint, Esq.
William Wheeler, Esq.
Sir Thomas Barrington.
Sir John Evelyn.
Walter Young, Esq.
Herbert Palmer, B.D., of Ashwell.
Oliver Bowles, B.D., of Sutton.
Henry Wilkinson, B.D., of Maddesden.
Thomas Valentine, B.D., of Chalfent Giles.
William Twisse, D.D., of Newbury.
William Reyner, of Egham.
Hannibal Gammon, of Maugan.
Jasper Hicks, of Lawrick.
Joshua Hoyle, D.D., of Dublin.
William Bridge, of Yarmouth.
Thomas Wincop, D.D. of Elesworth.
Thomas Goodwin, D.D., of London.
John Ley, of Budworth.
John Pyne, of Bereferrars.
Francis Whidden, of Moreton.
Richard Love, D.D., of Ekington.
William Gouge, D.D., of Blackfriars, Ralph Brownrigg, D.D., Bishop of Exeter.
Samuel Ward, D.D., Master of Sydney College, Cambridge.
John White, of Dorchester.
Edward Peale, of Compton.
Stephen Marshall, B.D., of Finchingfield.
Lazarus Seaman, B.D., of London.
John Harris, D.D., Warden of Winchester College.
George Morley, D.D., of Minden Hall.
Edward Reynolds, D.D., of Brampton.
Thomas Hill, B.D., of Tickmarsh.
Robert Saunderson, D.D., of Boothby-Parnell.
John Foxcroft, of Gotham.
John Jackson, of Marsac.
William Carter, of London.
Thomas Thoroughgood, of Massingham.
John Arrowsmith, D.D., of Lynn.
Robert Harris, B.D., of Hanwell.
James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh.
Matthias Styles, D.D., of Eastcheap, London.
Samuel Gibson, of Burleigh.
Jeremiah Whittaker, of Stretton.
Edmund Staunton, D.D., of Kingston.
Daniel Featly, D.D., of Lambeth.
Francis Coke, of Yoxhall.
John Lightfoot, D.D., of Ashley.
Edward Corbet,of Merton College, Oxford.
Samuel Hildersham, of Fetton.
John Langley, of West-Tuderly, Gloucester.
Christopher Tisdale, of Uphurstbourne.
Thomas Young, of Stowmarket.
John Philips, of Wrentham.
Humphrey Chambers, B.D., of Claverton.
John Conant, B.D., of Lymington.
Henry Hall, B.D., of Norwich.
Henry Scudder, of Colingbourne.
Thomas Bayley, B.D., of Manningford-Bruce.
Benjamin Pickering, of East Hoatly.
Henry Nye, of Clapham.
Arthur Sallaway, of Severn Stoake.
Obadiah Sedgewick, B.D., of Coggeshall.
Thomas Carter, of Oxford.
Peter Clarke, of Carnaby or Kirby.
William Mew, B.D., of Essington.
Richard Capel, of Pitchcombe.
Theodore Backhurst, of Overton Wetsville.
Philip Nye, of Kimbolton.
Brocket Smith, D.D., of Barkway.
Cornelius Burgess, D.D., of Watford.
John Green, of Pencombe.
Stanley Gower, of Brampton.
Francis Taylor, of Yalding.
Thomas Wilson, of Otham.
Anthony Tuckney, D.D., of Boston.
Charles Herle, of Winwick.
Richard Herrick, of Manchester.
Richard Clayton, of Showell.
George Gipps, of Ayleston.
Calibute Downing, D.D., of Hackney.
Jeremiah Burroughs, of Stepney.
Edmund Calamy, B.D., of Aldermanbury.
George Walker, B.D., of London.
Joseph Caryl, of Lincoln’s Inn, London Sidrach Simpson, of London, Anthony Burgess, of Sutton-Coldfield.
Richard Vines, of Calcot.
William Greenhill, of Stepney.
William Moreton, of Newcastle.
Thomas Temple, B.D., of Battersey.
Josias Shute, B.D., Lombard Street.
William Nicholson, D.D., afterwards Bishop of Cloucester.
Thomas Gataker, B.D., of Rotherhithe.
James Welby, of Sylatten.
Christopher Pashly, D.D., of Hawarden.
Henry Tozer, B.D., of Oxford.
William Spurstow, D.D., of Hampden.
Francis Cheynel, D.D., of Petworth.
Edward Ellis, B.D., of Gilsfield.
John Hacket, D.D., of St. Andrew’s London.
John de la March,
Matthew Newcomen, of Dedham.
William Lyford, of Sherbourne.
William Carter, of Dynton.
William Lance, of Harrow.
Thomas Hodges, of Kensington.
Andrew Perne, of Wisby.
Thomas Westfield, D.D., Bishop of Bristol.
Henry Hammond, D.D., of Penshurst.
Nicholas Proffit, of Marlborough.
Peter Sterry, of London.
John Erle, of Bishopston.
John Gibbon of Waltham.
Henry Painter, B.D., of Exeter.
Thomas Micklethwait, of Cherryburton.
John Wincop, D.D., of St. Martin’s in the Fields.
William Price, of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden.
Henry Wilkinson, R.D., of St. Dunstan’s.
Richard Holdsworth, D.D., of Cambridge.
William Dunning, of Godalston.
SCOTTISH MEMBERS. Lay Assessors or Elders .
John, Lord Maitland.
Sir Archibald Johnston, of Warriston. Ministers .
Alexander Henderson, of Edinburgh.
George Gillespie, of Edinburgh.
Samuel Rutherford, of St. Andrews.
Robert Baillie, of Glasgow.
SCRIBES OR CLERKS.
Of this list, about twenty-five never appeared at the Assembly, one or two having died about the time of the meeting of the Assembly, and others fearing the displeasure of the king, or having a preference for the prelatic system. In order to supply the deficiency thus caused, and also occasional diminution caused by death during the protracted sittings of the Assembly, the Parliament summoned about twenty-one additional members, who were termed the superadded divines. The following is a list of their names, as far as is known:
Daniel Cawdrey, of Great Billing.
Thos. Dillingham, of Dean.
John Strickland, B.D. of New Sarum.
Mr. Strong, of Westminster.
William Rathband, of Highgate.
Simeon Ashe, of St. Bride’s.
There were thus in whole, thirty-two lay assessors, including those from Scotland; and one hundred and forty-two divines, including the four Scottish commissioners. But of these only sixty-nine were present the first day; and, generally, the attendance appears to have ranged between sixty and eighty. There are one hundred and two divines named in the common editions of the Confession of Faith; but several of those there named were not regular in their attendance. Not more than from a dozen to a score spoke frequently; many very learned and able men being contented to listen, to think, and to vote. The three scribes had no votes, being sufficiently employed in recording the propositions brought forward, the progress of the discussion, and the state of the vote when taken. Dr.
Twisse, of Newbury, was appointed prolocutor; and after his death he was succeeded by Mr. Herle. Dr. Burgess of Watford, and Mr. White of Dorchester, were assessors to the prolocutor, to take the chair during his occasional absence.
It may serve to show the wish of the Parliament to act with fairness and impartiality, to state, that they named men of all shades of opinion in matters of Church government, in order that the whole subject might be fully discussed. In the original ordinance, four bishops were named, one of whom actually attended on the first day, and another excused his absence on the ground of necessary duty; of the others called, five became bishops afterwards; and about twenty-five declined attending, partly because it was not a regular convocation called by the king, and partly because the Solemn League and Covenant was expressly condemned by his majesty.
At length the appointed day came; and on Saturday, the 1st of July, the members of the two Houses of Parliament named in the ordinance, and many of the divines therein mentioned, and a vast congregation, met in the Abbey Church, Westminster. Dr. Twisse, the appointed prolocutor of the Assembly, preached an elaborate sermon from the text, John 14:18: “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you.” After sermon all the members present adjourned to Henry VII’s Chapel; and the roll of members being called, it appeared that there were sixty-nine clerical members present on that the first day of the Westminster Assembly. But as there had been no specific instructions given, nor any subject prepared for their immediate discussion, the Assembly adjourned till the following Thursday.
This very fact points out one peculiarity of the Westminster Assembly, to which allusion has been made. It was neither a Convocation, nor a Presbyterian Synod or General Assembly; and it could not be either the one or the other, for the prelatic form of Church government had been abolished, and there was no other yet in existence. The true theory of the Westminster Assembly comprises two main elements;
When the Assembly again met on the Thursday, the following instructions were laid before them, as general regulations, directed by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled:
It was also resolved, that every member of the Assembly, both Lords and Commons, as well as Divines, before his admission to sit and vote, should take the following vow or protestation: “I, -----, do seriously promise and vow, in the presence of Almighty God, that in this Assembly, whereof I am a member, I will maintain nothing in point of doctrine but what I believe to be most agreeable to the Word of God; nor in point of discipline, but what I shall conceive to conduce most to the glory of God, and the good and peace of his Church.” This protestation was appointed to be read afresh every Monday morning, that its solemn influence might be constantly felt.
In order that business might proceed regularly and expeditiously, the whole Assembly was cast into three equal committees; the divines according to the order in which their names stood in the ordinance; and the Lords and Commons into three corresponding divisions, according to their order also.
Each committee chose for itself a chairman: the first chose Dr. Cornelius Burgess; the second, Dr. Staunton; and the third, Mr. Gibbon. The account of the Assembly’s order of procedure given by Baillie is at once so graphic and so complete, that we cannot do better than extract the entire passage, merely modernizing any peculiarities in spelling or obsolete expressions:
Twisse. Before it, on the ground, stand two chairs for the two Mr. Assessors, Dr. Burgess and Mr. White. Before these two chairs, through the length of the room, stands a table, at which sit the two scribes, Mr. Byfield and Mr. Roborough, The house is all well hung(with tapestry), and has a good fire, which is some dainties at London. Opposite the table, upon the prolocutor’s right hand, there are three or four ranks of benches. On the lowest we five do sit.
Upon the other, at our backs, the members of Parliament deputed to the Assembly. On the benches opposite us, on the prolocutor’s left hand, going from the upper end of the house to the chimney, and at the other end of the house and back of the table, till it come about to our seats, are four or five stages of benches, upon which their divines sit as they please; albeit commonly they keep the same place. From the chimney to the door there are no seats, but a void space for passage. The Lords of the Parliament used to sit on chairs, in that void, about the fire. We meet every day of the week but Saturday. We sit commonly from nine till one or two afternoon.
The prolocutor, at the beginning and end, has a short prayer. The man, as the world knows, is very learned in the questions he has studied, and very good, beloved of all, and highly esteemed; but merely bookish, not much, as it seems, acquainted with conceived prayer, and among the unfittest of all the company for any action; so after the prayer he sits mute. It was the canny conveyance(skillful management)of those who guide most matters for their own interest to plant such a man of purpose in the chair.
Ordinarily there will be present above three score of their divines.
These are divided into three committees, in one of which every man is a member. No man is excluded who pleases to come to any of the three. Every committee, as the Parliament gives order in writing to take any purpose to consideration, takes a portion, and in their afternoon meeting prepares matters for the Assembly, sets down their minds in distinct propositions, backing their propositions with texts of Scripture. After the prayer, Mr. Byfield, the scribe, reads the proposition and scriptures; whereupon the Assembly debates in a most grave and orderly way. “No man is called up to speak; but whosoever stands up of his own accord, speaks so long as he will without interruption. If two or three stand up at once, then the divines confusedly call on his name whom they desire to hear first: on whom the loudest and maniest voices call, he speaks. No man speaks to any but to the prolocutor.
They harangue long and very learnedlie. They study the questions well beforehand, and prepare their speeches; but withal the men are exceeding prompt and well spoken. I do marvel at the very accurate and ex-temporal replies that many of them usually make. When, upon every proposition by itself, and on every text of Scripture that is brought to confirm it, every man who will has said his whole mind, and the replies, duplies, and triplies are heard, then the most part call, ‘To the question.’ Byfield, the scribe, rises from the table, and comes to the prolocutor’s chair, who, from the scribe’s book, reads the proposition, and says, ‘As many as are of opinion that the question is well stated in the proposition, let them say, Ay;’ when ay is heard, he says, ‘As many as think otherwise, say, No.’ If the difference of ‘Ayes’ and ‘Noes’ be clear, as usually it is, then the question is ordered by the scribes, and they go on to debate the first scripture alleged for proof of the proposition. If the sound of Ay and No be near equal, then says the prolocutor, ‘As many as say Ay, stand up,” while they stand, the scribe and others number them in their minds; when they sit down, the Noes are bidden stand, and they likewise are numbered. This way is clear enough, and saves a great deal of time, which we spend in reading our catalogue. When a question is once ordered, there is no more debate of that matter; but if a man will wander from the subject, he is quickly taken up by Mr. Assessor, or many others, confusedly crying, ‘Speak to order, to order.’ No man contradicts another expressly by name, but most discreetly speaks to the prolocutor, and at most holds to general terms: ‘The reverend brother who lately, or last, spoke, on this hand, on that side, above, or below.’ I thought meet once for all to give you a taste of the outward form of their Assembly. They follow the way of their Parliament. Much of their way is good, and worthy of our imitation; only their longsomeness is woeful at this time, when their Church and kingdom lie under a most lamentable anarchy and confusion. They see the hurt of their length, but cannot get it helped; for being to establish a new platform of worship and discipline to their nation for all time to come, they think they cannot be answerable, if solidly, and at leisure, they do not examine every point thereof.” Having made these preliminary arrangements, the Parliament sent the Assembly an order to revise the Thirty-nine Articles, for the purpose of simplifying, clearing, and vindicating the doctrines therein contained. The discharge of this task was begun in the committees, and reported from time to time in the Assembly. On the first of these meetings to receive and consider reports, July 12th, “A letter,” says Lightfoot, “came from Dr.
Brownrigge, Bishop of Exeter, to Dr. Featly, or, in his absence, to Dr.
Gouge, which was openly read, wherein he excuseth his non-appearance in the Assembly, from the tie of the vice-chancellorship in the university that lay upon him.” The tenor of his excuse shows that he at least did not condemn the calling of the Assembly, nor thought his episcopal function of divine institution. Indeed there were many Episcopalians who had not embraced the high theory of Bancroft and Laud, otherwise none could have appeared in the Assembly at all; and yet even Clarendon admits, that “about twenty of them were reverend and worthy persons, and episcopal in their judgments;” and Fuller says, that “Dr. Westfield(bishop of Bristol)and some few others seemed the only nonconformists among them for their conformity, whose gowns and canonical habits differed from all the rest.” From this it appears that at least one bishop gave his presence to the meeting of that Assembly, which so many of his prelatic brethren since have termed impious and rebellious.
A new disaster having befallen the arms of the Parliament, in the defeat of Waller, the Assembly petitioned the Houses to appoint a fast throughout London, Westminster, and the suburbs; requesting that measures might be speedily adopted for promoting reformation, so that the divine wrath might be averted, and the wounds and miseries of the kingdom healed. This petition was granted; the 21st of July was set apart as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer. Mr. Hill, Mr. Spurstow, and Mr. Vines, were appointed to preach before the Houses, and the day was observed with great solemnity within the specified boundaries. From this time forward, it was customary to appoint similar fasts, and public sermons before the Houses of Parliament; which sermons were printed by order of Parliament, frequently with prefaces before, or postscripts appended to them by their authors; and having been preserved, they form an admirable mass of information regarding the actual sentiments and state of feelings predominant in both the Parliament and Assembly, characterized by all the freshness and trembling earnestness, and intensity of hopes and fears, called forth by the varying vicissitudes of those eventful and fluctuating times. The same circumstance proves, that on the part of the Parliament, the struggle in which they were engaged was by themselves regarded as to the full as much of a religious as of a political character; and that they were not ashamed to acknowledge that they looked to the favor and the protection of God for ultimate success in the perilous and important contest. It may be added, that however vehemently the king and his adherents asserted the divine source of the royal prerogative, we do not find that they attempted to hallow their cause, or to seek divine aid, by solemn religious acts; but, on the contrary, that in order to draw the utmost possible breadth of distinction between themselves and the Puritans, they delighted to indulge to excess in every kind of licentiousness and immorality; so that they frequently alienated those counties which were otherwise friendly to the royal cause, and drove the oppressed people into the ranks of the parliamentary armies, as the only way to rescue themselves and their families from the vicious brutalities of the proud and tyrannical cavaliers.
The Assembly continued to discuss the Thirty-nine Articles, and expended ten weeks in debating upon the first fifteen. But upon the arrival of the Scottish commissioners, or rather, soon after the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant, a new direction was given to the whole course of discussion; so that it is unnecessary to trace that part of the proceedings which led to no practical result, and which, terminating abruptly and unfinished, cannot properly be said to form any part of the Assembly’s actual proceedings. Let us rather direct attention to the formation of the Solemn League and Covenant itself.
When the English Parliament determined upon the abolition of the Prelatic hierarchy, they at the same time suggested the calling of an Assembly of Divines to deliberate respecting the new form to be established; and they also applied to the Church of Scotland to send commissioners to the intended Assembly. The Scottish Church nominated some ministers and elders to be in readiness; but the English Assembly not having been called till nearly a year had elapsed, serious doubts began to be entertained in Scotland respecting their sincerity, especially when no authorized person appeared at the Convention of Estates held on the 22d June, and prolonged during a fortnight. At length a messenger arrived, stating that the Assembly had met, and renewing their application for the presence of Scottish commissioners. As the General Assembly was to meet on the 2d of August, and the Convention of Estates at the same time, the matter was deferred till then, that it might be fully and authoritatively arranged.
After several days of anxious expectation by the Scottish General Assembly, the English commissioners arrived on the 7th of August, and were received by a deputation of the Assembly on the following day. The English commissioners were, from the Lords, the Earl of Rutland. and Lord Gray of Wark, the latter of whom declined the journey; from the Commons, Sir William Armyn, Sir Harry Vane the younger, Mr. Hatcher, and Mr. Darley; and from the Assembly of Divines, Mr. Marshall and Mr. Nye. They presented their commission, giving them ample powers to treat with the Scottish Convention and. Assembly,
All were of opinion that it was necessary to assist the English; but how that assistance should be given they could not so readily determine. At one time the prevalent idea was, that Scotland should interpose as a mediating power, without altogether taking part with the Parliament; but a more careful and full deliberation convinced them that this was impracticable.
They had learned by sad experience that the king’s most solemn treaties could not be depended on, when they had seen the treaty concluded at Dunse ordered to be burned by the hands of the hangman, and themselves denounced as rebels. And as the English Parliament had not hitherto exhibited any similar insincerity, there was no reason for equal distrust with regard to their declarations; while the Scottish statesmen and ministers could not but perceive, that if the king should succeed in subjugating his English Parliament, he would then be able to assail Scotland with an irresistible force.
Still there was one difficult point. The English commissioners sought to enter into a civil league with Scotland, for the defense of the civil liberties of both countries. But as the entire spirit of the contest in which Scotland had been engaged was of a religious character, in defense of religious liberty, and had been conducted to a prosperous issue by the strength of a religious covenant into which the nation had entered, the Convention and Assembly insisted upon a religious covenant between the two kingdoms.
To this the English commissioners at length assented, on the suggestion of Sir Harry Vane, that the two ideas might very properly be combined; and hence the bond of union between the two countries was so framed as to embrace both subjects, and received the appropriate designation ofTHE SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT.
This important document was framed by the celebrated Alexander Henderson, moderator of the Assembly, and laid, before the English commissioners. At first they startled somewhat at its terms, some of them wishing for a greater latitude of expression, to leave room for the introduction of the Independent or Congregational system. In this, too, a slight compromise was made, no specific plan for the reformation of religion in England and Ireland being stated, except that it should be “according to the Word of God, and the example of the best reformed Churches.” With this mode of expressing the general principle all were satisfied; and after receiving the approbation of the private committees, the Solemn League and Covenant was submitted to the General Assembly on the 17th of August 1643, passed unanimously, amidst the applause of some, and the bursting tears of a deep, full, and sacred joy of others; and in the afternoon, with the same cordial unanimity, passed the Convention of Estates. “This,” says Baillie, “seems to be a new period and crisis of the most great adair which these hundred years has exercised these dominions.” He was not mistaken; it was indeed the commencement of a new period in the history of the Christian Church, though that period has not yet run its full round, nor reached its crisis,
It is customary for a certain class of writers to say, that in the discussion respecting the Solemn League and Covenant, there was a contest of cunning between the English commissioners and the Scottish Covenanters, and that the superior subtlety of Sir Harry Vane enabled him to beguile the Scottish negotiators, who, in their blind attachment to their own Presbyterian system, could not conceive that any thing else was meant by the expression, “The best reformed Churches.” This is but a weak invention of the enemy. In the beginning of the year 1641, the Scottish commissioners had both suggested the idea of a closer agreement between the Churches of England and Scotland, and disclaimed the presumption or urging their system upon the mightier kingdom. And in the ordinance summoning the Assembly, one object is said to be, to obtain “a nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland, and other reformers Churches abroad.” Further, the Church of Scotland had delayed the framing of a Directory, very much that she might be the more at liberty to accommodate her procedure to what might be resolved upon by the English Assembly, when it should have accomplished its task. It would appear, therefore, that there was no craft nor overreaching on either side; and that, so far as there was a compromise, it was one of candor and frankness, well understood by both parties, for the purpose of leaving matters open to a full and fair discussion.
When the Solemn League and Covenant had thus received the assent of the Scottish Convention of Estates and General Assembly, a copy of it was sent to the English Parliament and the Westminster Divines, for their consideration. Commissioners were appointed to attend that Assembly, partly elders and. partly ministers. The elders were, the Earl of Cassilis, Lord Maitland, and Johnston of Warriston; the ministers were, Messrs Henderson, Baillie, Gillespie, Rutherford, and Douglas; but neither the Earl of Cassilis nor Mr. Robert Douglas ever attended, so that the Scottish commissioners were six in all. When the document reached Westminster, several days were spent by the English divines in considering its various propositions, and some slight verbal alterations were made, for the sake of explanation,
Hoyle, and by Mr. Case. Mr. Henderson replied, expressing the deep sympathy felt by the kingdom and Church of Scotland for the sufferings of England, and the readiness with which they would to the utmost assist the good work of religious reformation thus begun. The Solemn League and Covenant was then read over clause by clause, and explanations given where it seemed of doubtful import, till the whole received the sanction of the Assembly. It was then appointed by the Parliament, and assented to by the Assembly, that the Covenant should be publicly taken by these bodies on the 25th of September. On that day, accordingly, the House of Commons, with the Assembly of Divines and the Scottish commissioners, met in the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster; and the Rev. Mr. White of Dorchester, one of the assessors, commenced the solemnity with prayer.
Mr. Nye then addressed the dignified and grave audience in a speech of an hour’s duration, pointing out the Scripture authority of such covenants, and the advantage of which they had been productive to the Church of God in all ages. Mr. Henderson followed in a speech considerably shorter, but of great dignity and power. Mr. Nye then read it from the pulpit, slowly aud aloud, pausing at the close of every article, while the whole audience of statesmen and divines arose, and, with their right hands held up to heaven, worshipped the great name of God, and gave their sacred pledge. Then the members of the House of Commons subscribed the Covenant on one roll of parchment, and the Assembly on another; and when this was done, the solemn scene was closed by prayer and praise to that omniscient God to whom they had lifted up their hands and made their vows.
Temple, and an exhortation by Mr. Coleman. It was taken also by the congregations in and around London on the following Lord’s day. On the 9th of October the king issued a proclamation from Oxford, denouncing this document as “in truth nothing else but a traitorous and seditious combination against us and the established religion of this kingdom;” straitly charging and commanding all his loving subjects, upon their allegiance, “that they presume not to take the said seditious and traitorous Covenant.” And at last an order was issued by the Parliament, in February 1644, commanding the Covenant to be taken throughout the kingdom of England by all persons above the age of eighteen years; which order was accompanied by an exhortation prepared by the Assembly of Divines. In Scotland, as soon as information was received of what had taken place in London, the Committee of Estates ordered the Covenant to be subscribed by all ranks and conditions of people, on penalty of the confiscation of property, or such other punishment as his Majesty and the Parliament might resolve to inflict. This harsh command was intended to bear against that faction of the nobility who were known to have entered into a secret confederacy with the king; and its effect was, to drive some into Right, and all into more desperate opposition. But this, it will be observed, was the act of the civil not the ecclesiastical, authorities in Scotland; and it proceeded mainly upon the principle, that the bond thus enforced was not only a religious covenant, but also a civil league. It was unfortunate that civil and religious matters should have been so blended, because whatever civil measures were adopted, or civil penalties were indicted, were sure to be unfairly charged against the religious element, instead of the civil, to which they truly owed their origin. But even this unpropitious circumstance was forced upon the Covenanters; partly by the fact that the proceedings of the king were equally hostile to civil and to religious liberty, and partly by their unavoidable union with the English Parliament, in which the struggle was even more directly for civil than for religious liberty.
The importance of the Solemn League and Covenant, thus agreed upon and subscribed by the ruling constitutional authorities, civil, and ecclesiastical, in both Scotland and England, renders it necessary that it should be presented to the reader in the body of the work, rather than in an appendix:
It is difficult to conceive how any calm, unprejudiced, thoughtful, and religious man can peruse the preceding very solemn document, without feeling upon his mind an overawing sense of its sublimity and sacredness.
The most important of man’s interests for time and for eternity are included within its ample scope, and made the subjects of a Solemn League with each other, and a sacred Covenant with God. Religion, liberty, and peace, are the great elements of human welfare, to the preservation of which it bound the empire; and as those by whom it was framed knew well that there can be no safety for these in a land where the mind of the community is dark with ignorance, warped by superstition, misled by error, and degraded by tyranny, civil and ecclesiastical, they pledged themselves to seek the extirpation of these pernicious evils. Yet it was the evils themselves, and not the persons of those in whom those evils prevailed, that they sought to extirpate. Nor was there any inconsistency in declaring that they sought to promote the honor and happiness of the king, while thus uniting in a Covenant against that double despotism which he strove to exercise. For no intelligent person will deny, that it is immeasurably more glorious for a monarch to be the king of freemen, than a tyrant over slaves; and that whatsoever promotes the true mental, moral, and religious greatness of a kingdom, promotes also its civil welfare, and elevates the true dignity of its sovereign. This, the mind of Charles was not comprehensive enough to learn, nor wise enough to know, especially as he was misled by the prelatic faction, who, while seeking their own aggrandizement, led him to believe that they were zealous only for his glory,
Such were the great principles of the Solemn League and Covenant; and, while it is easy, very easy, to frame captious objections against minor points and forms of expression, as is very often done, we do not hesitate to say , that in our opinion, no man who is able to understand its nature, and to feel and appreciate its spirit and its aim, will deny it to be the wisest, the sublimest, and the most sacred document ever framed by uninspired men.
But, as afterwards appeared, it was premature; it far outwent the spirit of the time; it was understood and valued but by few; and it was regarded by all who could not understand it with the most intense and bitter hatred, mingled and increased by fear. Let not, however, this admission be taken in its most unlimited sense. If the Solemn League and Covenant was premature, that detracts not from its real value; it only proves that it was promulgated in ignorant and “evil times, with darkness and with dangers compassed round.” And let these questions be asked and thoughtfully answered:
Are there none by whom it is still regarded with sacred veneration? Is it not true, that, at this very moment, there are many minds of great power and energy, earnestly engaged in reviving its mighty principles, and fearlessly holding them forth before the world’s startled gaze? And if such be the case, may it not be, that what two hundred years ago was premature, has now nearly reached the period of a full maturity, and is on the point of raising up its sacred and majestic head, “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might?”
Before proceeding to relate the discussions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, thus anally constituted and prepared. for its duties, it may be expedient to give a brief view of the parties, by the combination of which it was from the first composed, by whose jarring contentions its progress was retarded, and by whose divisions and mutual hostilities its labors were at length frustrated and prevented from obtaining their due result.
When the Parliament issued the ordinance for calling together an Assembly of Divines for consultation and advice, there was, it will be remembered, actually no legalized form of Church government in England, so far as depended on the Legislature. Even Charles himself had consented to the bill removing the prelates from the House of Lords; and though the bill abolishing the hierarchy had not obtained the royal sanction, yet the greater part of the kingdom regarded it as conclusive on that point. The chief object of the Parliament, therefore, was to determine what form of Church government was to be established by law, in the room of that which had been abolished. And as their desire was to secure a form which should both be generally acceptable, and should also bear, at least, a close resemblance to the form most, prevalent in other reformed Churches, they attempted to act impartially, and, in their ordinance, they selected some of each denomination, appointing Bishops, untitled Episcopalians, Puritans, and Independents. Several Episcopalians, and at least one Bishop, were present in the first meeting of the Assembly. But when the Solemn League and Covenant was proposed and taken, and when the king issued his condemnation of it, all the decided Episcopalians left, with the exception of Dr. Featly. He remained a member of the Assembly for some time; till, being detected corresponding with Archbishop Ussher, and revealing the proceedings of the Assembly, he was cut off from that venerable body, and committed to prison. From that time forward there were no direct supporters of Prelacy in the Assembly, and the protracted controversial discussions which arose were on other subjects; on which account we have nothing to do with the Episcopalian controversy, beyond what has been already stated in our preliminary pages.
There can be no doubt that the close alliance which the English Parliament sought with Scotland, and the ground taken by the Scottish Convention of Estates and General Assembly, in requiring not only an international league, but also a religious covenant, tended greatly to direct the mind of the English statesmen and divines towards the Presbyterian form of Church government, and exercised a powerful influence in the deliberations of the Westminster Assembly. But let it be also remembered, that in every one of the reformed continental Churches, either the Presbyterian form, or one very closely resembling it, had been adopted; and that the Puritans had already formed themselves into presbyteries, held presbyterial meetings, and endeavored to exercise Presbyterian discipline, in the reception, suspension, and rejection of members. Both the example of other Churches, therefore, and their own already begun practice, had led them so far onward to the Presbyterian model, that they would almost inevitably have assumed it altogether apart from the influence of Scotland. In truth, that influence was exerted and felt almost solely in the way of instruction, from a Church already formed, to one in the process of formation; and none would have been more ready than the Scottish commissioners themselves to have repudiated the very idea of any other kind of influence.
It may be said, therefore, with the most strict propriety, that the native aim and tendency of the Westminster Assembly was to establish the Presbyterian form of Church government in England, the great body of English Puritans having gradually become Presbyterians. There is reason to believe that both Pym and Hampden favored the Presbyterian system; but their early and lamented death deprived that cause of their powerful support, and the House of Commons of their able and steady guidance.
The chief promoters of Presbytery in the House of Commons were, Sir William Waller, Sir Philip Stapleton, Sir John Clotworthy, Sir Benjamin Rudyard, Colonel Massey, Colonel Harley, Sergeant Maynard, Denzil Hollis, John Glynn, and a few more of less influential character.
The Independents, or Congregationalists, formed another party, few in point of number, but men of considerable talent and learning, of undoubted piety, of great pertinacity in adhering to their own opinions, and, we are constrained to say, well skilled in the artifices of intriguing policy. The origin of the Independent system has been already stated briefly in our introductory remarks, and will require little further elucidation. It was, according to the statement of its adherents, a medium between the Brownist and the Presbyterian systems. They did not, with the Brownists, condemn every other Church as too corrupt and antichristian for intercommunion,
The leading Independents in the Westminster Assembly were, Dr. Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, Jeremiah Burroughs, William Bridge, and Sidrach Simpson. These men had at first been silenced by the violent persecution of Laud and Wren, and had then retired to Holland,
Of these five leading Independents, often termed “The Five Dissenting Brethren,” Goodwin appears to have been the deepest theologian, and perhaps altogether the ablest man; Nye, the most acute and subtle, and the best skilled in holding intercourse with worldly politicians; Burroughs, the most gentle and pacific in temper and character; Bridge is said to have been a man of considerable attainments, and a very laborious student; and Simpson bears also a respectable character as a preacher, though not peculiarly distinguished in public debate. To these Baillie adds, as Independents, Joseph Caryl, William Carter(of London), John Philips, and Peter Sterry,
The third party in the Assembly were the Erastians; so called from Erastus, a physician at Heidelberg, who wrote on the subject of Church government, especially in respect of excommunication, in the year 1568.
His theory was,
The punishment of all offenses, whether of a civil or a religious nature, belonged, according to this theory, exclusively to the civil magistrate. The tendency of this theory was, to destroy entirely all ecclesiastical and spiritual jurisdiction, to deprive the Church of all power of government, and to make it completely the mere “creature of the State.” The pretended advantage of this theory was, that it prevented the existence of an imperium in imperio , or one government within another, of a distinct and independent nature. But the real disadvantage, in the most mitigated view that can be taken, was, that it reproduced what may be termed a civil Popedom, by combining civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and giving both into the possession of one irresponsible power,
But as the Erastian controversy will come fully before us in the debates of the Assembly, it is unnecessary to enter upon it here. There were only two divines in the assembly who advocated the Erastian theory; and of these, one alone was decidedly and thoroughly Erastian. The divine to whom this unenviable pre-eminence must be assigned, was Thomas Coleman, minister at Bliton in Lincolnshire. He was aided generally, but not always, by Lightfoot, in the various discussions that arose involving Erastian opinions.
Both of these divines were eminently distinguished by their attainments in Oriental literature, particularly in rabbinical lore; and their attachment to the study of Hebrew literature and customs led them to the conclusion, that the Christian Church was to be in every respect constituted according to the model of the Jewish Church: and having formed the opinion that there was but one jurisdiction in Israel, combining both civil and ecclesiastical, and that this was held by the Hebrew monarchs, they concluded that the same blended government ought to prevail under the Christian dispensation. Of the lay assessors in the Assembly the chief Erastians were, the learned Selden, Mr. Whitelocke, and Mr. St. John; but though Selden was the only one of them whose arguments were influential in the Assembly itself, yet nearly all the Parliament held sentiments decidedly Erastian, and having seized the power of Church government, were not disposed to yield it up, be the opinion of the assembled divines what it might. Hence, though the Erastian divines were only two, yet their opinions, supported by the whole civil authority in the kingdom, were almost sure to triumph in the end. This, in one point of view, was not strange. The kingdom had suffered so much severe and protracted injury from the usurped authority and power of the prelates, that the assertors of civil liberty almost instinctively shrunk from even the shadow of any kind of power in the hands of ecclesiastics. A little less passion and fear, and a little more judgment and discrimination, might have rescued them from this groundless apprehension; and they might have perceived that freedom, both civil and ecclesiastical, would be best secured by the full and authoritative recognition of their respective jurisdictions, separate and independent. But indeed this is a truth which has yet to be learned by civil governments,
Into these three great parties, Presbyterian, Independent, and Erastian, was the Westminster Assembly of Divines divided, even when first it met; and it was inevitable that a contest would be waged among them for the ascendancy, ending most probably either in increased hostility and absolute disruption, or in some mutual compromise, to which all might assent, though perhaps with the cordial approbation of none. The strength of these parties was more evenly balanced at first than might have been expected.
The Puritans, though all of them had received episcopal ordination, and had been exercising their ministry in the Church of England, under the hierarchy, were nearly all Presbyterians, or at least quite willing to adopt that form of church government, though many of them would have consented to a modified Episcopacy on the Usserian model. Their influence in the city of London was paramount, and throughout the country was very considerable; and as they formed the most natural connecting link with Scotland, they occupied a position of very great importance. Although the Independents were but a small minority in the Assembly, yet various circumstances combined to render them by no means a weak or insignificant party. They were supported in the House of Peers by Lord Say and Sele, and frequently also by Lords Brooke and Kimbolton,
It is easy to perceive, that the theory which was supported by these three elements in thorough and vigorous, union, was one which it would be no easy matter to encounter and defeat; or rather, was one over which nothing but divine power could possibly gain the victory.
The Scottish commissioners cannot with propriety be regarded as forming a party in the Westminster Assembly, as they and, the English Presbyterians were in all important matters completely identified. Still it may be expedient to give a very brief account of men who occupied a position so important, and exercised. for a time so great an influence on the affairs of both kingdoms. Their names have been already mentioned; and it has also been stated, that neither the Earl of Cassilis nor the Rev. Robert Douglas ever attended the Westminster assembly. Lord Maitland and Archibald Johnston of Warriston gave regular attendance, and took deep interest in the proceedings. At that time Lord Maitland appeared to be very zealous in the cause of religious reformation, and a thorough Presbyterian; but, as afterwards appeared, his zeal was more of a political than of a religious character. After the restoration of Charles II, he conformed to Prelacy, became the chief adviser of that monarch in Scottish affairs, received the title of Duke of Lauderdale, and is too well known in Scottish history as a ruthless and bloody persecutor. Johnston of Warriston was in heart and soul a Covenanter on religious, not political principles; from which he never swerved. One only stain appears in his life, if stain it can be called,
Such being the case, Warriston had but to choose to serve his country under Cromwell, or not to serve it at all. He chose the former alternative; and after the Restoration, was constrained to flee from Scotland to escape the mean vindictive hostility of the king. Having been at length seized by his pursuers, he was dragged back to his native country, that his enemies might satiate their malice by murdering the inch of life that existed in his aged and feeble form. He was a man of great strength and clearness of intellect, fervidly eloquent in speech, and of inflexible integrity.
The four Scottish divines were in every respect distinguished men, and would have been so regarded in any age or country. Alexander Henderson was, however, cheerfully admitted to be beyond comparison the most eminent. His learning was extensive rather than minute, corresponding to the character of his mind, of which the distinguishing elements were dignity and comprehensiveness. When called to quit the calm seclusion of the country parish where he had spent so many years, and to come to the rescue of the Church of Scotland in her hour of need, he at once proved himself able to conduct and control the complicated movements of an awakening empire. Statesmen sought his counsel; but with equal propriety and disinterestedness he refused to concern himself with anything beyond what belonged to the Church,
George Gillespie was one of that peculiar class of men who start like meteors into sudden splendor, shine with dazzling brilliancy, then suddenly set behind the tomb, leaving their compeers equally to admire and to deplore. When but in his twenty-fifth year, he published a book against what he termed, the “English Popish Ceremonies,” which Charles and Laud were attempting to force upon the Church of Scotland. This work, though the production of a youth, displayed an amount and accuracy of learning which would have done honor to any man of the most mature years and scholarship. In the Assembly of Divines, though much the youngest member there, he proved himself one of the most able and ready debaters, encountering, not only on equal terms, but often with triumphant success, each with his own weapons, the most learned, subtle, and profound of his antagonists, He must have been no common man who was ready on any emergency to meet, and frequently to foil, by their own acknowledgment, such men as Selden, Lightfoot, and Coleman, in the Erastian controversy; and Goodwin and Nye in their argument for Independency. But the excessive activity of his ardent and energetic mind wore out his frame; and he returned from his labors in the Westminster Assembly, to see once more the church and the land of his fathers, and to die.
Samuel Rutherford gained, and still holds, an extensive reputation by his religious works; but he was not less eminent in his own day as an acute and able controversialist. The characteristics of his mind were, clearness of intellect, warmth and earnestness of affection, and loftiness and spirituality of devotional feeling. He could and did write vigorously against the Independent system, and at the same time, love and esteem the men who held it. In his celebrated work, “Lex Rex,” he not only entered the regions of constitutional jurists, but even produced a treatise unrivaled yet as an exposition of the true principles of civil and religious liberty. His “Religious Letters” have been long admired by all who could understand and feel what true religion is; though groveling and impure minds have striven to blight their reputation by dwelling on occasional forms of expression, not necessarily unseemly in the homeliness of phrase used in familiar letters, and conveying nothing offensive according to the language of the times.
His powers of debate were very considerable, being characterized by clearness of distinction in stating his opinions, and a close syllogistic style of reasoning; both the result of his remarkable precision of thought.
Robert Baillie, so well known by his “Letters and Journals,” was a man of extensive and varied learning, both in languages and systematic theology.
He rarely mingled in debate; but his sagacity was valuable in deliberation, and his great acquirements, studious habits, and ready use of his pen, rendered him an important member of such an Assembly. The singular ease and readiness of Baillie in composition, enabled him to maintain what seems like a universal correspondence; and at the same time to present in a vivid, picturesque, and exquisitely natural style, the very form and impress of the period in which he lived, and the great events in which he bore a part. And when it was necessary to refute errors by exhibiting them in their real aspect, the vast reading and retentive memory of Baillie enabled him to produce what was needed with marvelous rapidity and correctness.
Such were the Scottish commissioners; and it may easily be believed that they acted a very important and influential part in the Westminster Assembly of Divines.
But there was another party in England, though not represented in the Westminster Assembly, which exercised a commanding influence in the affairs of that momentous period. Perhaps it is not strictly correct to call that a party which was rather a vast mass of heterogeneous elements, without any principle of mutual coherence, except that of united resistance and hostility to every thing that possessed a previous and authorized existence. But the effect on the country was even more powerful for evil than it could, have been had the numerous sects to whom we are referring been organized into a party; for in that case their strength could have been estimated, their demands brought forward in a definite form, what was right and reasonable granted, and what was manifestly wrong and unreasonable detected and exposed. Even before the meeting of the Long Parliament, there had sprung up a great number of sects, holding all various shades of opinion in religious matters, from such as were simply absurd, down to those that were licentiously wild and daringly blasphemous. It is almost impossible even to enumerate the Sectarians that rushed prominently into public manifestation when the overthrow of the prelatic hierarchy and government rendered it safe for them to appear; and it would be wrong to pollute our pages with a statement of their pernicious and horrible tenets. These may be seen at large in Baillie’s “Dissuasive from the Errors of the Times,” “Edwards’s Gangraena,” “A Testimony to the Truth of Jesus Christ,” by the London Ministers, and other similar works by Prynne, Bastwick, and others.
The question may be fairly and properly asked, How it happened that so many strange and dangerous sects appeared at that peculiar juncture?
Prelatic writers have been in the habit of asserting that it was in consequence of the overthrow of the Prelatic Church government, when people were left to follow the vagaries of their own unguided imagination, by which they were led into all the errors of enthusiastic frenzy and fanatical darkness. But this solution does not touch the essence of the inquiry, How came men to be so prone to follow these insane and dangerous errors? In answer to this question there are at least two points to be carefully considered,
Advancing on its despotic career, it interfered with the forms and the language of worship, prescribing to man after what manner, and in what terms, he was to address his Creator, without regard to that Creator’s own commands. At length it reached its extreme limits, and presumed to exercise absolute control over the doctrines which Christ’s ambassadors were to teach; thus rashly interfering not merely with man’s approach to God, but also with God’s message to man. This extreme point of spiritual despotism was reached, when the king and his prelates authoritatively commanded the Lord’s day to be violated, and forbade any other but the Arminian system of doctrine to be preached. Hence it appears that Prelatic Church government had proved itself to be a complete and oppressive despotism, increasing in severity as it increased in power. And let it be observed, that during its progress it had silenced. or ejected great numbers of the ablest and best ministers throughout the kingdom, without scruple and without mercy. Such a course of tyranny could not fail to produce a strong reaction in a high-minded people like the English, causing them, in the violence of the revulsion and recoil, to regard every form of ecclesiastical government as inevitably tyrannical; just as the extreme of civil despotism tends to throw a nation at one bound into the extreme of republicanism. In this manner Prelatic tyranny was the very cause why so many sects sprung up, repudiating every kind of ecclesiastical government.
Again, with regard to how Prelacy had taught the people of England, there needs but little to be said; for it is a melancholy truth, that teaching the people seems never to have been regarded by the Church of England as necessarily any part of its duty. In a Church where a despotic monarch exercises the supremacy, this is not surprising; for it requires no great degree of penetration to perceive that an intelligent and truly religious people cannot be enslaved. This Elizabeth well knew, and therefore she disapproved of preaching ministers. For the same reason, what were termed “prophesyings,” or meetings for mutual instruction, and also lecturings, were prohibited. And perhaps it would not be far from the truth were we to conjecture, that the reason why parochial schools were never instituted in England, is to be found in the same despotic principle which led the English kings and Church to wish the people to remain ignorant, that they might be the easier kept in a state of blind subjection. It will be remembered also, that whenever the Puritan ministers became what was thought troublesome, in their endeavors to teach their poor and ignorant countrymen, they were immediately silenced; and, as toleration was then unknown, they were compelled to desist from their hallowed labors, on pain of imprisonment, exile, or death. Taking this view, which is the true one, it is mere mockery to say that Prelacy had ever even attempted to teach the people of England at all,
Such had been the governing , and such the teaching of Prelacy in England; and it was not strange that men, groaning under oppression, and kept in utter darkness, should wrench asunder their fetters furiously, and should be dazzled. when they rushed at once into unwonted light. It was not strange that they should, hastily conclude that whatever was remotest from such a system was best; and should therefore be eager to destroy that form of ecclesiastical government, and to resist the establishment of any other, lest it should prove equally despotic. Nor was it strange, that people strongly excited on the subject of religion, and uninstructed in its great leading truths and principles, should very readily adopt any and every theory which was boldly and plausibly promulgated. Thus it was easy for any man who possessed sufficient fluency of speech to impose upon an excited and ignorant people, to gain a number of adherents to his opinions, and to become the founder and leader of a sect. It has often been said by those who support Prelacy, not as of divine authority, but as a useful and suitable form of Church government, that it was devised for the purpose of producing and preserving uniformity in the Church. Unfortunate device! It never could have had a more full and authoritative sway than that which it enjoyed during the reigns of Elizabeth, James, and Charles I; and it produced the most complete anarchy, and gave rise to Sectarianism to the greatest extent, and in the most repulsive forms, that ever shocked the Christian world. It at once kept men in ignorance, and drove them to madness; and ever since it has appealed to their frantic conduct as a proof of its own calm excellence.
The truth of this view may be shown by a parallel, but a strongly contrasted instance. After the restoration of Charles II, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland was violently overthrown, and its adherents subjected to twentyeight years of terrific and relentless persecution. Did the people of Scotland split into innumerable and extravagant sects, when thus deprived of their religious teachers, and oppressed with the most remorseless cruelty? They did not. One sect alone appeared, after the persecution had lasted twenty years, and in a parish where there had been a Prelatic incumbent all that time; it never mustered more than four men, and twenty-five or twenty-six women, and it perished within a few months. What caused this remarkable difference? One answer only can be given
The pernicious effect of these multitudinous sects upon the proceedings of the Westminster Assembly, we shall have occasion hereafter to show. It will be enough here to suggest what will then be proved. Although the Independent party in the Assembly did not openly avow, or rather disclaimed, connection with the Sectarians that swarmed throughout the kingdom, yet they so far held intercourse with them, and occasionally defended them, as to secure their support, and thereby to render themselves in some measure the representatives of a large portion of the English community. For this purpose they strove to retard the progress of the Assembly, while they were mustering their adherents and concentrating their strength,
What we have termed the political Independents of the army, were composed of sectarians of every possible shade of opinion; and from them, rather than from the religious Independents in the Assembly, arose the idea of toleration , of which so much use was subsequently made. As used by those military sectarians, the meaning of the term was, that any man might freely utter the ravings of his own heated fancy, and endeavor to proselytize others, be his opinions what they might,
Such a toleration, for instance, as would include alike Antinomians and Anabaptists, though teaching that they were set free from and above the rules of moral duty so completely, that to indulge in the grossest licentiousness was in them no sin; and Levelers and Fifth-Monarchy Men, whose tenets went directly to the subversion of every kind of constituted government, and all distinctions in rank and property. This was what they meant by toleration ,
Presbytery sunk into dormancy, and became cruel and oppressive, as if agitated by wild dreams under that fierce incubus, Moderatism. Prelacy has awoke, and begins to mutter words of fearful import, indicating the return of its oppressive spirit: Presbytery has awoke, and has begun her hallowed work of instructing her own people, while she offers her cordial fellowship to all who love her Divine and only Head. The inference is obvious, and may be thus stated: When the vital spirit of Prelacy is inert, it becomes comparatively harmless: when the vital spirit of Presbytery is inert, or repressed, it becomes oppressive. Again, when the vital spirit of Prelacy is active, it becomes despotic and persecuting, intolerant and illiberal: when the vital spirit of Presbytery is active, it becomes gracious and compassionate, tolerant of every thing but sin, and generous to all who believe the truth and love the Savior. Let the thoughtful reader say, which system is of human, and which of divine institution,
CHAPTER 3 -
THE INDEPENDENT CONTROVERSY, ANNO 1644.
The Assembly directed to begin the Subjects of Discipline, Directory of Worship, and Government
By this order the attention of the Assembly was turned from any further examination of the Thirty-nine Articles, and fairly directed to the important task for the accomplishment of which they had been called together. Baillie informs us that Henderson did not entertain any sanguine expectations of their conformity to the Church of Scotland, till they should have experienced the advantage of the Scottish army’s presence in England. This proves that he was not overreached by the English commissioners in the framing of the Solemn League and Covenant, but was quite aware of the views and feelings which they entertained, although he cherished the hope that circumstances might lead to a better result.
After having made some preliminary arrangements, and prepared their own minds by keeping a solemn fast, the Assembly read the order from Parliament, pointing out the new field of deliberative discussion on which they were to enter. The first question that arose regarded the order of procedure, whether they should begin with government or discipline, and it was agreed that they should begin with the subject of Church government.
This suggested another preliminary point,
Lightfoot opposed this course, and wished the Assembly first of all to give a definition of the leading term of all their discussions, “a Church .” It is evident that this would have been the most logical course, first to define a Church, then to inquire into its government, and lastly to treat of discipline, which is government in operation. But it was felt that this course would bring forward first the very points on which the greatest differences of opinion were known to exist; and therefore it was judged prudent rather to adopt a less perfect order of procedure, for the purpose of ascertaining first how far all could agree, in the hope that then their differences would either disappear, or be capable of being brought into some general accommodation. It was accordingly resolved, that since all admitted the existence of a Church, and of Church government, however they might differ regarding their nature and extent, these subjects should be left for the present indefinite, and they should commence with the subject of office bearers in the Church, or, to use their own term, Church-officers. From this early, and comparatively slight discussion, it was evident that both parties in the Assembly were keenly vigilant lest any thing should be done which might in any degree prejudge their opinions; and consequently, that their debates would be eager, animated, and protracted, on every controverted topic. But as the very object for which the Assembly was called was to prepare a form of Church government, of discipline, and of worship for the nation, which was intended to be final and lasting, it was judged right to give to every portion of their great work the benefit of the most full and deliberate discussion, though at the expense of considerable delay.
Committees, according to the usual arrangement, had been appointed to prepare the subject of Church-officers for public discussion, and gave in their separate reports. That of the second committee began thus:
But we shall have occasion to show the reason why they allowed this proposition to pass unchallenged. It did not, however, escape the opposition of the Independents. Mr. Goodwin opposed it, as anticipating the Assembly’s work, and concluding that Christ’s influence into his Church is through his officers, whereas he questions whether it be conveyed that way or not. Again, when the kingly office of Christ was under discussion, Goodwin doubted whether the Scriptures prove that Christ is King, in regard of discipline in the Church. He questioned also whether the Headship of Christ should be specified, as being no office in the Church. All these objections were overruled, and the reports proved, as the basis of subsequent deliberations.
The four following questions were also reported by the third committee:
The general names of officers having been already stated, the debate arose on the second question,
Little opposition was made to these reasons, and that little was chiefly made by Mr. Goodwin,
Another point respecting the apostleship was introduced, which led to considerable discussion, not on its own account, but because of its ultimate consequence:
The next discussion arose respecting the office of pastor, which the report stated to be perpetual, and to consist in feeding the flock, and in the dispensation of sacraments. In the term “feeding ” was included, to preach and teach, to convince, to reprove, to exhort, and to comfort. Mr. Coleman questioned whether a pastor, in the Old Testament, meant the ecclesiastical officer in the Church, and not constantly the civil. This was supported by Lightfoot; and here also appeared the germ of their Erastianism. A long discussion followed on the question, Whether the public reading of the Scriptures be the pastor’s office? some desiring to retain what was termed “a reader” in each congregation; but it was at length decided to belong to the pastor’s office. The duty of catechizing was also assigned to the pastor; and likewise that of praying when he preached, which had been prohibited by the bishops. It was also held, that it belongs to the pastor to take care of the poor, though not to supersede the deacon’s office.
The next subject which occupied the Assembly’s attention was the question, whether pastors and teachers, or doctors, formed one and the same office. The Independents maintained the divine institution of a doctor, as distinct from a pastor, in every congregation. It had been their own practice to have a doctor or teacher, as holding a somewhat subordinate position, to that of the pastor,
At length Henderson interposed to procure an accommodation and agreement between the contending parties. It was at last concluded, that there are different gifts, and corresponding difference of exercises in ministers, though these may belong to the same person; that he who most excels in exposition may be termed a doctor; that such a person may be of great use chiefly in universities; and where there are several ministers in the same congregation, each may devote himself to that department in which he most excels; and that where there is but one, he must to his ability perform the whole work of the ministry. Henderson warned the Assembly that the eyes of all the Reformed Churches were upon them, earnestly watching whether their proceedings would be such as to promote or prevent the desired uniformity of all Protestant Christendom; entreating them not to be too minutely metaphysical and abstract in treating of such matters, but rather to direct their attention to leading and important topics, with the view of securing a general harmony, though smaller points should be allowed considerable freedom of interpretation. A still more important subject then came before the Assembly,
Aware that this order of Church officers was almost a novelty in England, Henderson took an early part in the debate, showing that it had been used in the Reformed Churches at a very early period,
The institution of ruling elder was opposed by Dr. Temple, Dr. Smith, Mr. Gataker, Mr. Vines, Mr. Price, Mr. Hall, Mr. Lightfoot, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Palmer, and several others, besides the Independents,
To these propositions were added the texts, Romans 12:7,8, and Corinthians 12:28. “Some liked the propositions,” says Lightfoot, “but not the applying of the places of Scripture; and of that mind was I myself,
The carrying of this question was justly regarded as of the utmost importance, as fixing the character of the Church to be established; and it is matter of surprise that the opposition sunk so nearly to nothing. Even the accommodation by means of which these propositions were framed and carried, was somewhat of a perilous experiment; for it narrowly missed introducing the unsound principle of admitting into the arrangements of the Church what had no higher authority than considerations of expediency and prudence. For all were willing to have admitted the order of ruling elders on these grounds; but this was decidedly rejected, especially by the Scottish divines, and by those of the Puritans or English Presbyterians who fully understood the nature of the controversy so long waged by their predecessors, against admitting into a divine institution any thing of merely human invention.
There was yet one point to be discussed respecting the ruling elder. It had been decided that this officer is of divine institution, but it remained to define in what his office consisted; and this gave rise to another, and a very animated debate. In the previous discussion respecting the office itself, considerable weight had been attached to the argument drawn from the constitution of the Jewish Church, and from the elders of the people in that institution; and when preparing to define the office of an elder in the Christian Church, reference was again made to the corresponding functionary among the Jews; and the question arose, Whether the Hebrew elders were chosen purposely for ecclesiastical business? Coleman first brought forward the inquiry, affirming that both the elders and the seventy senators in the sanhedrim were civil officers; Mr. Calamy and Dr. Burgess both held the reverse; and Mr. Gillespie proved that the seventy were joined with both Moses and Aaron at their institution,
The office of deacon next engaged their attention. The institution of this orifice was not denied, but several were of opinion that it was of a temporary nature. This view was entertained by few except the Erastians; and when the Assembly decided that the office of deacon was of a permanent nature, Lightfoot alone voted in the negative, though both Coleman and Selden had spoken against it. The opposition to the permanency of this office seems to have arisen chiefly from the fact, that there existed in England a civil poor-law, instituted in the reign of Elizabeth; which led some to oppose the deaconship as unnecessary, and others, as interfering with a civil arrangement. It was well suggested by Mr. Vines, “That the provision of civil officers made by the civil State for the poor should rather slip into the office of a deacon, than the reverse, because the latter bears the badge of the Lord.”
As the report concerning Church officers had mentioned “widows,” this was the last point to be discussed, whether widows were to be considered as deaconesses, and their office one of permanent continuation in the Church. Some of the Independents, and one or two others, were inclined to retain this office; but after some debate it was decided that the existence of such an office in the Church was not proved. With this discussion terminated the year 1643, in which the business of the Assembly had been chiefly of a preliminary character. It had, however, been solemnly decided, that Christ is so completely the Head of the Church, that all its offices are essentially in him, and from him are they all primarily and authoritatively derived; that of these offices some are extraordinary, and have ceased,
But there were other elements of a less propitious nature at work, some of which had already appeared, and others were felt, though scarcely yet fully visible. On the 19th of October, soon after the Assembly had seriously begun its task, the House of Commons intimated, through Dr. Burgess, their desire that two points should be decided upon as speedily as possible, namely, an arrangement for the ordination of ministers; and an arrangement for their institution and induction to vacant benefices. The former of these points could not be determined till the Assembly should have discussed the subject of Church officers in general. But as the latter was a subject of immediate and urgent importance, a committee was appointed to determine in what manner trial should be made of the qualifications of those who might apply for those vacant benefices. Twenty-one rules of examination were at length drawn up, in conformity with which every applicant was to be tried, in order to ascertain his soundness in doctrine and fitness for the situation. Application was frequently made by ministers who had been cruelly plundered by the king’s army, and constrained to flee to London, both for safety and to seek some kind of maintenance. The examination of such applicants proved to be a very delicate task, as the king’s army plundered alike the sound Puritans and the erratic Sectarians,
Sometimes the Sectarians, knowing that no rule of ordination had yet been framed, procured ordination from other Sectarians, and attempted to deceive the examinators; and when this was either not attempted, or found impracticable, they then endeavored to form a party among the citizens, and others who had flocked to London, that from them they might derive a means of subsistence. This led directly to a prodigious increase of sectarianism in London, and tended to throw the whole city into a state of confusion and anarchy. To remedy this state of matters, the city ministers presented a supplication to the Assembly, lamenting their disturbed condition; requesting order to be taken for the ordination of ministers; stating the fearful increase of pernicious sects, and complaining of their restless endeavors to gather separate congregations; and requesting the Assembly to intercede with the Parliament for the redress of these grievances, and for the erection of a college at London, where the youth might be educated, as Oxford was in the possession of the king. The Assembly answered, that it was not yet safe to meddle with the ordination of ministers; that they had applied to the Parliament for redress in the other matters; and desired information to be given respecting those who gather churches, that in this also they may seek redress. Mr. Nye objected to the expression against gathering churches, and was sharply answered. This apparently slight incident we have mentioned, because it indicates the line of policy which the Independent party were beginning to pursue, in connecting themselves with the mass of Sectarians throughout the kingdom, in which Nye performed so active a part, and of which he seems to have been the chief contriver. The year 1644 began with the introduction into the Assembly of subjects still more certain to produce disunion than any that had been previously discussed. The general subject of Church officers had been so far determined; but the most important parts of this matter remained to be debated, namely, the method of appointing Church officers, and the authority which they ought to possess, or, in other words, ordination and discipline. Well did the Assembly know that great diversity of opinion would arise on these two leading points, and gladly would they have avoided entering upon them till a subsequent period, had it been at all practicable. But the disturbed state of the country, increased and aggravated by the want of religious ordinances and government, rendered it imperatively necessary that some steps should be taken for the remedy of so many and such great national maladies. A commission had been appointed in September 1643, for the purpose of inquiring into the conduct of ministers throughout the country, and of removing all such as were convicted of scandalous conduct, or proved to be destitute of sufficient qualifications. On the 17th of November, Parliament authorized the publication of a treatise, entitled, “The First Century of Scandalous and Malignant Priests; or, a narration of the causes for which Parliament hath ordered the sequestration of the benefices of several ministers complained of before them,” etc. This was drawn up by Mr. White, M.P., the chairman of the commission; and it certainly proves that the ministers so sequestered were utterly unworthy of the sacred office, or rather, that many of them were unworthy of the name of men, though we cannot pollute our pages by quotations. The reason of referring to the subject, is to show the necessity thence arising for the ordination of other men to supply the benefices become vacant by means of these sequestrations. However desirous, therefore, the Assembly were to postpone the consideration of a subject, on which they were certain to disagree, till they should have framed a Confession of Faith, and other matters, in which entire unanimity was expected, they were constrained reluctantly to proceed to doubtful disputations.
There is considerable difficulty in giving a direct and continuous view of the discussions on which we are now to enter, in consequence of the contemporaneous, or rather intertwined manner in which they arose and were conducted; for instead of continuing steadily to prosecute one subject till it was completed, and then passing on to another, there were generally two or three subjects under deliberation at the same period, each being peculiarly entrusted to one or other of the committees in which they were prepared for public debate, and were successively laid aside and resumed according to their respective states of preparation. For example, on the 2d of January 1644, the two following subjects were both brought forward:
It was in consequence of the method of treating every subject minutely, and as convenience served, that the proposition respecting the apostolic office was thus brought forward, long after its main elements had been defined, and its character as extraordinary and temporary admitted. When this part of the definition was stated, namely, “That the apostles had power to ordain officers in all churches, and to appoint evangelists to ordain;” the Independents were afraid, that if this passed unquestioned, it might be held to have been already decided, that the apostles alone had that power, and that they had so transmitted it by Church officers that none others could ordain; whereas they held that the Church itself, that is, ordinary Church members assembled, possessed that power. It was also disputed whether the term used, Acts 14:23, ceirotoni>a , meant ordination or election; and on this point a long debate took place, Gillespie, Vines, Simpson, and others, holding that election was the proper meaning. After some further debate on the power of the apostles to appoint evangelists to ordain, the whole proposition received the sanction of the Assembly.
On the 9th of January, the whole question of ordination was fairly stated by Dr. Temple, chairman of one of the committees, in the following series of interrogatory propositions:
To these were appended the following answers for the Assembly’s consideration:
The first proposition was affirmed without much debate. The second was opposed chiefly because of the word “necessarily,” Mr. Nye questioning whether it were necessitate finis , or necessitate precepti , — a necessity for the accomplishment of the purpose, or a necessity arising out of its being commanded. Both sides shrunk from the danger of division on this point; and having changed the word “necessarily” into “always,” the proposition was affirmed. In the next proposition it was easily admitted that apostles and evangelists ordained; but when that passage, 1 Timothy 4:14, was referred to, as proving that preaching presbyters ordained, a very considerable debate arose, Lightfoot, in particular, asserting that it must mean, not ordination, but admission to be an elder; and when it was affirmed by the Assembly, he and some other voted in the negative. This was, however, merely the beginning of the struggle. When the latter part of the proposition was brought forward for debate, “preaching presbyters were only to ordain,” it was felt by all, that to this the Independents would not assent without some modification. Calamy, Gillespie, and Seaman, proposed, therefore, that a committee of Independents might be chosen, who should, in their own terms, state the question concerning ordination; in the hope that, by having both views of the subject brought forward at once, it might be possible to fuse and blend them together, so as to prevent division. Their report was given in by Mr. Nye, as follows:
It will readily be supposed that the Assembly must have listened to such vague and unintelligible propositions with considerable amazement, not unmingled with displeasure, to find their courtesy requited by such studied ambiguity, certainly not calculated, and it could scarcely be thought intended, to promote agreement. They questioned the use of the word “elders,” as obscure and ambiguous; also the expression “for the Church,” which Nye interpreted, vice ecclesiae , in the stead of the Church. “Other scrupulous and ambiguous passages,” says Lightfoot, “were found; which, after a very long canvass upon them, were laid by, and our old proposition reassumed.” The conduct of the Independents, on this occasion, was both discreditable in itself, and led to very pernicious results. It was discreditable either to their candor or their talents, to produce propositions couched in such ambiguous language, much more calculated to perplex than to clear the subject; and as they were men of decided abilities, the accusation falls upon their character, and constrains us to regard them as uncandid and disingenuous. But finding that they had succeeded so ill in their attempt to deceive or confuse in this instance, they never again could be prevailed upon to state to the Assembly their own opinions in writing, though sufficiently pertinacious in retaining them, and supporting them by every kind of argument. The new course of tactics thus adopted proved the means of retarding the Assembly beyond measure, and ended at last in rendering all its prolonged toils comparatively abortive.
When the Assembly was on the point of resuming the consideration of its own propositions, Lord Manchester entered, bringing an order from the House of Lords, which required the Assembly to make haste and conclude the subject of ordination. A committee was appointed to prepare the matter for public discussion; and next day, 22d January, the two following propositions were reported:
A keen debate ensued, Coleman, Goodwin, and Nye opposing,
One additional element of some importance was now introduced, which led to another still more important;
Although Parliament had repeatedly urged the Assembly to hasten forward the directory and rules for ordination, yet, when this had been done, the matter was allowed to remain inoperative, for want of the ratification of the Legislature, from the 20th of April, when it was received, till the 15th of August. Before it was returned, some rumors had been in circulation that considerable alterations had been made by the Parliament; and when it was actually produced before the Assembly, these were found to be more extensive than had even been apprehended. They had omitted the whole doctrinal part of ordination, and all the scriptural grounds for it; and they had chosen only the extraordinary way of ordination, and even in that part had struck out whatever might displease the Independents, the patrons, and the Erastians. The Scottish commissioners would by no means consent to these alterations; and, in an address to the Grand Committee of Lords, Commons, and the Assembly, they expressly condemned them. This decided conduct, aided by a timely petition to both Houses from the city ministers, produced the desired effect; and, on the 16th of September, the Assembly’s directory for ordination was returned, restored to its original condition. On the 18th, a committee was appointed for the ordination of ministers, consisting of ten of the Assembly divines, and thirteen of those belonging to the city of London. This was ratified by both Houses on the 2d of October; and thus that long delayed point was concluded. As the discussions respecting the directory for public worship were not of such importance as those concerning government and discipline, and were first concluded, though not begun till after the other had continued for a considerable time, it will conduce to simplicity and clearness to give an outline of the former of these topics in the present place.
On the 21st of May 1644, Mr. Rutherford moved for the speeding of the directory for public worship, to which no attention had hitherto been paid.
In consequence of this motion, Mr. Palmer, chairman of the committee appointed for that purpose, gave in a report on the 24th, which brought the subject fairly before the Assembly. Some little difference of opinion arose, whether any other person, except the minister, might read the Scriptures in the time of public worship; which terminated in the occasional permission of probationers. But when the subject of the dispensation of the Lord’s supper came under discussion, it gave rise to a sharp and protracted debate, chiefly between the Independents and the Scottish commissioners.
The Independents opposed the arrangement of the communicants, as seated at the communion table, it being the custom among them for the people to remain in their pews; while the Scottish members urgently defended the proposed method of seating themselves at the same table.
Another disputed point was, with regard to the power of the minister to exclude ignorant or scandalous persons from communion. The debates on these points occupied the Assembly from the 10th of June to the 10th of July. The directory for the sacrament of baptism was also the subject of considerable debate, continued from the 11th of July to the 8th of August.
The directory for the sanctification of the Sabbath was readily received; and a committee was appointed to prepare a preface for the completed directory for public worship. This committee consisted of Messrs Goodwin, Nye, Bridge, Burgess, Reynolds, Vines, Marshall, and Dr.
Temple, together with the Scottish ministers. The appointment of so many of the Independents was for the purpose of avoiding any renewal of the protracted contentions in which they had so long held the Assembly, as we learn from Baillie. This part of the Assembly’s labors received the ratification of Parliament on the 22d of November 1644; with the exception of the directions for marriage and burial, which were finished on the 27th of the same month, and soon afterwards the whole received the full ratification of Parliament.
It will be remembered that the Assembly of Divines, when required by Parliament to prepare a new form of government and discipline, attempted at first to begin and proceed with their task in a manner strictly systematic and logical, commencing with Christ, the Divine Head of the Church, who possesses all rower and all offices by way of eminency in Himself; from that they proceeded to mention the various kinds of Church officers who are named in the Scriptures, and to define the nature of their official powers and duties, intending to complete this part before undertaking any other. But they were turned aside from the systematic course of procedure, partly by the urgency of the Parliament’s desire to obtain a directory for ordination to supply vacant charges; and partly by their own wish to avoid the discussion of controverted topics till they should have agreed on as many as possible. Even in these preliminary steps, however, they came into contact with several points which led to keen debates between the Independent and the Presbyterian parties, proving but too plainly that a full agreement was scarcely to be expected. For a time the Scottish commissioners strove to act the part of peacemakers, and repeatedly moved to avoid disputable topics, and to direct their attention chiefly to those on which all might be united. As the subjects on which they were engaged advanced, this became impracticable, and all parties prepared for the struggle. On the 19th of January 1644, Dr. Burgess reported from the first committee, who were to draw up the propositions concerning Presbytery in the following terms:
Classical Presbyteries are warrantable: 1. By Christ’s institution, Matthew 18:17; 2. By the example of Apostolic Churches
About the end of January, or the beginning of February 1644, they published a treatise, termed “An Apologetical Narration, humbly submitted to the Honorable Houses of Parliament, by Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, Sidrach Simpson, Jeremiah Burroughs, William Bridge.” The date on the title page is 1643; but the parliamentary year commenced on the 25th of March, according to the English computation; and Baillie mentions this treatise as newly published, in a letter dated the 18th of February 1644, he dating the beginning of the year from January, as had been the custom in Scotland from the year 1600. The language of Baillie is very pointed respecting this production. “At last,” says he, “foreseeing they behooved ere long to come to the point, they put out, in print, on a sudden, an Apologetical Narration of their way, which long had lain ready beside them, wherein they petition the Parliament, in a most sly and cunning way, for a toleration; and withal lend too bold wipes to all the Reformed Churches, as imperfect yet in their reformation, till their new model be embraced.” Baillie further insinuates, that the appearance of the treatise was “by some men intended to contribute to the very wicked plot, at that same instant a-working, but shortly after discovered almost miraculously.”
If this conjecture be correct, the intercourse of Nye and Goodwin with Ogle may have been for the purpose of concealing their own connection with the plot, rather than to aid in its complete detection. We are not, however, desirous to fix upon them a larger amount of criminality, as conducting dark and treacherous intrigues, than can be maintained by the clearest and most irresistible evidence, and therefore shall not at once adopt the suggestion of Baillie.
The publication of this treatise, the “Apologetical Narration,” by the Independents, tended greatly to prevent the probability of any amicable arrangement in which all parties might agree. Till that time nothing had been done which foreclosed the possible adjustment of at least all minor differences; and the Scottish divines, in particular, had striven to avoid the premature determination of points disputed by the Independents. But when they had thus carried the controversy away from the Assembly to the Parliament, and had, by publishing this work, laid it before the world, it became almost morally impossible that any accommodated adjustment could take place, each party feeling bound in honor to make out its own cause, and to adhere pertinaciously to the views thus publicly declared. It may be remarked also, that the Scottish commissioners had always caused their publications to be laid before the Assembly, so as to render them fairly the subjects of discussion; Whereas the Independents addressed their production to the Parliament, and published it to the community, without formally giving copies to the Assembly; so that, whatever might be thought, the subject could not, without violation of order and propriety, be taken up and debated there. This, of course, led to the publication of a series of answers, in which, as usual, each disputant was more eager to confute his antagonist than to promote peace and harmony. From that time forward the contest between the Independents and the Presbyterians became one of irreconcilable rivalry, to which the utter defeat of the one or the other was the only possible termination. And historical truth compels us to say, that as this bitter warfare was begun by the Independents, they are justly chargeable with all the consequences of the fatal feud.
The “Apologetical Narration” is, in many points of view, a remarkable production. Though it extends to no more than thirty-one pages of small quarto, it contains a very plausible account of the history of the five Independent divines, the peculiar tenets of Church government which they held, and their objections against the Presbyterian system; so expressed as both to convey a highly favorable view of themselves and their opinions to Parliament, and to the public, and to serve as the vehicle of skillfully constructed adulation to Parliament itself. The treatise begins by complaining of the accusations which were generally urged “(though not expressly directed against us in particular, yet in the interpretation of the most reflecting on us),” by which they had been awakened and enforced to anticipate a little that discovery of themselves which otherwise they had resolved to have left to time and experience of their ways and spirits. They present themselves, therefore, “to the supreme judicatory of this kingdom; which is, and hath been in all times, the most just and severe tribunal for guiltiness to appear before, much more to dare to appeal unto; and yet, withal, the most sacred refuge and asylum for mistaken and misjudged innocence.” They then mention that most of them had enjoyed stations in the ministry ten years before, which they had been constrained to abandon in consequence of the corruptions in the public worship and government of the Church. Having been compelled first to look at the dark part , as they term it, or the actually existing evils, which forced them to exile, they next began to inquire into and examine the light part , or the positive part of Church worship and government, as stated in the apostolic directions, and the examples of the primitive New Testament Churches. “In this inquiry,” say they, “we looked upon the Word of Christ as impartially and unprejudicedly as men made of flesh and blood are like to do in any juncture of time that may fall out.”
They next proceed to point out the advantages which they enjoyed from the writings of the Nonconformists
Having given this general view of their own feelings, they proceed to state briefly the way and practices of their churches, which, accordingly, we quote in their own words: “Our public worship was made of no other parts than the worship of all other Reformed Churches doth consist of: As public and solemn prayers for kings and all in authority, etc.,
We had these three principles more especially in our eye to guide and steer our practice by. First, the supreme rule without us was the primitive pattern and example of the churches erected by the apostles. A second principle we carried along with us in all our resolutions was, not to make our present judgment and practice a binding law unto ourselves for the future, which we in like manner made continual profession of upon all occasions; which principle we wish were(next to that most supreme, namely, to be in all things guided by the perfect will of God)enacted as the most sacred law of all other, in the midst of all other laws and canons ecclesiastical in Christian States and Churches throughout the world. Thirdly, we are able to hold forth this true and just apology unto the world, that in the matters of greatest moment and controversy, all still chose to practice safely, and so as we had reason to judge that all sorts, or the most of all the churches, did acknowledge warrantable, although they make additaments thereunto.”
In order to explain what they mean by these additaments , they proceed to say,
A short narrative is then given of the way in which they had succeeded in terminating a dispute, which had occurred among them while in Holland; but strict truth constrains us to say, that their narrative is by no means of an impartial character; and as the whole facts of the case were well known to many of the Assembly divines, from their intercourse with the Netherlands, they could not fail to be displeased with this apologetic account of the affair. The relation goes on to suggest, in a tone of considerable selfcomplacency, that though the Reformed Churches had made considerable progress, yet it seemed likely that a much more perfect reformation might be obtained; manifestly implying that this would best be accomplished by following their model. Again complaining of the reproaches and calumnies which they bad endured, they mention, as among them, “That proud and insolent title of Independency was affixed unto us, as our claim; the very sound of which conveys to all men’s apprehensions the challenge of an exemption of all Churches from all subjection and dependence, or rather a trumpet of defiance against whatever power, spiritual or civil; which we do abhor and detest: Or else, the odious name of Brownism , together with all their opinions as they have stated and maintained them, must needs be owned by us; although upon the very first declaring our judgments in the chief and fundamental point of all Church discipline , and likewise since, it hath been acknowledged that we differ much from them. And we did then, and do here publicly profess, we believe the truth to lie and consist in a middle way , betwixt that which is falsely charged on us, Brownism ; and that which is the contention of these times, the authoritative Presbyterial government in all the subordinations and proceedings of it.” After a few more general declarations respecting their own “peaceable practices,” and “constant forbearance” in the midst of many provocations, and their resolution to bear all “with a quiet and strong patience,” they intimate their intention to decline further controversy, reserving the declaration and defense of their opinions to the Assembly. They declare also their full agreement with the Assembly in all points of doctrine that had yet been discussed; and their wish to yield in matters of discipline, in which alone they had yet differed, to the utmost latitude of their light and consciences. And finally, they conclude their Apologetical Narration, by beseeching the Parliament to regard them as men who, if they cannot be promoters, have no wish to be hinderers of further reformation; who differ less from the Reformed Churches and their brethren than they do from what themselves were three years past; who have long been exiles and are now sufferers of reproach; and who pursue no other design but a subsistence, be it the poorest and meanest, in their own land, with the enjoyment of the ordinances of Christ, and with the allowance of a latitude to some lesser differences with peaceableness, as not knowing where else with safety, health, and livelihood, to set their feet on earth.
The publication of this Apologetical Narrative operated instantaneously like a declaration of war. A number of answers almost immediately appeared, various in talent, learning, and power, but at least sufficiently keen and pointed. Even the calm, plausible, and stately tone of the Narrative, tended to provoke their antagonists to the use of undue asperity; for they regarded it as an attempt to recommend their own system, and disparage others, by means of careful concealments, plausible evasions, and alluring insinuations of its accommodating nature, skillfully contrasted with hints and suggestions of an unfavorable kind respecting the character and tendency of the Presbyterian form of Church government and discipline.
For this reason many seemed to think that the Narration was not merely to be answered, but assailed with vehemence and indignation. In this, although the temptation was great, they certainly erred, and erred grievously; both because such a method is not likely to disarm hostility, or remove prejudice, and because it seemed to prove that the charge of intolerance, so frequently urged against them, was but too well founded.
Let it, however, be observed, that none of the Scottish divines entered warmly into this controversy, although the Independents had alluded to them in a manner sufficiently ungracious. Baillie, indeed, speaks of them with considerable severity in some parts of his letters; and the view which he gives of their system in his “Dissuasive,” is certainly not such as would gratify its adherents; and Rutherford did not hesitate to encounter them in fair argument, in several of his works, but without any asperity of temper, or harshness of language. They were answered by Mr. Herle, in his treatise entitled “The Independency upon Scripture of the Independency of Churches;” and he also retained a dignified and Christian-like calmness of spirit and manner. But other antagonists kept no such terms. Dr. Bastwick, Mr. Vicars, and Mr. Edwards, assailed the Narration with not less keenness of expression than strength of argument. Of these answers, the most elaborate was that entitled “Antapologia; or, a Full Answer to the Apologetical Narration; by Thomas Edwards,” extending to 259 pages of small quarto, and embracing every disputed or suggested topic. It will scarcely be denied, by those who have carefully perused the Antapologia, that it furnishes a very ample and strong, but most ungracious refutation of the main positions taken up by the authors of the Apologetical Narration.
No formal reply was returned by the Independents to the Antapologia; but Mr. Burroughs sometime afterwards published a vindication of himself from some of the charges that had been urged against him. To that vindication we may have occasion to refer subsequently, for another purpose.
Instead, therefore, of tracing the Antapologia, and extracting its statements, it may be enough to advert to some of the main points in which it answered the Narration. It is proved clearly by facts, that the Independent brethren had not been such silent and retiring men as they represented themselves to have been; but that, on the contrary, they had been very active in endeavoring to recommend and spread their own views as widely as possible; that in reality all their principles, of which they spoke as in a great measure discovered by themselves, in their own study of the Scriptures, had been previously promulgated and acted upon by others; that, in effect, their boasted theory of non-communion had not been found adequate to the maintenance of peace among them, and had but very imperfectly answered the end in the case to which they referred as a practical instance of its sufficiency; that they had not experienced any peculiar hardships either before or during their exile; and that, since their return, they had enjoyed comfort, influence, and honor, at least equal to that which any of the Presbyterians had obtained. The insinuations against the Presbyterian system were shown to be invidious and unfounded, and were very sharply retorted against themselves and their course of procedure; and their practice in “gathering churches out of churches,” was shown to be contrary to their own declarations as members of the Westminster Assembly. It was proved, also, that they maintained a more intimate intercourse with the Brownists and other Sectarians than they were willing to admit; and were engaged in a series of intrigues which they were anxious to conceal. All these points appear to be proved in the Antapologia by a strength and minuteness of evidence which could not be set aside, and which they did not attempt to meet. But there was so much of a fiercely hostile spirit displayed by Edwards, that his attack recoiled somewhat upon himself, and diminished considerably the value of his production, while it furnished a kind of excuse for his antagonists in abstaining from giving a direct answer.
Such was the first direct outbreak of the controversy between the Independents and the Presbyterians,
But the Independents refused to recognize the Presbyterian system of successive Church courts,
Such a church might, at its first formation, be entirely without pastors, elders, or church-officers of any kind; but having met together, and made a solemn declaration of faith, and entered into a mutual church-covenant, they immediately became possessed of such inherent powers as to entitle them to choose and ordain all necessary church-officers, without the presence or the intervention of any pastor previously ordained. Other pastors might indeed be present, but their presence was not necessary to the validity of the ordination conferred. In the same manner, the congregation of ordinary members might censure or depose their officebearers, and choose and ordain new ones whenever they thought proper; and if the office-bearers did not readily submit and become private members again, the congregation were entitled to withdraw from communion with them altogether, and to reconstruct their system as at first. Against such proceedings no appeal could be taken to any other authority, each congregation possessing all power in itself, and being free to have recourse to the principle of non-communion in any case, though against the whole Christian Church. Even when thus stated, the difference between the Independent and the Presbyterian systems may be brought within a very narrow compass. The Presbyterians never denied that a company of true believers might be a true church, though destitute of pastors; nor that they might select the most grave and pious of their number, and set him solemnly apart to the office of the ministry, without the presence of any ordained pastor, if in circumstances where that could not be obtained. They admitted that the Church must possess in itself the power of all that is necessary to the continuation of its own existence. But they held, also, that Christ himself at first chose and appointed officebearers, and gave to them authority to ordain others; that this was matter of precept, and to be regularly obeyed in every instance where that was possible, because it had been so commanded; while they regarded the Congregational mode as a matter of necessity, justifiable only in cases where without it the enjoyment of Christian ordinances could not be obtained. The error of the Independents consisted in adopting as the ordinary rule the case of necessity , instead of the method of precept ; and in adhering so pertinaciously to this view as to condemn and refuse to admit into their communion all who could not agree with them.
It was a necessary consequence of this essential principle, that the Independents held the theory of admitting none to be members of their churches except those whom they believed to have been thoroughly and in the highest sense regenerated, or, in the language of the time, “true saints,” and consequently, perfectly qualified to exercise rightly all the high and sacred functions which they asserted to belong to the congregation, as in itself a complete church. For the same reason, they necessarily opposed the idea of a national Church, in any other sense than as a series of congregational churches, gathering together true believers as the wheat, and leaving the chaff to its fearful fate. And following up this theory, they regarded it as perfectly right to gather churches of their own kind out of the congregations of other ministers,
Nor was it at all strange that considerable numbers should be willing to join a system which gave such irresponsible power to ordinary Church members; and which, at the same time, certainly tended to encourage the feeling of spiritual pride in those who, in being admitted, were recognized as truly regenerated persons. In one point of view they were, to a certain extent, right. It must always be desirable that Church members should be real believers, and that Christian communion should be enjoyed by none but true believers; but it must always be impossible for man, who cannot read the heart, to avoid being deceived by the plausible language and manners of skillful hypocrisy,
All the topics which have been stated above were known to the two parties of Presbyterians and Independents in the Assembly, before the publication of the Apologetical Narration, and several of them had casually become the subject of debate; but there had been considerable forbearance on both sides, arising from a natural and laudable reluctance to anticipate a perhaps unavoidable contest. The Scottish divines, in particular, had repeatedly interposed to prevent any premature discussion of debatable subjects, and had recommended as much accommodation to the views of the Independents as was consistent with the maintenance of principle. And although the allusions to them in the Apologetical Narration were sufficiently ungracious and irritating, they were in no haste to show resentment; being far more desirous to see the religious welfare of the community promoted and secured, than to vindicate their own character from groundless aspersions. But, nevertheless, the publication of that most ill-omened production caused an estrangement which was never fully removed, and led to a degree of keenness and obstinacy in all the subsequent deliberations of the Assembly, whenever disputed points arose, which tended greatly both to retard their proceedings and to obscure the prospect of ultimate and harmonious success in their great work. And having thus opened the subject of the Independent controversy, we shall now proceed to trace it, according to the course which circumstances led it to pursue.
After some preliminary arrangements, in which it was agreed that the Independents should bring forward their objections to the proposition of the committee, the subject was formally stated, on the 6th of February, in the following terms:
Mr. Vines, in answer to the major proposition, replied, that “what belongs to the whole, as such, does not belong to every part;” but the presbytery is an aggregate whole, and so are the churches combined under this presbytery; therefore the relations borne by the presbytery to the church of its bounds have respect to the aggregate whole, and do not interfere with the peculiar relations which the respective pastors and congregations bear to each other. He illustrated his argument by reference to the original government of the Hebrew commonwealth, where the heads of the tribes governed the whole community; but this did not alter the relation between the head of each tribe and that particular tribe; and he showed that the Independent argument might be retorted against their own system. Mr. Marshall began by proving the proposition of the committee:
Becoming weary of this protracted discussion, several of the divines proposed that they should leave off these metaphysical disquisitions, and proceed to the consideration of those passages of Scripture which might be brought forward as direct proofs; but by the vote of the Assembly the Independents were allowed to continue bringing forward all their objections. This we mention in order to show that the Assembly treated the Dissenting Brethren with extreme indulgence and toleration, and never attempted to run them down by the force of numbers and the authority of a vote, as they could have so easily done, and no doubt would have done, had they been the intolerant and overbearing bigots which they have been so generally and so unjustly called.
On the 14th of February the first committee reported, in confirmation of the proposition that many congregations may be under one presbytery, the following instances from Scripture:
Assuming that the existence of many congregations, and but one presbytery at Jerusalem, had been proved in a former debate, the other instances were proved by the following arguments: Corinth
The discussion respecting church censure and excommunication was again resumed, with reference to 1 Corinthians 5; and Mr. Goodwin argued that “discipline did not constitute a church, nor is any note of a church.” Selden doubted whether the passage referred to had any thing to do with excommunication. This was answered very strongly by Mr. Vines and others; and the Independents were requested to state clearly their opinion on the subject. To this Goodwin answered, “That the people cannot excommunicate; and that the people, if need be, yet must have their vote.”
The inference was immediately drawn, that if the elders were outvoted the excommunication would be prevented, and thus the theory of the Independents, of simple admonition or non-communion, would alone be practicable. At last the Assembly decided, that the argument of the Independents was not proved, and did not conclude against the proposition.
The attention of the Assembly was next directed to Matthew 18:15-17, by Mr. Bridge, who endeavored, in a very elaborate argument, to prove that the church there mentioned was not a civil court, not a Jewish sanhedrim, not a presbytery or synod, not a national church, but a particular congregation only, and yet that it had the power of the highest censure, without appeal; therefore every particular congregation, consisting of elders and brethren, should have entire and full power and jurisdiction within itself. Mr. Marshall met the argument, point by point, in an answer equally full and elaborate; assuming, as the basis of his reply, that the term “church” neither meant universal, national, nor provincial only, nor a single congregation only; but either, or all in turn, as the occasion might require.
When the subject was resumed, another direction was given to the discussion by Selden, who produced a long and learned argument to prove that the passage of Scripture in question contained no authority for ecclesiastical jurisdiction. His object was, to guard against any conclusion of the Assembly, which might contradict the Erastian theory, and therefore he labored to represent the whole as relating to the ordinary practice of the Jews in their common courts; by whom, as he asserted, one sentence was excommunication, pronounced by the civil court. Herle and Marshall both attempted answers, but, says Lightfoot, “so as I confess gave me no satisfaction.” Gillespie then came to the rescue, and, in a speech of astonishing power and acuteness, completely confuted Selden, even on his own chosen ground, and where his strength was greatest. He proved that the passage could not mean a civil court, because,
About the same time Mr. Nye craftily endeavored to excite the jealousy of the Parliament against presbyterial church government, but overreached himself. He had attempted to frame an argument against the power of presbyteries, on the assumption “That there is no power over another power, where there is no distinction in nature nor difference in operation;” but he was called to order, as not speaking to the question. On the following day, finding the Assembly full of the nobility and members of Parliament, he resumed the argument, persisting in his speech against the evident feeling of the House; and after he had attempted to show that the admission of a power over a power, in Church courts, would lead to an ecclesiastical government commensurate with that of the civil, he drew the inference, that it would be pernicious for a great commonwealth were so great a body to be permitted to grow up within it; in short, he attempted to alarm the Parliament, by the dread of that phantom of which so much has been heard, an imperium in imperio , or one government within another, as a formidable and monstrous anomaly, dangerous to the peace of states and kingdoms. This insidious attempt caused a great sensation; some proposed that he should be at once expelled, others declared that his language was seditious; and it was voted that he had spoken against order
Another report was brought forward from this committee about a week afterwards, containing two additional propositions, forming five in all, as follow:
The instance of the Church at Corinth was not given, as it had been adduced chiefly for the purpose of proving the power of Church censures.
Though the Independents had assented to the essence of these propositions in the committee for accommodation, yet they vehemently opposed the sending of them to the Parliament for ratification; and the Assembly, on the motion of Mr. Marshall, again consented to lay them aside for a time. The Assembly resumed the subject on the 18th of April, to prove Presbyterial government from the instance of the Church of Ephesus; and after some debate, this instance was sustained as a proof of the main proposition. Another topic followed, which cost some discussion, namely, that so many visible saints as dwelt in one city were but one Church in regard of Church government. On this point, Rutherford was anxious to guard against any infringement of the due power in censure and government in particular congregations; and in this he was supported by Henderson. This guard was necessary, in consequence of extreme views held by some English Presbyterian divines, who, in order, apparently, to keep as far as possible remote from the Independent system, opposed any power of censure or government in congregations, and denied the right or propriety of congregational elderships. This is mentioned chiefly for the purpose of corroborating an idea which has been repeatedly suggested,
Some difficulty was encountered in stating how Christians should be most conveniently and regularly formed into distinct congregations, so as best to obtain the benefit of pastoral instruction and superintendence. This the Assembly thought should be by the bounds of their dwellings,
The subject of ruling elders was again resumed, on the 3d of May, after having been laid aside for a considerable time. At first it was proposed that there should be at least one ruling elder in every congregation; but this was strenuously opposed by the Scottish commissioners, as in reality not forming a congregational eldership. It was at length decided, that in every congregation there should be, besides the minister, others to assist him in ruling, as elders; and some to take care for the poor, as deacons; the number of each to be proportioned to the congregation.
Another topic then called forth a strenuous debate of five days’ duration, namely, “That no single congregation, which may conveniently join together in an association, may assume unto itself all and sole power of ordination.” Against this proposition the Independents mustered all their adherents, and put forth their whole strength, because it condemned the central principle of their system. When it came to the vote, “it was affirmed by twenty-seven, and denied by nineteen; and this business,” adds Lightfoot, “had been managed with the most heat and confusion of any thing that had happened among us.” When the reasons to prove the general proposition were brought forward, another keen struggle took place, the first reason being carried by a majority of four votes, the second by a majority of five. The committee appointed to frame a summary of Church government, produced, instead of a report, a proposition to be debated, to the following effect:
The first topic was easily admitted, with a slight change on its terms; as was also the second; but the third led to a protracted and very learned debate, having been recast into this form: “Authoritative suspension from the Lord’s table of a person not yet cast out of the church, is agreeable to the Scripture.” This proposition was opposed by Coleman, Herle, Case, and particularly by Lightfoot, who attempted to prove his view by the instance of Judas; and this led to a discussion on that point, in which scarcely any agreed with Lightfoot’s opinion. The chief advocates of suspending scandalous persons were Young, Calamy, Gillespie, Rutherford, Reynolds, Burgess, and Dr. Hoyle. The Independents did not enter warmly into the discussion; and Goodwin, after endeavoring to represent it as differing little from admonition, concluded by saying, that his judgment fell in with the proposition, only he liked not the authoritative doing of it. It was at length decided in the affirmative, none voting against it but Lightfoot. But though the proposition had thus obtained the sanction of the Assembly, it was afterwards opposed by the Parliament; as, indeed, might have been expected, from the lax notions entertained generally by men of the world on all such subjects.
The subject of excommunication was not again resumed till the 16th of October, when two passages of Scripture were brought forward to prove it, namely, 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18:17,18. Both were admitted, and the proposition was further supported by this argument: “They that have authority to judge of and admit to the sacrament such as are to receive it, have authority to keep back such as shall be found unworthy.” Against this Lightfoot alone voted in the negative; and that chiefly because he was not convinced that there is suspension or excommunication, as a power belonging to the Church,
Affairs had now attained so much maturity that a crisis had become inevitable; for every point having been very fully debated between the Presbyterians and the Independents, they must either unite, or adopt some new course which should render union impossible. The Presbyterians had done every thing in their power to meet the scruples of the Dissenting Brethren, both by allowing them to bring forward every objection which they could devise, and to debate till all were thoroughly exhausted, and also by appointing a committee of their own number to confer with them, in the hope of avoiding a final disruption. But when the Dissenting Brethren could not persuade the Assembly to adopt their views in preference to its own, they renewed their intrigues with the Independents in the army, by whose influence they knew they would be supported. The state of political affairs was favorable to their schemes. Soon after the battle of Marston, in which the king’s army sustained such a severe defeat, proposals were made for a treaty of peace, of which the Presbyterians in the Parliament were cordially desirous, if it could be obtained on terms sufficient to secure the liberties of the kingdom. But this was by no means what the Independents in both Parliament and army desired, consequently the scene of contest was removed from the tented field to the legislative assemblies; and this brought Oliver Cromwell to the House of Commons.
This deep-minded and far-foreseeing man perceived clearly that were a peace concluded, and Church government established, his ambitious prospects must be completely destroyed; and with his usual sagacity, anticipating the unyielding obstinacy of the king, which would render any satisfactory pacific arrangement impossible, he set himself chiefly to prevent the settlement of the Church by means of a Presbyterian establishment. “This day”(13th September), says Baillie, “Cromwell has obtained an order of the House of Commons to refer to the committee of both kingdoms the accommodation or toleration of the Independents,
Without relating minutely the proceedings of this committee, it may be enough to state, that in what was termed the preface of their report, they expressed their confidence that they would jointly agree in one Confession of Faith, and in one Directory of Public Worship, their only difference being in points of Church government. They framed nine propositions respecting the power of individual congregations, in six of which they were all agreed, with a slight and unimportant explanation. The points of the other three in which the Independents could not quite agree with the Presbyterians, respected the power of congregations to excommunicate members, or ordain elders by the sole authority of the people, seeking merely the advice of neighboring ministers, but not subject to the control of a presbytery; and the parochial system, which the Independents opposed, as contrary to their theory of gathering churches out of other churches. To this system of the Independents the Presbyterians would not consent, as giving countenance to schism, and, perpetuating strife and jealousy among both ministers and people. With regard to the jurisdiction of Presbyteries and Synods, the Independents could consent to nothing more than the advice of neighboring ministers, to be respected, but not authoritative further than admonition; and in case of the offending congregation not submitting, withdrawing from it, and denying Church communion and fellowship, but without any actual power within the range of any particular congregation over any offending member, though the congregation itself might be admonished for not putting forth its own power to reform its own members. It is plain that the essential difference between the two parties remained undiminished; the Independents continued to maintain the sole power of congregations to exercise Church government, and to demand the privilege of gathering churches, or congregations, out of the congregations of the Presbyterians, with whom, nevertheless, they could continue to hold occasional communion. These points the Presbyterians regarded as utterly subversive of their whole system; and though they would have tolerated in practice, they could not consent to give it an avowed and legal sanction, regarding it as nationally impolitic, in a religious point of view sinful, and with regard to the Covenant, a violation of their oath, being virtually to sanction and legalize schism. Besides, they perceived clearly that this avowed and legal sanction to the Independent system would of necessity involve an equal permission to the wildest and most immoral and blasphemous Sectarians to frame separate congregations, and collect adherents, by every artifice, and to the ruin of both Church and kingdom.
Although no accommodation resulted from the deliberations of this committee, there is every reason to think that Cromwell and Nye obtained the end they had in view when it was proposed. The progress of both Parliament and Assembly towards the ratification of the propositions respecting Church government, was suspended, and time was obtained for adopting another course. Accordingly, on the 7th of November, the Independents began to talk of giving in to the Assembly their reasons of dissent from the Assembly’s propositions respecting Church government.
On the 14th of November these reasons were produced, and on the following day were read, and a committee of twenty appointed to take them into consideration. The most prominent persons of that committee were, Drs. Temple and Hoyle, Messrs Marshall, Tuckney, Calamy, Palmer, Vines, Seaman, and Lightfoot; and their answers to the reasons of dissent were read in the Assembly on the 17th day of December, and continued on the following days till they had been fully heard, previous to their being transmitted to Parliament.
Thus terminated the deliberations of the Westminster Assembly, so far as regarded the proceedings of the year 1644. But as these proceedings had chiefly involved the controversy between the Presbyterians and the Independents; and as the points in which they differed had been all thoroughly debated in the Assembly in the course of the year 1644, and the contest had now assumed a literary character, in consequence of the production of written reasons of dissent, and written answers to those reasons, it seems expedient to complete our brief outline of this important controversy, though touching a little upon the events of subsequent years, before directing our attention to the Erastian controversy.
The Dissenting Brethren entered their dissent with reasons in writing, to be presented to the Honorable Houses by the Assembly, to the three following propositions, as the only points in which there existed direct and essential differences between them and the Presbyterians, namely,
The third proposition concerning Presbyterial Church government was as follows:
As this proposition, together with its subordinate details, and the Scripture texts on which the whole is founded, are stated fully in the Confession of Faith, and Directory, it cannot be necessary to occupy space by their insertion.
The Dissenting Brethren gave in reasons against the proposition itself, and also against the instances by which it was proved. Their argument against the proposition is in the following terms:
The answer of the Assembly extended to eighty pages, which, in one point of view, was much more than enough; but aware that their task was not only to meet the argument of the Dissenting Brethren, but also to produce a defense of Presbyterian Church government, such as might be laid before the public, they entered fully into the subject, both meeting objections, and restating their own direct arguments. In this manner they produced an exceeding able treatise, exhibiting clearly and amply the grounds of Scripture and reason on which the Presbyterian Church government, in their opinion, rested; and certainly the Dissenting Brethren themselves, must have felt that they were more than answered, even allowing for their natural predilection for their own system. It is impossible to condense this able defense of Presbyterian Church government, so as to present it within the limits of the present work. This only can we state, that the Assembly’s answer begins by proving the fallacy, and the pernicious consequences of that assumption on which the main argument of their opponents was based.
They, then showed that the argument of Independents was really directed against a proposition which the Assembly never held, and therefore that it was beside the question altogether. And then, returning to the subject as stated by the Dissenting Brethren, and, for the sake of argument, allowing it to be regarded as fairly put, they proceeded to meet and refute it point by point, in a very masterly manner, uniting extensive learning, acuteness of distinction, logical precision of thought, clear and energetic language, and a profound knowledge of Scripture, and veneration of its sacred truths, as the sole rule of guide in all matters of a religious nature.
The second subject against which the Independents entered their dissent with reasons was, The propositions concerning the subordination of assemblies. These propositions were three in number, but, as their dissent was directed chiefly against the third, the statement of it may be enough: “It is lawful and agreeable to the Word of God, that there be a subordination of congregational, classical, provincial, and national assemblies; that so appeals be made from the inferior to the superior respectively. Proved from Matthew 18, which, holding forth the subordination of an offending brother to a particular church, it doth also, by a parity of reason, hold forth the subordination of a congregation to superior assemblies.” The Dissenting Brethren introduce their argument in the following manner:
Those courts that must have the most express warrant and designment for them in the Word, and have not, their power is to be suspected, and not erected in the Church of God; but these ought to have so, and have not: therefore their power is to be suspected, and not erected in the Church of God. 2. If there be such a subordination of synods in the Church of Christ, then there is no independency but in an ecumenical council. 3. That Church power which cannot show a constant divine rule for its variation, and subordination, and ultimate independency, is not of God, and so may not be; but this variation of Church power into these subordinations, cannot show any such steady and constant rule for these things: therefore it may not be. 4. The government which necessarily produceth representations of spiritual power out of other representations, with a derived power therefrom, there is no warrant for; but these subordinations of synods, provincial, national, ecumenical, for the government of the Church do so: therefore for them there is no warrant.”
In the reasoning of the Dissenting Brethren, it is somewhat curious to observe that they made use of both the Erastian and the Episcopalian arguments, as these seemed to serve their purpose; as, for instance, the Erastian, “Why may not all other churches be governed as well as that of Geneva, without appeals, if the magistrate oversees them, and keeps each to their duties?” The Episcopalian argument is not so succinctly stated; but it is an attempt to turn against the Presbyterians the argument used by them against the Episcopalians, of the want of an express institution of the subordination of office-bearers in the Church. And, in the course of their argument and illustrations, they made so many concessions, that it is rather difficult to conceive on what their final opposition rested. As, for instance, they admitted “that synods are an ordinance of God upon all occasions of difficulty; that all the churches of a province may call a single congregation to account; that they may examine and admonish, and, in case of obstinacy, may declare them to be subverters of the faith; that they have authority to determine in controversies of faith; that they may deny Church communion to an offending and obstinate congregation, and that this sentence of noncommunion may be enforced by the authority of the civil magistrate; and that they may call before them any person within their bounds, concerned in the ecclesiastical business before them, and may hear and determine such causes as orderly come before them.” Having made so many and such important concessions, the Independents might, with very little difficulty, have assented fully to the Assembly’s propositions; and probably would have done so, but for the influence of intriguing politicians, who dreaded nothing so much as an early and harmonious adjustment of all differences in the Assembly.
The answer of the Assembly began by laying open the essential point of difference, which consisted, not in a denial of synods, but of the standing use of them, and their subordination to one another, not the subordination of congregations to them. They then showed that the main argument of the Independents was not directed against the proposition of the Assembly, but against a peculiar construction of it by themselves, and that, too, a construction disclaimed by the Assembly. Then, as in their previous answer, they proceed to consider the reasoning of their opponents, sometimes proving that these are self-destructive, and confute their own theory, sometimes pointing out their fallacious character, and sometimes meeting them by a distinct and irresistible refutation of a strictly logical kind. In one instance, the mode of the Dissenting Brethren’s argument is very strongly urged against themselves; and since they demand “the greatest and most express warrant for the subordination of synods,” they are asked to prove their own system, viz., the gathering of churches out of churches, the ordination and deposition of ministers by the people alone, the passing by one single congregation of the sentence of non-communion against all the churches in a province or a kingdom, which would surely require a warrant as great and express, or should teach them somewhat to abate in their demand. In short, it is perfectly clear, in our apprehension, that both in point of conformity to the language and arrangements of Scripture, and in point of distinctness and strength of logical reasoning, the answer of the Assembly is abundantly conclusive.
The third subject against which the Independents entered reasons of dissent in writing was, the proposition concerning the power of ordination. That proposition was in the following terms:
In their answer, the Assembly Divines seem almost to have been ashamed to analyze and expose the weak sophistry of the Dissenting Brethren’s argument. “We expected,” say they, “from our brethren, in a search for truth, not a contest for victory, arguments to prove, that every single congregation have the whole power of ordination within themselves, and that none but themselves may ordain for them; but this they are pleased to decline.” They then prove that the argument is illogical and vicious, containing more in the conclusion than in the premises, and yet not concluding against the proposition in debate; and, entering into a more minute examination of it, they not merely refute it, but by availing themselves of the concessions made by the Independents in the course of their own illustrations, they completely overthrow the whole Congregational theory. For the Independents had admitted that association of congregations neither adds to nor diminishes the power of a presbytery, but is by way of accumulation, not privation; and this argument is itself an answer to all their own accusations against the Presbyterian system of Church government, on the ground of its depriving congregations of their due power, since the association of congregations, like that of elders, is by way of accumulation, not privation. It will be observed also, that there is in the argument of the Independents, a deceptive use of the word presbytery, which they employed to mean the elders of a particular congregation, whereas the proper sense of the term implies the collected ministers and elders of several contiguous congregations. The answer of such arguments was an easy task, and was very successfully accomplished.
These Reasons of Dissent, and the Answers by the Assembly, occupied the attention of that venerable body during the conclusion of the year 1644, and the early part of the year 1645; and when fully completed, both the reasons and the answers were submitted to the consideration of the Parliament. After remaining in possession of the Parliament for a considerable time, and when the discussions of the Assembly had terminated, an order was issued by the House of Lords, on the 24th of January 1648 (or 1647, according to their style), that these reasons and answers should be printed from the papers in the hands of Adoniram Byfield, one of the Assembly’s scribes, after having been inspected by Messrs Goodwin and Whittaker, to secure their genuineness and authenticity; and they were published in the same year, under the title of “The Reasons presented by the Dissenting Brethren against certain Propositions concerning Presbyterial Government; together with the Answers of the Assembly of Divines to those Reasons of Dissent.” In the year 1652, the same publication received a new title-page, and was called “The Grand Debate concerning Presbytery and Independency, by the Assembly of Divines convened at Westminster by authority of Parliament.”
This a careful examination of several copies of both dates and titles enables me to state with perfect certainty, not only the pages, but the verbal and literal errors being everywhere identical; and this is here mentioned in order to put it in the power of any person who may possess the volume to verify the preceding account, whether as here given, or as referred to by other authors under the title of “The Grand Debate.”
About the time when these written discussions began to be interchanged, there was one remaining topic unsettled, on which some difference of opinion was entertained. The Assembly had unanimously agreed, that “excommunication is an ordinance of Christ;” but some difference of opinion existed respecting the body to which properly the power of excommunication belonged. A small committee was appointed for the purpose of attempting an accommodation between the Presbyterians and the Independents on this point; and on the 10th of January 1645, this committee gave in a report to which all assented, and it received the unanimous and glad sanction of the Assembly. Four days afterwards, the Independents requested that the whole directory of excommunication might be referred to a similar committee of accommodation; and this, too, the Assembly granted, in the hope of at last obtaining an amicable and harmonious arrangement. Yet, when the report of that committee had been produced, assented to by the Assembly, and voted to be transmitted to the Houses of Parliament, the Independents entered their dissent from it, as an accommodation “in any other sense than that each might interpret and use it according to their own peculiar views.” Against this procedure the Assembly complained, regarding it as a deceptive evasion, much more fitted to perpetuate disagreement than to promote accommodation, and lead to union.
The Assembly further complained, that the Dissenting Brethren never gave any definite statement of what they really wished, but merely opposed almost every proposition respecting Church government, and brought forward objections. At length one of the Independents, on the 11th of February 1645, said that they were willing to be formed into a committee to frame and report their judgment respecting the best model of Church government. This the Assembly gladly hailed, declaring that there was nothing which they more earnestly desired than to know the full mind and wish of the Dissenting Brethren. Immediately the Independents recoiled from their proposal, and declined being made a committee for that purpose.
On the 21st of March they were urged to enter upon the task, and one of them read a paper containing seven propositions, but refused to give it to the scribe, would not reproduce it, and finally declined the discussion.
Again, on the 4th of April, the Assembly resumed the suggestion, and notwithstanding the opposition of the Independents, resolved, “That the brethren of this Assembly that had formerly entered their dissent to the propositions about Presbyterial government, shall be a committee to bring in the whole frame of their judgment concerning Church government in a body, with their grounds and reasons.” Being thus in a manner constrained to prepare their own desired model, they first requested that it might be brought forward and debated part by part, as the subject of Presbyterial government had been. To this the Assembly objected, both because their own course of procedure had been that of necessity, not choice, and not, in their opinion, the best mode, and because there were not many points against which the Independents had dissented, so that the whole might most easily and conveniently be brought forward at once. The Independents then obtained permission to refrain from attending the ordinary committees, that they might have sufficient leisure to prepare their own model of Church government. Long and anxiously did the Assembly look for the promised model, but in vain. Wearied at last with this protracted delay, on the 22d of September they urged the Independents to make all convenient speed, and requested them to give in a report of what they had done within a fortnight if possible.
One fortnight passed, and no report was produced; another ran its round, and still no report appeared. But, on the 22d of October 1645, instead of the long expected model of Church government, the Independents laid before the Assembly what they termed a Remonstrance, stating the reasons why they declined to bring forward their model of Church government.
This was soon afterwards published, without the authority of either Assembly or Parliament, under the title of “A Copy of a Remonstrance.”
The Assembly immediately prepared an answer to this remonstrance; and having laid it before the Houses of Parliament, it was, after some delay, directed to be printed, by an order of the House of Lords, bearing date 24th February 1646,(or, according to the parliamentary year, 1645.) The answer of the Assembly is expressed in somewhat sharper terms than any of their preceding papers; which is not surprising, considering the disingenuous and evasive conduct of the Independent party; and it certainly exposes their duplicity in a manner altogether unanswerable. The conclusion of this paper is peculiarly significant: “Upon which considerations we think, not that the brethren have any cause to decline the bringing in of their model at this time, but that they have some other cause than what they pretend to, and that something lies behind the curtain which doth not yet appear: possibly not any one of them is yet at a point in his own judgment, nor resolved where to fix, they having professed to keep as a reserve, liberty to alter and retract; which, if their model were given in, they could not so fairly and honorably do: or possibly they are not all fixed in one and the same point: possibly they cannot agree among themselves, for it is easier to agree in dissenting than in affirming; or possibly if they seven can agree, yet some other of their brethren in the city, to whom it may be the model was communicated, did not like it; or if so, yet possibly the brethren might foresee, that if this model should be published, there are some who at present are a strength to them, and expect shelter from them, who may disgust it: or, at least, they are resolved to wait a further opportunity to improve what they have prepared; it may be when the Assembly is dissolved, and so not in a capacity to answer them; or when the Presbyterian government begins to be set up, when they promise to themselves there will be discontent among the people, and look upon that, it may be, as the most advantageous time of putting pen to paper. But whatever the cause be, we commit our cause to the Lord, who loves truth and simplicity, and will, we doubt not, discover it in due time.” Almost simultaneous with the production of these papers, one effort more, a last effort, was made to prevent, if possible, a final disagreement between the Presbyterians and the Independents. The Committee of Accommodation, which had been in abeyance for nearly a year, was revived by an order of both Houses of Parliament, dated 6th November 1645. This committee met on the 17th of the same month, and resumed their now well-nigh hopeless task, to find some ground on which both parties could harmoniously unite. Several meetings were held, and several papers framed by each party, but no approximation towards union appeared, both retaining their peculiar views, with little, if any modification. The last meeting took place on the 9th of March 1646, when very long and elaborate answers were produced by the members of Assembly to the opinions, reasoning, and requests of the Dissenting Brethren. After that the committee met no more, the controversy, so far as regarded debate and writing, terminated without any agreement; and the matter became a conflict of principle against intrigue and power.
It is impossible to review this protracted controversy between the Presbyterians and the Independents without the deepest regret. From the very beginning it greatly hampered the proceedings of the Assembly, gave rise to excessively protracted discussions on almost every subject connected with Church government and discipline, exposed the unsettled affairs of both Church and State to all the perils of delay, and gave time to every hostile element to acquire matured strength, and every dangerous machination to obtain complete development. Yet the differences between the two contending parties do not appear to have been necessarily irreconcilable, had it not been for the perverting power of political influence. In point of doctrinal views of sacred truth and modes of public worship there existed no material disagreement between the Presbyterians and the Independents. In matters of discipline, the difference of opinion became narrowed to a single point, and even that point was at one time removed in the Committee of Accommodation , though it was again partially replaced by the Dissenting Brethren. The three propositions against which they gave in reasons of dissent, namely, concerning presbyterial government, the subordination of assemblies, and the power of ordination, were all capable of being reduced to one point also,
How the Independents contrived to reconcile this central principle with their repeated concessions respecting the authority of synods, as an ordinance of God, the sentences of which might be enforced by the civil magistrate, it is somewhat difficult to imagine. Nor did they, in point of practice, act according to this principle, or theory; for in the churches of New England, which were all constructed according to the Independent system, they did not hesitate to coerce and restrain, with great rigor and severity, those who presumed to differ from them in religious matters,
They had become involved in the political movements of the period, chiefly through the intriguing character of Nye, and the influence of Cromwell and Sir Harry Vane; and the position which they occupied in the Assembly rendered them in a manner the representatives of the almost innumerable swarms of Sectarians with which the kingdom was rife.
Both of these causes operated so steadily in the same direction that they may be viewed as one, and the effect may be thereby the more clearly traced. The civil war between the King and the Parliament had not continued long till it began to become apparent that it would most probably end in a revolution, and a change of the form of civil government. Whether this had been foreseen from the first by Cromwell, and his own conduct guided by that anticipation, cannot be certainly known; but this, at least, may be safely said, that such an idea would enable us to give a complete explanation of all the proceedings of that otherwise most mysterious man.
Let it, then, be assumed that such was his aim and expectation. Nothing could have been more fatal to this prospect than an early and amicable settlement of a pure, free, and comprehensive system of Church government, whether that had been a modified Episcopacy on Ussher’s model, or a Presbyterian form, similar to that of Scotland. In either case the life and sovereignty of the king would have been preserved, even in spite of his own characteristic obstinacy, and peace would have been restored to the country without an absolute revolution. It was therefore Cromwell’s policy to prevent, by every possible means, an early settlement of the great religious questions by which the heart of the community was so deeply and powerfully stirred. For this purpose he maintained a secret but a close intercourse with Nye, and induced him and the other Dissenting Brethren to exert themselves to the utmost in retarding the progress of the Assembly. When that could no longer be accomplished by mere debate, then he devised the Committee of Accommodation, by means of which new methods of delay were employed. In the meantime, he availed himself of the rapid increase of Sectarians, encouraged their enthusiastic feelings, new-modeled the army, placing them in its ranks and himself at its head; then, having swept the loose and disorderly, though daring, cavaliers of Charles from the field, he was able to dissolve the Parliament, break up the Assembly, assume an absolute dictatorship in all matters, civil and religious, and become the chief of a republic or commonwealth.
Such, certainly, was the issue; and it will not be denied that the outline we have traced shows how all these events combined to lead as directly to the result as if they had been all preconcerted and prearranged in the powerful mind of one bold and far-forecasting man. It was easy for such a man to overreach the simple-minded, and to employ the crafty, for the promotion of his own purposes, leading them all the while to imagine that they could not possibly better secure the triumph of their peculiar designs; and it may be fairly supposed that Cromwell did deceive the Independent divines, and make use of them for the accomplishment of an object which they had never contemplated, and from the very thought of which they would have instantaneously recoiled. Yet so deeply was Nye implicated in the political intrigues of Cromwell, that, after the Restoration, it was debated for several hours in council, whether he should be excepted from the act of indemnity, and expiate his conduct by the forfeit of his life. But whatever Nye might have known of Cromwell’s secret schemes, and though his brethren were greatly led by him in the course which they followed, there is no reason to believe that they were fully aware of the object which he had in view, or would have approved it if they had.
Certainly Goodwin, Burroughs, and Bridge, were men of too pure and spiritual a mold to have lent themselves consciously to the promotion of any merely political intrigue. There was also evidently not a little of prejudice and jealousy on both sides. The Dissenting Brethren had suffered so much from prelatic despotism, that they entertained a perfect horror of all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, even to a most absurd extent, rendering them incapable of calm deliberation on the subject. And, on the other hand, the Presbyterians were so shocked with the blasphemous tenets and enormous immoralities of many of the Sectarians, that they were excited to use the language of intolerance, in their earnest desire to procure the suppression of those pernicious errors; and they were led also to regard with considerable distrust the requests of the Independents for toleration, in consequence of the position which they occupied, as in some measure the representatives of the Sectarians, whose wild and dangerous opinions and practices might, as they dreaded, be sanctioned under a general toleration. Neither party took a sufficiently comprehensive view of their own position and that of their opponents, and consequently both parties erred, and contributed to each other’s final overthrow, when, at the Restoration, their common enemy was placed again in the possession of supreme power. Their treatment of each other was mutually destructive, and we cannot exculpate either party from blame, though we think the Independents were the more culpable. And it is but justice to state, that, of the Scottish commissioners, Baillie alone expressed himself with bitterness against the Independents; the rest making many an earnest attempt to allay hostility and promote harmony. But Baillie was himself tinged with prelatic feelings, and had a tendency to political intrigues; as became apparent when he joined the Resolutioners, in the contest which divided and overthrew the Church of Scotland.
Some very important lessons may be learned from the errors of the contending parties in the Westminster Assembly. Whenever divines intermeddle with political affairs, they become both the tools and the victims of diplomatic craft, and promote their own ruin. A Church totally disjoined from the State, and even incapable of junction with it, is not more, perhaps it is less, free from the dangers of political contamination and injury, than one already established, or treating about the terms of an establishment. Such was the fate of the Independents two hundred years ago, equally with that of the Presbyterians; and the Dissenters of both England and Scotland of the present day may admit, that they have received nothing but injury from their political connections, while a Church holding the Establishment principle, but maintaining spiritual freedom, will have to encounter the hostility of all political parties. If ever a thorough and cordial union of evangelical Christians be formed, it must be kept perfectly free from the perverting influence of secular considerations,
CHAPTER 4 -
THE ERASTIAN CONTROVERSY, 1645-46.
Erastians in the Assembly and in Parliament
It was somewhat ominous of evil, that the very calling of the Assembly was solely the deed of the civil power, and that their deliberations were limited to Such matters as should be proposed to them by the Parliament. Yet, in the universal confusion into which both Church and State had been cast, this was unavoidable, and might not have led to any evil consequences, had the civil government been satisfied with the due exercise of their own powers in calling forth and putting into operation the remedial energies of the Church in its own sacred province. Nor was it strange, that men who had so recently suffered so much from prelatic tyranny should regard with alarm all ecclesiastical power whatever, and by the strength of a violent revulsion and rebound, should spring to the opposite conclusion, that there ought to be no power or jurisdiction, except that of the civil magistrate.
Such appears to have been the predominant state of mind and feeling among the members of the Long Parliament in general, together with the peculiar opinions held by individuals, and caused by their diversities of studies or professional pursuits. “Most of the lawyers,” says Baillie, “are strong Erastians, and would have all the Church government depend absolutely upon the Parliament.” And of Selden, he says, “This man is the head of the Erastians; his glory is most in the Jewish learning; he avows everywhere that the Jewish State and Church were all one, and that so in England it must be, that the Parliament is the Church.” Lightfoot and Coleman, the only Erastian divines in the Assembly, adopted the same line of thought and argument with Selden, and reasoned from the blended polity, as they affirmed it to be, which prevailed among the Jews, in order to maintain that a similar arrangement should exist in Christian States, in which the civil magistrate, being a Christian, ought to possess and wield all jurisdiction both civil and ecclesiastical. The mere lawyers, on the other hand, maintained the Erastian theory on the weaker and more easily refuted argument, that unless the civil magistrate possessed all jurisdiction there would arise the intolerable anomaly of an imperium in imperio , — one independent government within another; which in their opinion would be fatal to all good government, and produce inextricable confusion.
The easy connection between this theory and that which had long prevailed in the Church of England, will be readily perceived. The ecclesiastical supremacy of the English monarchs was held to be similar to that which had been held by the Jewish kings, and by the Christian emperors; and it was with some plausibility argued, that these formed authoritative precedents for a Christian sovereign’s possession and exercise of jurisdiction within the Church, in all matters of censure, although it gave no authority to interfere in the administration of ordinances, or in the ordination or deposition of ministers, which accordingly were left theoretically free, though practically they were subject to the most absolute control. For the same reason, no opposition was made by the Erastians to the great idea stated by the Westminster Assembly, that “Christ, who is prophet, priest, king, and head of the Church, hath fullness of power, and containeth all other offices by way of eminency in himself;” because they were prepared to hold, that in a Christian state, Christ had delegated the power of jurisdiction to the Christian civil magistrate, defending that opinion by the analogy of the Jewish state and kings. The kind of arguments brought forward by them in support of this theory, and the counter arguments by which these were met, we must now proceed to state; which we shall endeavor to do with all possible impartiality.
It will be evident to every intelligent reader, that the ground taken by the learned and able Erastians of that period, while it was one of very considerable plausibility, led them to assail directly that element of Church government which involves the exercise of discipline, or Church censure; because, since the only authority which a Church can possess is over the conscience, the only way in which it can have, and exercise jurisdiction, is by spiritual censures directly affecting the conscience of delinquents; so that if a Church cannot inflict censures, it cannot possibly have a distinct and independent government of its own. The Erastians of the Parliament were aware that it would be absurd for them to call themselves a Church, in the strict sense of that term, and consequently, that it would be absurd to pretend that they could themselves admit and ordain ministers, a matter which manifestly belongs to the function of Church officers; but they perceived that they might more plausibly and successfully assail the power of inflicting censures, and thereby overthrow Church government, on the ground that all jurisdiction belonged to the civil magistrate, even ecclesiastical jurisdiction, in Christian States, though they admitted that it might properly be held and exercised by the Church under a heathen government.
The first intimation of the controversy occurred on the 8th of January 1644, when the second committee gave in a report concerning the work of pastors, to the following effect:
Although the Assembly did not wish to provoke an early discussion with the Erastians, and especially were desirous to have as many points ratified as might be possible, before a final struggle on the essential elements of disagreement, still it was not practicable to avoid coming into collision whenever the controverted topics occurred in the course of debate. Thus the question respecting excommunication again arose when the Assembly were debating this proposition,
The passage of Scripture under discussion was 1 Corinthians 5:4: “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Mr. Selden,” says Lightfoot, “questioned whether this place have any thing to do with excommunication; and that sunacqe>ntwn uJmw~n kai< tou~ ejmou~ pneu>matov , must be joined together to this sense, ‘seeing that you and my spirit are together;’ or, it may bear this, ‘when my spirit and you shall come together;’ or, ‘howsoever you have not been humbled as you ought, yet my spirit and you agreeing now at last.’ And so, Nehemiah 4:8, sunhcqhsan is meant, and is of the same sense with convenire , either in loco or animo . And he cited Faber. Stapulensis, that takes the word from sunacqomai , ‘to mourn or grieve.’ Ergo , there being so many interpretations, it is not fit to build upon. This epistle is written to the Church and to the saints; where the Church signifieth the governing body of the Church. 2. The Jews had two kinds of sanhedrims, the great and the less; and, Numbers 35, the congregation must judge the heedless murderer, which the Jews generally understood of tsnl hnmq , and Leviticus 4:13, ‘If the whole congregation have sinned,’
Having failed on this point, Selden prepared to put forth all the strength of his rabbinical lore in the discussion concerning the meaning of Matthew 18:15-18, which was brought forward to prove ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and also the subordination of Church courts, and successive appeals ending in excommunication. The Independents had admitted that the passage did prove jurisdiction and church censure, but labored to limit the whole procedure within one congregation, so as to deny appeals to presbyteries.
Selden again came forward, and again we shall give his argument as reported by Lightfoot:
They distinguished betwixt offenses betwixt man and man, and betwixt man and God. Now he that had been offended by man was to go single and desire satisfaction; and if he would not hearken, then take more company, and if [mwç wnya , then dgh µybl .
Now every one of the courts was called hd[ . Excommunication among the Jews might be inflicted by any of twelve years old; and so, by consequence, every court might do it; but the synagogue did not use it, and ajposuna>gwgov was not utterly outlawed from the synagogue, but some part of ordinary free conversation denied him.
Now, hd[ , lhq , ecclesia, etc., must be interpreted, according to the occasion, for a certain number, secundum subjectam materiam, as Deuteronomy 23, ‘An Ammonite may not enter lhpb : that is, of women; for the Jews understood it of marrying an Israelitish woman. He concluded that this place might very well mean a sanhedrim. Christ was in Capernaum now, when he spake this, where there was a sanhedrim. Now his speech is so Jewish, that it results to this, If an Israelite offend thee, tell the sanhedrim.
To the objection, But what means, ‘Let him be unto thee an heathen?’ he answered, This indeed may be excommunication by the court; or, by himself: ‘If thy brother offend,’ etc., after such and such admonition, sue him at the court, or else inform of him there; if he will not obey the court, do thou excommunicate him.” Such was the boasted argument of the man emphatically styled “the learned Selden.” Its object was, to explain away the force of the term ecclesia , or “church ,” and to reduce the passage to a strictly Jewish application; then, by allusions to some indefinite Hebrew customs, to resolve the matter into a mere application to a civil court, in cases where a private and friendly arrangement could not be effected; reducing, at the same time, the meaning of the term “excommunication ” into the act of one person merely declining to hold intercourse with another person from whom he had received offense. Yet the ostentatious display of minute rabbinical lore which he brought forward, seems to have somewhat staggered the Assembly, as appears from the inconclusive remarks of Herle and Marshall, as reported by Lightfoot. But Gillespie saw through the fallacious character of Selden’s argument; and in a speech of singular ability and power completely refuted his learned antagonist, proving that the passage could not be interpreted or explained away to mean a mere reference to a civil court. By seven distinct arguments he proved that the whole subject was of a spiritual nature, not within the cognizance of civil courts; and he proved also, that the Church of the Jews had and exercised the power of spiritual censures. The effect of Gillespie’s speech was so great as to astonish and confound Selden himself, who made no attempt to reply; and the result was, that the Assembly soon afterwards decided that the negative arguments of Selden and the Independents were not conclusive, and the proposition was affirmed. Closely connected with this subject was the proposition which asserted “that authoritative suspension from the Lord’s table of a person not yet cast out of the Church, is agreeable to the Scripture;” and this point held the Assembly in debate from the 20th to the 24th of May 1644, when it was affirmed; the opposition being made chiefly by the Independents, while the Erastians reserved their strength for the Parliament, well knowing that their views would coincide with the notions of men of the world, and would not be subjected to such a narrow scrutiny there as in the Assembly.
The subject will come before us again, when we come to treat of the Parliament’s proceedings.
It was mentioned in the preceding chapter, that when the Assembly had completed the Directory for Ordination, the result was laid before the Parliament to receive its ratification, that it might have the authority of law; and that the Parliament allowed it to lie past for some time, and then made considerable alterations upon it before returning it to the Assembly, which they did on the 15th of August 1644. These alterations were so many, and of such importance, striking out the doctrinal part of the Directory, that the Assembly refused to consent to them, and proceeded to debate afresh the topics so altered or struck out. Mr. Whitelocke, a leading member of the Commons, entered into the debate; and passing from the direct point in hand, made a long, and certainly not a peculiarly able speech on the question, whether Presbyterial Church government be jure divino , — of divine institution. He admitted that Church government, in the abstract, is of divine institution, but held it doubtful whether any peculiar form, Episcopacy, Presbytery, or Independency, can claim that high authority; nor did he think it of any importance to determine the point, because no decision could alter its nature; if of divine institution, it would remain so, whether men affirmed it or not; and if not so, the authority of man could not elevate it to that height. He advised the Assembly, therefore, to be content with stating to the Parliament, “that the government of the Church by presbyteries is most agreeable to the Word of God, and most fit to be settled in this kingdom.” It is easy to see the tact of the politician in Whitelocke’s suggestion, which, according to his own understanding of it, left it in the power of the civil government to establish any form of Church government of which they might approve, and to change it as they might think it expedient; while, if the strictest sense of the words were held, Presbyterians might very properly conclude that the Church government which is “most agreeable to the Word of God,” must therefore be of divine institution.
Information of these alterations was communicated to the Scottish commissioners, before it was made known to the Assembly; the effect of which was, first a private remonstrance to certain of the Parliament, and then a preparation for a strenuous struggle in the Assembly itself. The Scottish commissioners further addressed the Grand Committee on the evils resulting from such a prolonged delay, in the conclusion of which they expressly condemned the Parliament’s alterations, stating the reasons of their disapprobation. This bold course was seconded by a petition from the city ministers, on the 18th of September; and on the 2d of October the Parliament issued an ordinance, sanctioning the Assembly’s Directory of Ordination, and appointing a committee of divines to ordain ministers in London. The difference between the conduct of the Assembly in this point, and the manner in which they acted towards the Independents, must strike every attentive and candid reader. Although highly disapproving of the pertinacious obstinacy with which the Dissenting Brethren clung to their own views, and threw every possible obstacle in the way of an early and satisfactory settlement of Church government, yet the Assembly continued to treat them as brethren, bore with their lengthened speeches and subtle distinctions, admitted many modifications of their own opinions, and did their utmost to procure an amicable adjustment of all differences, so far as the conscientious views of both parties could be reconciled. But when the Parliament attempted to exercise an Erastian supremacy, and to strike out what they believed to have the authoritative sanction of the Word of God, they refused to yield; and in this instance their firmness and energy were crowned with success. It was, no doubt, in the power of the Parliament to refuse to sanction the Directory of Ordination; but it was also in the power of the Assembly and the city ministers to refuse to ordain on Erastian principles’ and the Parliament, aware that they could not, even plausibly, attempt to compel ministers to ordain, yielded the point, and reserved their Erastianism for the still undecided subject of Church censures.
The leading propositions respecting Church government having been nearly completed, several members of both Houses of Parliament attended the Assembly, 7th November 1644, and required them to hasten a report of what had been done “concerning the government of the Church; and the rather, because they”(Parliament)”had been solicited by the Committee of the State of Scotland for it.” Dr. Burgess and a select committee were directed to prepare all that had been voted by the Assembly, that it might be laid before Parliament in proper form with all convenient speed. This was done, read over in the Assembly, compared with the papers in the hands of the scribes, and a committee named to lay the whole before the House of Commons on the 15th of November. The account of what took place in the House of Commons, upon the presenting of this paper, is both curious and instructive, as an exhibition of political management. “The Assembly of Divines, as soon as the House of Commons were sate, and before they were full, came to the House and presented them with the Assembly’s advice and opinion, for the Presbyterian government to be settled ; and an expression was in their advice, that the Presbyterian government was jure divino . Glyn and Whitelocke were then in the House, and few others but those who concurred in judgment with the Assembly, and had notice to be there early, thinking to pass this business before the House should be full. Glyn stood up and spoke an hour to the point of jus divinum and the Presbyterian government ; in which time the House filled apace: and then Whitelocke spoke to the same points, enlarging his discourse to a much longer time than ordinary, and purposely that the House might be full,
And it will be observed, that the House did not at that time positively reject, but merely “lay aside,” or postpone, the consideration of the claim of divine right. From about the close of the year 1644 till about April 1645, the Assembly was chiefly engaged in the Independent controversy, receiving the written reasons of dissent, and returning written answers to these reasons. During that period the debates of the Assembly were of little importance, and the Erastian controversy also remained in comparative abeyance. Indeed the debates of the Assembly may be said to have almost terminated with the close of 1644; for their public deliberations after that time were chiefly occupied with the framing of the Catechisms and the Confession of Faith; and although the very solemn and important nature of these subjects required mature study and great precision of language, which formed necessarily a work of considerable time, yet there existed so much harmony of doctrinal principles among them, that their discussions very seldom assumed the distinctive character of debate. The chief cause, probably, why the Erastian controversy was allowed to slumber during that period, was, that the parliamentary politicians were engaged in the treaty of Uxbridge with the king, and were exceedingly anxious to conclude a peace with his majesty, if possible, being apprehensive that the self-denying ordinance would be carried by the intrigues of Cromwell, and the sword be thereby wrested from their grasp. That ordinance, after a struggle of nearly three months, was at last ratified by both Houses, on the 3d of April 1645, and from that time the army was virtually independent of the Parliament, and ere long became its master, or rather, the tyrant of both Parliament and kingdom.
Mention has been already made of the disinclination of the Parliament to agree to the Assembly’s proposition respecting the power of ministers to keep back from the Lord’s table persons not yet cut off from the Church.
This power the Erastians were reluctant to sanction; and the Assembly was equally urgent that it should be fully sanctioned, both because they believed it to be necessary, to prevent that sacred ordinance from being profaned, and because one point strongly urged by the Independents, in defense of their separation, was the want of sufficient reformation in congregations.
The subject was laid before the Parliament on the 6th of March 1645, by the Assembly, and on the 10th of the same month by the city ministers. On the 21st the Parliament took the subject into consideration, and on the 25th some votes were passed respecting it, in some particular points.
Again, on the 27th the Assembly gave to the House their advice concerning not admitting scandalous and ignorant persons to the sacrament. Thus urged to what they had no mind to grant, the Parliament, on the 1st of April, emitted an order, “That the Assembly set down in particular what measure of understanding persons ought to have of the Trinity, and other points debated, before they be admitted to the sacrament.” The object of this order was evidently to engage the Assembly in a discussion which might occupy their attention for a considerable time, and perhaps involve so much confusion and disagreement of opinion as should render a definite answer impracticable. But the desire of the Assembly was not to be so evaded; and they experienced less difficulty in answering the question of the Parliament than Erastian lawyers had expected. Some additional votes respecting Church government were about the same time passed by the Parliament, the purport of which is thus stated by Baillie:
The substance of Mr. Whitelocke’s speech was as follows:
And they apply it to spiritual pastors suspending those from the sacrament whom they fear, by the unworthy receiving of it, may eat and drink their own damnation. This may be a charitable simile, but will hardly be found a full answer; for it is not the receiving of the sacrament, but the unworthiness of the receiver, that brings destruction. And whether he be unworthy or not, it is not in the judgment of pastor, or of any other, but of the party only who is the sinner; for none can know his heart but himself, and a commission will scarce be produced for any other to be judge thereof. The person refused may say to the pastor in this case, ‘Who made thee judge?’ Besides, the authority desired is not only of suspension, but of excommunication,
Where the temporal sword(the magistracy)is sufficient for punishment of offenses, there will be little need for this new discipline; nor will it be so easily granted.”
But it cannot be necessary to detect all the fallacies of this much boasted speech; that every sound and right-minded reader will do for himself. It has been inserted, however, for the purpose of giving a favorable specimen of the kind of arguments employed by the Parliamentary Erastians of that period; which are essentially the same as those used by many Erastians in the present day, with, perhaps, this exception, that few modern Erastians can reason even so well, or have skill enough to enter so deeply into the subject.
The language of Baillie, in a letter written at this juncture, shows the strong anxiety entertained by the Assembly regarding this important subject, and gives also another proof of the temperate spirit and calm prudence of the Scottish commissioners. After mentioning the difficulty which the Assembly felt in enumerating all kinds of scandalous offenses, on which account they required to have power to exclude all scandalous as well as some, he adds, “The general they would not grant, as including an arbitrary and unlimited power. Our advice(that of the Scottish commissioners)was, that they(the Assembly)would go on to set up their presbyteries and synods with so much power as they could get; and after they were once settled, then they might strive to obtain their full due power. But the Assembly was of another mind; and after divers fair papers, at last they framed a most zealous, clear, and peremptor one, wherein they held out plainly the Church’s divine right to keep from the sacrament all who are scandalous; and if they cannot obtain the free exercise of that power which Christ hath given them, they will lay down their charges, and rather choose all afflictions than to sin by profaning the holy table.” It was the presenting of this paper which gave occasion to the preceding speeches of Selden and Whitelocke. And although the Parliament were determined not to grant the full claim of the Assembly, yet they were not prepared at once to declare that determination, but still continued to keep the subject in a state of suspense, hoping, probably, that the divines would at last consent to accept some lower measure. While Parliament treated the Assembly with a considerable degree of guarded respect, they showed their temper more plainly to the city divines, a petition from whom, “for establishing Presbytery, as the discipline of Jesus Christ, they voted to be scandalous.” It might have puzzled those sage senators to have defined their own language, and showed in what respect such a petition was scandalous ; but it was easy for them to apply harsh and ungracious epithets to a request which they were determined to refuse.
It has been already mentioned that the Parliament had required the Assembly to state “what measure of understanding persons ought to have of the Trinity, and other points debated, before they be admitted to the sacrament;” and also, that they required an enumeration of such scandalous offenses as deserved the censure of suspension from ordinances. To the former point the Assembly readily prepared an answer; but they found the latter more difficult, both because the attempt to enumerate such offenses suggested additional ones, and because the inevitable tendency of such an attempt was to present their whole system in its most repulsive aspect, and even to prevent themselves from having a discretionary power to mitigate its apparent severity. At length, however, on the 14th of October the Assembly presented their advice on these points to the Parliament, at the same time clearly declaring their earnest desire that the general principle should be affirmed, and the details left to be regulated according to the peculiarities of each specific case. But the Parliament resolved to turn this paper of advice into an ordinance of both Houses; and on the 15th voted, as a preliminary step, “that the presbytery should not suspend from the sacrament for any other offenses than those particularly mentioned in the ordinance;” which, adds Whitelocke, displeased some who were earnest to give an arbitrary power to the presbytery. Strange that this legislator could not perceive that Parliament was retaining a much more arbitrary power in its own possession,
On the 20th of October 1645, this important document passed both Houses, under the designation of “An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, about Suspension from the Lord’s Supper.” The statement of the amount of religious knowledge which ought to be possessed by every person before being admitted to the Lord’s table, is very clear and explicit; and the enumeration of scandalous offenses is also very full. But in one clause towards the close of the ordinance, the Erastian principle is very strongly stated: “If any person suspended from the Lord’s Supper shall find himself grieved with the proceedings before the eldership of any congregation, he shall have liberty to appeal to the classical eldership(or Presbytery), and from them to the Provincial Assembly(or Synod), from thence to the National, and from thence to the Parliament. And it is further ordained, That the members of both Houses, that now are members of the Assembly of Divines, or any seven of them, be a standing committee of both Houses of Parliament to consider of causes of suspension from the Lord’s Supper not contained in this ordinance; unto which committee any eldership shall present such causes, to the end that the Parliament, if need require, may hear and determine the same.” The undisguised Erastianism of this ordinance was exceedingly displeasing to the Assembly, and rendered them unwilling to put it into operation at all, even so far as it went, lest they should seem to consent to a principle which they so decidedly condemned. “This,” says Baillie, “has been the only impediment why the Presbyteries and Synods have not been erected; for the ministers refuse to accept of Presbyteries without this power.” Both parties, indeed, were equally resolute,
Not only was the Assembly dissatisfied with the conduct of Parliament in thus attempting to retain an Erastian power in ecclesiastical affairs, but all the Presbyterians, both ministers and people throughout the kingdom, and particularly those of the city of London itself, were both grieved and displeased with conduct so grasping and unwise. A petition was addressed to Parliament from the Common Council of London, praying that Church government might be speedily settled and observed, and that greater power might be given to the ministers and elders than was established by the Parliament, according to the warrant of the Word of God. The House answered, “That they had already taken much pains in debating of Church government; and they conceived the city and Common Council were informed falsely of the proceedings of the House, else they would not have precipitated the judgment of the Parliament; however, they take it as a good intention of the petitioners promoting this business.” A similar petition from the city ministers received a still more uncourteous answer,
One very probable reason why the Parliament were at this time assuming a more haughty tone than formerly was, the depression of the king’s power, who had never been able to make head against the army to any considerable extent since the battle of Naseby, on the 14th of June. Yet even in this point of view, the conduct of the Parliament was marked by something little short of infatuation; for the power of the army had passed completely into the hands of Cromwell, though Fairfax still held, nominally, the chief command; and a very moderate degree of penetration might have enabled them to have perceived that they had no means of counterbalancing the power of the army except by the wealth and influence of the city of London, which was thoroughly Presbyterian. The Independents in both Parliament and Assembly were delighted with the delay caused by the Erastian obstinacy; and to these two parties, Independents and Erastians, there was added, as Baillie says, “a third party, of worldly, profane men, who were extremely affrighted to come under the yoke of ecclesiastic discipline.” The very fact of such a combination against the Presbyterian system would go far to prove its truth and scriptural character; for that can scarcely be other than a good cause, which provokes the opposition of such conflicting elements, and some of them elements essentially evil. Though hitherto disappointed, the Assembly and the city continued to exert themselves by plying the Parliament with petition upon petition; and to one of these, signed by the whole magistracy of London, addressed to both Houses, 15th January 1646, the Parliament felt it necessary to return a courteous and complimentary answer, thanking them for their care and zeal for God’s worship, and assuring them of their readiness to promote so good a work. Adverting to this petition, Baillie says, “No doubt, if they be constant they will obtain all their desires; for all know that the Parliament here cannot subsist without London, so that whatsoever they desire in earnest and constantly, it must be granted.” On the 20th of February it was “Resolved by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, That there be forthwith a choice made of elders throughout the kingdom of England, according to such directions as have already passed both Houses, bearing date the 19th of August 1645.” But on the 14th of March, a more complete ordinance passed both Houses, containing full regulations respecting the choice of elders and of every thing necessary for the organization of the Presbyterian form of Church government. Even in this ordinance the same Erastian element appeared. By one clause it was enacted, “That in every province persons shall be chosen by the Houses of Parliament, that shall be commissioners to judge of scandalous offenses, not enumerated in any ordinance of Parliament, to them presented;” and upon the decision of these commissioners it was to depend whether the eldership might suspend persons accused of such offenses from the sacrament. Before this ordinance had passed the Lords, and as soon as its tenor was known from the deliberations of the Commons, both the Assembly and the city ministers prepared to give the most decided opposition to this Erastian clause. “I wish,” says Baillie, writing to one of the city ministers, “by all means that unhappy court of commissioners in every shire may be exploded. If it must be so, let the new cases of scandal come to the Parliament by the letters of the eldership, or any other way, but not by a standing court of commissioners. This is a trick of the Independents’ invention, of purpose to enervate and disgrace all our government, in which they have been assisted by the lawyers and the Erastian party. This troubles us all exceedingly,
Fully aware of the extreme importance of obtaining a right adjustment of this essential point, the Presbyterians of both Scotland and England made every possible exertion to secure it. And there seemed to be one favorable opportunity, by availing themselves of which it might yet be accomplished.
The unhappy king, beaten from the field by successive and ruinous defeats, had retired to Oxford, where he found himself almost driven to distraction by the wretched cabals of his selfish and unprincipled adherents. In these circumstances he proposed a new negotiation for peace, and many letters were interchanged between him and the Parliament on this subject. But the Parliament were now not only secure of triumph, but also under the influence of Cromwell and his friends, who had no wish for a peace; and for these reasons they rose in their demands to such a degree, that all prospects of peace were greatly obscured. The Scottish Parliamentary commissioners, on the other hand, were desirous of peace on such terms as should not annihilate the regal dignity, and therefore they endeavored so far to modify the demands of the English Parliament, that they might be such as the king could honorably grant. But the English Parliament felt that they had no longer any urgent need of assistance from a Scottish army, and therefore were not inclined to listen to the more reasonable proposals of the Scottish commissioners. Still, they could not at once dishonorably violate their Solemn League and Covenant with Scotland, and therefore they continued to receive, with due respect, the communications of the Scottish Parliament through its commissioners. And as these commissioners were all Presbyterians, they felt deeply interested in the question of the right establishment of Presbyterian Church government in England, according to the principles of the Solemn League of both nations.
For this reason they presented to the English Parliament several papers respecting the pending treaty of peace, and the various matters involved in it; one of which necessarily was, the form of religion to be established, to which the king was to be requested to give his concurrence. On the subject of religion these papers took up the points that had so much engaged the attention of the Assembly, and gave their opinion in the following manner:
And on the 21st of April the preface was burnt as had been ordered, but not the papers of the Scottish commissioners.
The Declaration published by the Parliament for their own vindication was characterized by equal intemperate heat and bitterness, and contained a very strong assertion of the Erastian theory; colored, however, by the pretext of their dread of the consequences which might ensue from “granting an arbitrary and unlimited power and jurisdiction to near ten thousand judicatories to be erected within this kingdom;” and asserting that they “had the more reason by no means to part with this power out of the hands of the civil magistrate, since the experience of all ages will manifest that the reformation and purity of religion, and the preservation and protection of the people of God in this kingdom, hath under God been by the Parliaments, and their exercise of this power.” How easy it is to make bold and general assertions; but had the English Parliament been required to produce proofs and instances in maintenance of their self-complacent assertion, they would have found that they had undertaken no easy task.
And it might have occurred to them, that such vehemence of conduct and language might be very fairly interpreted into a proof that they were aware that they had acted wrong, and that their anger arose from the painful and mortifying consciousness of being detected in the commission of what was manifestly culpable. But even yet an English Parliament can reason and act in a similar manner, untaught by the bitter experience of their ancestors, and unable to read the signs of the times, however close the resemblance which these bear to a former period.
Not even this manifestation of the Parliament’s stormy temper could appall the Assembly of Divines, although the city ministers had somewhat quailed.
Mr. Marshall, by no means one of the most rash or impetuous of the brethren, arose in his place, and after referring to the recent ordinance, and stating that there were several things in it which pressed heavily upon his conscience, and upon the consciences of many others, he moved that a committee might be appointed to examine what points in the ordinance were contrary to their consciences, and to prepare a petition on the subject, to be presented to the two Houses. This was accordingly done, and presented by the whole Assembly, with Mr. Marshall at their head, on the 24th of March. The main topics of the petition were, an assertion of the divine right of Presbyterian Church government, and a complaint against that clause in the recent ordinance which appointed an appeal from the censures of the Church to a committee of the Parliament. The House appears to have been somewhat staggered by this decided course adopted by the Assembly, and appointed a committee to consider what answer should be given, and what notice should be taken of the manner in which the petition had been brought forward. The report of the committee was characterized by deep policy. First, they gave it as their opinion, that the Assembly of Divines had, in their recent petition, violated the privileges of Parliament, and incurred the penalties of a premunire ; and next, they proposed, that since the Assembly insisted on the jus divinum of the Presbyterian government, certain queries which they had prepared respecting that point might be sent to the Assembly, and the divines required to return answers to the satisfaction of the Parliament. The House approved of the committee’s report, and on the 30th of April sent Sir John Evelyn, Mr. Fiennes, and Mr. Brown, to state to the Assembly the sentiments of the House, and to require answers to the prepared list of interrogations.
These questions display so clearly the captious character and petulant temper of the Erastians, even while pretending to be merely desiring satisfaction to their scruples of conscience, that we think it expedient to insert them here:
In these Erastian questions there is a constant endeavor to keep a variety of details prominently before the mind, so as to obscure the main principle as far as possible; and even when the proper question of principle is stated, it is done in the same manner,
The affirmation of this proposition was regarded both by the Assembly and by the Erastian party as containing a complete rejection of the Erastian principle; for, in their clear style of reasoning, they perceived, that if Church government were admitted to be “distinct from the civil magistrate,” then the civil magistrate could exercise no jurisdiction in Church matters, as that would be to break down the distinction. Against this proposition, accordingly, the two Erastians in the Assembly, especially Coleman, directed their whole force of argument. Baillie says, “To oppose the Erastian heresy, we find it necessary to say, that Christ in the New Testament had institute a Church government distinct from the civil, to be exercised by the officers of the Church, without commission from the magistrate. None in the Assembly has any doubt of this truth, but one Mr. Coleman, a professed Erastian; a man reasonably learned, but stupid and inconsiderate, half a pleasant, and of small estimation. But the lawyers in the Parliament did blow up the poor man with much vanity; so he is become their champion, to bring out, the best way he can, Erastus’ arguments against the proposition. We give him a fair and free hearing, albeit we fear, when we have answered all he can bring, and have confirmed with undeniable proofs our proposition, the Houses, when it comes to them, shall scrape it out of the Confession; for this point is their idol. The most of them are incredibly zealous for it. The pope and the king were never more earnest for the headship of the Church than the plurality of this Parliament.” After the Assembly had debated this proposition for sometime, and were about to put it to the vote, Coleman was taken ill, and sent a request to the Assembly, that they would delay it for a few days, as he had still some arguments to bring forward. The Assembly complied; but after an illness of four or five days he expired, and the proposition was passed, with the single dissentient vote of Lightfoot. In the account of this event contained in “Neal’s History of the Puritans,” the names of those who subscribed this proposition, according to the injunction of the Parliament, are given, amounting to fifty-two , and comprising all the men of chief eminence in the Assembly, exclusive of the Scottish divines, who spoke, but did not vote on any subject. Nell contradicts himself in his account, stating, that the Independents took “the opportunity to withdraw, refusing absolutely to be concerned in the affair;” yet in the list which he gives there are the names of Goodwin, Nye, Greenhill, and Carter, all of them Independents,
But the Assembly were not contented with thus cutting the heart out of the Erastian theory; they appointed a committee to prepare answers to the Parliament’s questions, following out the principle of their own fundamental proposition. “The work of the Assembly,” says Baillie, “these bygone weeks has been to answer some very captious questions of the Parliament, about the clear scriptural warrant for all the punctilios of the government. It was thought it would be impossible for us to answer, and that in our answers there would be no unanimity; yet, by God’s grace, we shall deceive them who were waiting for our halting. The committee has prepared very solid and satisfactory answers already to almost all the questions, wherein there is like to be an unanimity absolute in all things material, even with the Independents. But because of the Assembly’s way, and the Independents’ miserable, unamendable design to keep all things from any conclusion, it’s like we shall not be able to perfect our answers for some time; therefore, I have put some of my good friends, leading men in the House of Commons, to move the Assembly to lay aside our questions for a time, and labor that which is most necessary, and all are crying for,
Although the answers of the Assembly to these Erastian questions were not finally called for and printed by the Parliament, there is some reason to believe that their labor was not wholly lost to the public. For after the change of affairs which induced the Parliament to change its course, several months were allowed to pass away, lest the Commons might repeat their demand; but at length, on the 1st of December 1646, a book was published, entitled, “Jus Divi-num Regiminis Ecclesiastici ; or, The Divine Right of Church Government Asserted and Evidenced by the Holy Scriptures. By sundry Ministers of Christ within the City of London.” This work is an express and direct answer to the Parliament’s questions respecting divine right, following these questions in their order, and giving to them a distinct reply point by point, confirming every argument by Scripture proofs, and by quotations from the writings of learned and able ecclesiastical authors. Judging from internal evidence, in matter, manner, and style, it appears almost certain that this work at least embodies the substance of the answer prepared by the Assembly, somewhat enlarged and modified by the city ministers, in whose name it was published. This idea is not set aside by the manner in which it is noticed by Baillie, who says: “The ministers of London have put out this day a very fine book, proving from Scripture the divine right of every part of the Presbyterial government.” We do not mean to assert, that the work published by the city ministers was the identical production of the Assembly; but that so much of the one was transfused into the other as to render them to all practical intents one work, and to relieve us from any cause to regret that the Assembly’s answer was not published. On the seventh day after the appearance of this book, the House of Commons requested the Assembly to give in their answers to the jus divinum queries, as if to intimate their suspicion with regard to the authorship of the recent publication; but this demand was not again repeated, and no direct notice was taken of the book itself. But whether the work in question was to any considerable extent the production of the Assembly Divines or not, this at least is certain, that it is the most complete and able defense of Presbyterian Church government that has yet appeared, and places its divine right on a foundation which will not easily be shaken. Allusion has been made to events of great public importance, which contributed not a little to change the tone of the Parliament. These may be briefly mentioned. The military affairs of the year 1645 terminated most disastrously for the king. All his armies were beaten out of the field, and he was constrained to retreat to Oxford with the wreck of his troops, and there to try what could be gained by intrigues and negotiations, since he could no longer maintain an open war. During the course of these negotiations there arose a degree of alienation between the English Parliament and the Scottish commissioners and Parliament, which threatened an open rupture. The English Parliament, influenced by Cromwell and his friends, were not desirous of peace; while the Scottish commissioners made every effort to procure such terms as the king might accept without absolute submission. It was while their temper was in this high and heated state, that the English Parliament treated the petitions of the city ministers, and of the Assembly itself, with that scant courtesy, if not rather overbearing haughtiness, which has been already related. Elated with success, they could not brook the firm and fearless attitude assumed by the Presbyterian divines, and resented the remonstrances of the Scottish commissioners and Parliament, as an improper interference with their imperial dignity. At this very juncture the king, despairing of obtaining from the English Parliament any terms to which he could accede, left Oxford in disguise, on the 27th of April, and after wandering about for a few days, arrived at the quarters of the Scottish army, which was besieging Newark, on the 5th of May 1646. This was totally unexpected by either the army or the commissioners of Scotland; for though his majesty had attempted to induce the Scottish general and Committee of Estates to espouse his cause against the Parliament, he had received such an answer from them as rendered it, in their opinion, impossible that he would put himself into their power. No sooner was this event known in London than the tone and temper of the Parliament was very sensibly changed. They perceived that it was no longer safe to treat the remonstrances of Scotland with disrespect; and as they were well aware how much the establishment of Presbyterian Church government in both kingdoms was longed for by the Scottish Church and people, they deemed it expedient to remove some of the obstacles by which this had been hitherto prevented.
Up till this time the ordinance of March 14, for the choice of ruling elders and the erection of presbyteries, had not received the full ratification of the House of Lords; and even if it had, it would have been inoperative, because the ministers were resolute not to become members of presbyteries, so long as they were subject to such Erastian interference, and so bereft of their due powers, as would have been the case under that ordinance. But on the 5th of June both Houses not only ratified the ordinance, and on the 9th issued an order that it should be immediately put into execution, but also at the same time laid aside the clause respecting provincial Commissioners to judge of new cases of scandal,
At the very first interview which the king had with his Scottish subjects, they gave him distinctly to know, that they neither could nor would do any thing contrary to their engagement with England in the Solemn League and Covenant, or to the spirit of that sacred document. And in a letter to the Committee of both kingdoms, written immediately after his majesty’s arrival, they declared, “That they were astonished at the providence of the king’s coming to their army; and desired that it might be improved to the best advantage for promoting the work of uniformity, for settling of religion and righteousness, and attaining of peace, according to the Covenant and Treaty, by advice of the Parliaments of both kingdoms, or their commissioners: And they further declare, that there hath been no treaty betwixt his majesty and them; and in so deep a business they desire the advice of the Committee of both kingdoms.” The king soon perceived that he had both overrated his own personal influence and undervalued the power of religious principle,
It may be necessary here to state, what it would not be difficult to prove beyond the power of dispute, did our limits and the nature of this work permit, that there was no connection whatever between the payment of the arrears due to the Scottish army, and the surrendering of the king to the English Parliament. A short statement of facts is all that can here be given; but that may be enough, at least to every mind not thickly encrusted with prejudice. From the time when the victories of the English armies rendered them able to cope with the king without the assistance of the Scottish forces, the Parliament was desirous to secure the entire glory and advantage of the triumph to themselves. For this purpose they did every thing in their power to irritate and disparage the Scottish army. They withheld the payment of the troops, constraining them to have recourse to the ungracious procedure of levying the means of subsistence from the inhabitants of the country; and they listened readily to the complaints which were made of these exactions. Thus hampered and discouraged, the Scottish army was unable to perform any signal exploit, while Fairfax and Cromwell received every aid and encouragement that Parliament could give. The Scottish army was naturally indignant at such treatment, and even entertained some apprehension, that if Fairfax should take Oxford, and obtain possession of the king’s person, he would direct his force against them, and compel them to fight, or to retire without any thing having been accomplished for which they had entered England. Their position at Newark, almost in the center of the kingdom, rendered this peculiarly hazardous; and therefore, as soon as the king came to the army, and Newark surrendered, they began their march northwards, and ceased not till they arrived at Newcastle, where they took up their quarters, waiting the course of negotiations to secure peace, if practicable, and occupying a favorable position for war, if peace could not be obtained, and the king should be persuaded to sign the Covenant.
Even before the negotiations for peace commenced on the 19th of May, the English Parliament voted that an hundred thousand pounds should be paid to the Scottish army, one half after they should have surrendered Newcastle, Carlisle, and the other English garrisons in their possession, and the other half after their advance into Scotland. The Scottish commissioners, knowing that the Parliament had not the means of obtaining a large supply of money without the consent and support of the city of London, gladly availed themselves of the idea which this offer suggested, and demanded a much larger sum, with the strong conviction that the Parliament neither could nor would grant their demand, and that during the delay caused by this new element of negotiation, they might persuade the king to consent to the offered terms of peace. “It’s all our skill,” says Baillie, “to gain a little time. Their first offer to us was of one hundred thousand pounds sterling, for the disbanding of our army. We, this day(August 18th), gave them in a paper, wherein we were peremptor for more than double that sum for the present, beside the huge sums which we crave to be paid afterward. They have appointed a committee to confer with us; we are in some hopes of agreement. The money must be borrowed in the city, and here will be the question; they are our loving friends; but before they will part with more money, they will press hard the disbanding of their own army as well as ours.” Again he says, “When the king’s unhappy answer to the commissioners came hither, it was our great care to divert this Parliament from all deliberation about the king, till he had yet some more time of advice. We cast in the debate of our army’s return, and rendering the garrisons.” On the 1st of September the House of Commons held a long debate on the demand of the Scottish army’s payment; and on the 5th of the same month voted the sum of two hundred thousand pounds on their advance to Scotland, if it could be raised, and appointed a committee to manage the matter. But so far from this being the price of the king’s surrender to the Parliament, the question respecting the disposal of his person continued to be keenly debated between the two kingdoms for above four months longer, before Scotland would consent to relinquish the desperate and hopeless task of endeavoring to save the infatuated and uncomplying king. During that period Charles wrote repeatedly to the English Parliament, expressing his desire to be near them, the more speedily and effectually to conclude the long-continued negotiations. Sadly and unwillingly at last the Scottish Committee of Estates relinquished the care of his majesty’s person to the commissioners of the English Parliament, on the 30th of January 1647, according to the terms of the agreement to that effect which had been concluded between the two kingdoms, and published in the form of a declaration by the Scottish Parliament on the 16th of January.
The simple statement of these facts and dates ought to be enough to set aside for ever the false and calumnious assertion that Scotland sold her king. The payment of the army’s arrears was voted by the English Parliament on the 5th of September; the negotiations respecting the king were not concluded till the 16th of January. It was impossible to preserve him, without a breach of the League with England, a violation of the National Covenant, and the forcible retention of their sovereign’s person, against his own will, even when engaging in a perilous war against a more powerful kingdom in his defense. His own incurable dissimulation and obstinacy urged him on his fate, which Scotland foresaw and deplored, but could not avert.
To return to the subject more immediately within our province. Although the Assembly Divines and the city ministers had expressed their opinion that they could at length consent to put into practical operation the Presbyterian Church government, as sanctioned by Parliament, they still complained of its defectiveness, and were in no haste to form themselves into Presbyteries. Repeated applications were made to Parliament for the removal of the obstacles that still remained; and on the 22d of April 1647, the Houses published resolutions, entitled, “Remedies for removing some obstructions to Church government;” in which they ordered letters to be sent to the several counties of England, requiring the ministers immediately to form themselves into distinct Presbyteries; and appointing the ministers and elders of the several Presbyteries of the province of London, to hold their Provincial Assembly in the Convocation. house of St. Paul’s, on the first Monday of May. According to this appointment, the first meeting of the Provincial Assembly or Synod of London was held on the 3d of May 1647. At this Synod there were about one hundred and eight persons present, and Dr. Gouge was chosen prolocutor or moderator. The province of London was divided into twelve Presbyteries; and in the formation of the Synod each Presbytery chose two ministers and four elders, as their representatives or commissioners. The ministers of Lancashire were also formed into Presbyteries and a Synod; and in many other counties they associated themselves for the management of ecclesiastical affairs, though not in the regular form of Presbyteries and Synods.
There was now no positive obstruction to the regular and final organization of Presbyterian Church government, except the still pending treaties between the king and the Parliament. Knowing the king’s attachment to Prelacy and his strong dislike to Presbytery, the Parliament did not wish to make a final and permanent establishment of the latter form of Church government till they should have endeavored to persuade his majesty to consent, so that it might be engrossed in the treaty, and thereby obtain the conclusive ratification of the royal signature. But after the army had for a time overawed the Parliament, when the Houses again recovered something like the free exercise of their legislative functions, they voted, “That the king be desired to give his sanction to such acts as shall be presented to him, for settling the Presbyterian government for three years, with a provision that no person shall be liable to any question or penalty, only for nonconformity to the said government, or to the form of divine services appointed in the ordinances. And that such as shall not voluntarily conform to the said form of government and divine service, shall have liberty to meet for the service and worship of God, and for exercise of religious duties and ordinantes, in a fit and convenient place, so as nothing be done by them to the disturbance of the peace of the kingdom. And provided that this extend not to any toleration of the Popish religion, nor to any penalties imposed upon Popish recusants, nor to tolerate the practice of any thing contrary to the principles of Christian religion, contained in the Apostles’ Creed, as it is expounded in the Articles of the Church of England: nor to any thing contrary to the point of faith, for the ignorance whereof men are to be kept from the Lord’s supper; nor to excuse any from the penalties for not coming to hear the Word of God on the Lord’s day in any church or chapel, unless he can show a reasonable cause, or was hearing the Word of God preached or expounded elsewhere.” These were the votes of the Lords; and to these the Commons added; “That the Presbyterian government be established till the end of the next session of Parliament, which was to be a year after that date. That the tenths and maintenance belonging to any church shall be only to such as can submit to the Presbyterian government, and to none other. That liberty of conscience granted shall extend to none that shall preach, print, or publish, any thing contrary to the first fifteen of the Thirty-nine Articles, except the eighth.
That it extend not to Popish recusants, or taking away any penal laws against them. That the indulgence to tender consciences shall not extend to tolerate the Common Prayer.” These votes were passed on the 13th day of October 1647, and may be regarded as the final settlement of the Presbyterian Church government, so far as that was done by the Long Parliament, in accordance with the advice of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. For before the expiration of the period named by the Parliament, the Parliament itself had sunk beneath the power of Cromwell, whose policy was to establish no form of Church government, but to keep every thing dependent upon himself, though his chief favors were bestowed upon the Independents.
There is but one point more connected with the Erastian controversy which requires to be stated, namely, its effect upon the formation and ratification of the Confession of Faith. For a considerable time after the Assembly commenced its deliberations, the chief subjects which occupied its attention were, the Directories for public worship, and ordination, and the form of Church government, including the power of Church censure. Till some satisfactory conclusions had been reached on these points, the Assembly abstained from entering upon the less agitating, but not less important work of framing a Confession of Faith. But having completed their task, so far as depended upon themselves, they appointed a committee to prepare and arrange the main propositions which were to be discussed and digested into a system by the Assembly. The members of this committee were, Dr.
Hoyle, Dr. Gouge, Messrs Herle, Gataker, Tuckney, Reynolds, and Vines, with the Scottish commissioners. These learned and able divines began their labors by arranging in the most systematic order the various great and sacred truths which God has revealed to man; and reduced these to thirtytwo distinct heads or chapters, each having a title expressive of its subject.
These were again subdivided into sections; and the committee formed themselves into several sub-committees, each of whom took a specific topic, for the sake of exact and concentrated deliberation. When these subcommittees had completed their respective tasks, the whole was laid before the entire committee, and any alterations suggested and debated till all were of one mind. And when any title or chapter had been thus fully prepared by the committee, it was reported to the Assembly, and again subjected to the most minute and careful investigation, in every paragraph, sentence, and word. It is exceedingly gratifying to be able to state, that throughout the deliberations of the Assembly, when composing the Confession of Faith, there prevailed almost an entire and perfect harmony.
There appear, indeed, to have been only two subjects on which any difference of opinion existed among them. The one of these was the doctrine of election, concerning which, as Baillie says, they had long and tough debates; “Yet,” he adds, “thanks to God, all is gone right according to our mind.” The other was that of which mention has been already made, namely, that “the Lord Jesus, as King and Head of his Church, has therein appointed a government in the hand of Church officers distinct from the civil magistrate;” which appears as the fundamental proposition of the chapter entitled “Of Church censures.” This proposition the Assembly manifestly intended and understood to contain a principle directly and necessarily opposed to the very essence of Erastianism; and it was regarded in the same light by the Erastians themselves, consequently it became the subject of long and earnest discussion, and was strenuously opposed by Lightfoot and Coleman, especially the latter. But Coleman falling ill and dying before the debate was concluded, it was carried, the sole dissentient voice being that of Lightfoot. It does not appear that the Erastian layassessors attempted to debate the point in the Assembly, but wisely, or at least cunningly, reserved their opposition for the House of Commons, being aware that their strength lay in power, not argument. The whole influence of the Erastians did not succeed in modifying, no, not by one word, the statement of the Assembly’s faith on this vital point; although some have had the hardihood to assert that they condescended to compromise the question. The conduct of the Assembly in the Erastian controversy contrasts strongly with their conduct in the Independent controversy. With the Independents there were many instances of compromise and accommodation, or at least of attempts in that direction; with the Erastians none, no, not so much as one. They could not compel the Parliament to give its sanction to all that they proposed; but they could and did state freely and fearlessly what they believed to be the truth, earnestly and urgently petitioning that it might be ratified, then leaving the legislative powers to accept or reject on their own responsibility. To the Independents, on the other hand, they showed the utmost leniency; and while they could not abandon their own conscientious convictions, they were extremely reluctant to deal harshly with the conscientious scruples of men whom they regarded as brethren.
Some discussion took place on the thirty-first chapter in the Confession, respecting Synods and Councils; but that subject also was carried in the express language of the Assembly, and without any Erastian modification.
The first half of the Confession was laid before the Parliament early in October 1646, and on the 26th of November the remainder was produced to the Assembly in its completed form, when the prolocutor returned thanks to the committees, in the name of the Assembly, for their great pains in perfecting the work committed to them. It was then carefully transcribed; and on the 3d of December 1646, it was presented to Parliament, by the whole Assembly in a body, under the title of “The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines and others, now by the authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster, concerning a Confession of Faith.” On the 7th, Parliament ordered “five hundred copies of it to be printed for the members of both Houses; and that the Assembly do bring in their marginal notes, to prove every part of it by Scripture.” There is strong reason to believe that the House of Commons demanded the insertion of the Scripture texts, for the purpose of obtaining an additional period of delay, as indeed Baillie pretty plainly intimates.
The Assembly, accordingly, resumed their task, and after encountering a number of interposing obstacles, again produced the Confession of Faith, with full scriptural proofs annexed to all its propositions, and laid it before the Parliament on the 29th day of April 1647. The thanks of the House were given to the Assembly for their labors in this important matter; and “six hundred copies were ordered to be printed for the use of the Houses and the Assembly; and no more, and that none presume to reprint the same, till further orders.” The appointed number of copies having been printed, they were delivered to the members of both Houses by Mr. Byfield, on the 19th of May, when it was resolved to consider the whole production, article by article, previous to its being published with the sanction of Parliament, as the Confession of Faith held by that Church on which they meant to confer the benefits of a national establishment. But the deliberations of the Parliament were interrupted by the insurrection of the army, and the numerous, protracted, and unsatisfactory negotiations in which they were engaged with the king; so that they had not completed their examination of the Confession till March 1648. On the 22d day of that month a conference was held between the two Houses, to compare their opinions respecting the Confession of Faith, the result of which is thus stated by Rushworth: “The Commons this day(March 22d), at a conference, presented the Lords with the Confession of Faith passed by them, with some alterations, viz., That they do agree with their Lordships, and so with the Assembly, in the doctrinal part, and desire the same may be made public, that this kingdom, and all the Reformed Churches of Christendom, may see the Parliament of England differ not in doctrine. In some particulars there were some phrases altered, as in that of tribute being due to the magistrate, they put dues : to the degree of marriage they refer to the law established: particulars in discipline are recommitted: and for the title, they make it not, ‘A Confession of Faith ,’ because not so running, ‘I confess ,’ at the beginning of every section; but, ‘Articles of Faith agreed upon by both Houses of Parliament ,’ as most suitable to the former title of the Thirty-nine Articles.” Such was the last positive enactment made by the English Parliament respecting the Confession of Faith; for the subsequent mention made of it, and of other particulars in Presbyterian Church government, during the course of their negotiations with the king, were not enactments, but attempts at accommodation with his majesty, with the view of endeavoring to secure a satisfactory basis for a permanent peace to Church and State.
And it will be observed, that the only material defect mentioned in this reported conference between the Houses is, that “particulars in discipline are recommitted .” These “particulars” are said to have been the thirtieth chapter, “Of Church censures;” the thirty-first chapter, “Of Synods and Councils;” and the fourth section of the twentieth chapter, “Of Christian liberty, and liberty of conscience.” The enumeration of these particulars rests on the authority of Neal, which is by no means unimpeachable, but it is in itself probable, being quite consistent with the views of the Erastians, whose chief hostility was directed against the power of Church discipline, of which the chapters specified contain an explicit statement, according to the judgment of the Assembly. It is of some importance to remark, that these “particulars in discipline” were not rejected by the English Parliament, as is generally asserted, but merely recommitted, or referred to a committee to be more maturely considered. But as the Parliament itself not long afterwards fell under the power of the army, and was at length forcibly dissolved by Cromwell, the committee never returned a report, and consequently these particulars were never either formally rejected or ratified by the Parliament of England. The fact of their having been recommitted is of itself enough to prove that they were not, in the estimation of such men as Selden and Whitelocke, susceptible of an Erastian interpretation, although such an opinion has been hazarded by men certainly not a little their inferiors in learning, legal acumen, and intellectual power.
A full account of the literature of the Erastian controversy would be an extremely interesting and highly important production; but to attempt any thing more than a very brief outline of it here would lead to a digression far beyond our limits. We shall therefore mention almost solely those works which were either written by some of the Westminster Divines, or were closely connected with the proceedings of that venerable Assembly. A few preliminary sentences, however, may be of use to introduce the subject.
During the earliest ages of Christianity the only relationship in which the civil magistrate and the Church stood towards each other, was that which exists between persecutors and the persecuted. When at length Constantine avowed himself a Christian, persecution ceased, and the more friendly relation of granting and receiving protection became that between the State and the Church. But Christianity had already become deeply tainted with the antichristian leaven; Prelacy had raised its haughty head, equally inclined to domineer over what it regarded as the inferior orders of the clergy, and over the people, and to arrogate to itself exemption from the control of the civil magistrate, even in civil matters. A protracted struggle ensued between the imperial and royal powers and the Bishop of Rome, the issue of which was, not merely an exemption of ecclesiastical matters, and even persons, from civil authority, but the establishment of a supremacy over civil rulers and civil matters wielded by the Romish hierarchy, and forming a complete spiritual and civil despotism. This fearful and degrading despotism was overthrown by the Reformation; and although the great and wise Christian divines and patriots by whose instrumentality the Reformation was effected, were unable entirely to perfect their work, yet they all, more or less clearly, indicated their judgment that the two jurisdictions, civil and ecclesiastical, ought to be, and to remain coordinate and distinct, mutually supporting and supported, but each abstaining from interference with the other’s intrinsic and inherent rights, privileges, and powers. In some countries this high and true theory was clearly developed, in others more obscurely, and in some not at all. In no part of Reformed Christendom was it so distinctly stated, and so fully realized, as in Scotland; and nowhere was it so thoroughly rejected as in England. In England, indeed, the exact counterpart of the Romish system was established, the king’s ecclesiastical supremacy rendering him equally judge of ecclesiastical as of civil matters. It was soon found that in this, as in all other things, extremes meet; the king, by a slight transfer of terms, became a civil pope, and the country was oppressed by a complete civil and spiritual despotism.
In the meantime, the great principle of truth and freedom, the principle of distinct and coordinate civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions, was assailed on the Continent by Erastus, and became a subject of speculative thought and controversial literature. Unfortunately for the cause of truth and freedom, the great men of the Reformation had nearly all departed from the scene of their labors and triumphs before the Erastian theory was fully brought forward, so that it was not at once met and overthrown as it would otherwise have been. And besides, it was too accordant with the views and feelings of men of secular minds not to obtain a ready credence and a hearty welcome from politicians, who can form no higher idea of a Church than an engine of State; from lawyers, who can conceive no higher rule than statutory enactments; and from irreligious and immoral men, who equally detest and fear the strict and pure severity of divinely authorized Christian discipline. In England, also, the despotism of the Prelatic hierarchy tended to produce, in the minds of all zealous assertors of freedom, an instinctive dread of ecclesiastical power, and rendered many men Erastians from terror and in self-defense, not because they had studied the theory, and been convinced of its truth. Such men were ready to oppose the establishment of Presbyterian Church government on the ground of divine right, not because they were convinced that no system of Church government can justly lay claim to an authority so high and sacred; but because they were apprehensive that it would produce a species of spiritual despotism as oppressive as that which they had just been striving to abolish. In vain did the Scottish statesmen and divines answer and refute their objections; their fears were not removed, and fear is a mental emotion that cannot be set aside by argument.
But Selden, Whitelocke, Lightfoot, and Coleman, took up the subject on other grounds, which, though difficult, were not equally unassailable by reason. Their chief argument was one of analogy, although, as they used it, the appearance which it bore was that of identity. They held that the Christian system ought to resemble, or rather to be identical with, the system of the Mosaic Dispensation; and they attempted to prove, that there were not two distinct and coordinate courts, one civil and the other ecclesiastical, among the Hebrews, but that there was a mixed jurisdiction, of which the king was the supreme and ultimate head and ruler; and that, consequently, the civil courts determined all matters, both civil and ecclesiastical, and inflicted all punishments, both such as affected person and property, and such as affected a man’s religious privileges, properly termed Church censures. From this they concluded, that the civil magistrate, in countries avowedly Christian, ought to possess an equal, or identical authority, and ought consequently to be the supreme and ultimate judge in all matters, both civil and ecclesiastical, inflicting or removing the penalties of Church censure equally with those affecting person and property. The arguments on which they most relied were drawn from rabbinical lore, rather than from the Bible itself, although they were very willing to obtain the appearance of its support, by ingenious versions, or perversions of peculiar passages of Scripture. Selden’s argument has been already stated, and need not be repeated. The value of Lightfoot’s authority may be estimated somewhat lower than is usually done, if we take into consideration, not merely the amount of his learning, but the soundness, or the reverse, of his judgment. As for instance, he strenuously maintained that the Jews are utterly and finally rejected, that those of them who embraced Christianity in the time of Christ and the apostles were the “remnant to be saved,” and that there neither then was, nor ever shall be, any universal calling of them. He held also, that the expressions, “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and “binding and loosing,” had no reference to discipline, but merely to doctrine; in which opinion he differed from almost every person, both before and since his time. His opinion of the Septuagint was equally at variance with the views of the most eminently learned and judicious men. In short, whatever may be said of his extensive and minute rabbinical lore, it is impossible to regard his judgment as entitled to much deference; consequently his advocacy of Erastian principles will not avail much for their support.
Mention has already been made of Coleman’s sermon, preached before the House of Commons, on the 30th of July 1645. That sermon must be noticed as part of the Erastian literature, not so much on account of its own merits, as on account of other works to the composing of which it gave occasion. Towards the end of the sermon, various advices and directions are given, as calculated to promote the peace and welfare of the kingdom; and of these, one point on which Coleman dwelt strongly was, the unity of the Church, and the best way to procure that unity. For this he gives several directions, of which the following are the chief:
Coleman soon afterwards published a pamphlet, entitled; “A Brotherly Examination Re-examined;” which is distinguished chiefly by boldness of assertion and feebleness of argument. To this Gillespie replied in another, bearing the title, “Nihil Respondes,” in which he somewhat sharply exposed the weakness of his antagonist’s reasoning. Irritated by the castigation he had received, Coleman published a bitter reply, to which he gave the not very intelligible title of “Male Dicis Maledicis,”
Several of these controversial pamphlets appeared in the course of the year 1646; and towards the close of the same year, Gillespie published his celebrated work, “Aaron’s Rod Blossoming; or, The Divine Ordinance of Church Government Vindicated.” In this remarkably able and elaborate production, Gillespie took up the Erastian controversy as stated and defended by its ablest advocates, fairly encountering their strongest arguments, and assailing their most formidable positions, in the frank and fearless manner of a man thoroughly sincere, and thoroughly convinced of the truth and goodness of his cause. The work is divided into three books; the first treating “Of the Jewish Church Government;” the second , “Of the Christian Church Government;” and the third , “Of Excommunication from the Church, and of Suspension from the Lord’s Table.” In the first book the five following propositions are demonstrated:
In the second book or part of his work, “Of the Christian Church Government,” the main element of the controversy which he had to encounter is of a nature so abstract, that it requires peculiar clearness of thought and accuracy of reasoning to keep the subject intelligible, and to draw the requisite distinctions. Coleman had in his sermon said, that “a Christian magistrate, as a Christian magistrate, is a governor in the Church;” and that “all government is given to Christ as Mediator, and Christ, as head of these, is given to the Church:” from this he drew, though not very distinctly, the inference, that the Christian magistrate is directly the vicegerent of Christ, and therefore rules in the Church; yet when pushed on this point he recoiled, and modified his inference so as to state it in the following terms, “that magistracy is given to Christ to be serviceable in his kingdom.” But this modified statement would not have answered the purposes of the Erastians; and therefore their principle was more boldly and plainly expressed by Mr. Hussey, minister at Chesilhurst, in Kent. This thorough Erastian boldly maintained, both “that all government is given to Christ as Mediator, and that Christ, as Mediator, has placed the Christian magistrate under him, and as his vicegerent, and has given him commission to govern the Church.” It will be at once perceived, that the very terms of this proposition involved an inquiry into the nature and extent of Christ’s mediatorial sovereignty. To this point, accordingly, Gillespie directed his attention, in his answer to Hussey’s argument. He draws the distinction between the power and sovereignty of Christ as the Eternal Son of God, and as God-man and Mediator. Considered as the Eternal Son of God, as the Word by whom the universe was called into being, he necessarily rules over all, and magistrates derive their power from him: considered as Godman and Mediator, his direct sovereignty is in and over the Church, which is his body; and all power has been given to him both in heaven and in earth, to be wielded by him for the safety and the extension of his spiritual kingdom. A further distinction is drawn by Gillespie betwixt power over and power in any kingdom; which are not necessarily identical, although the one may be employed for the purpose of promoting and securing the other. In this argument, some have thought that Gillespie has drawn his distinctions too fine, more so than was necessary for his argument, or than many would be able to follow or willing to admit. Beyond all question, he has overthrown the Erastian theory, “that the civil magistrate is Christ’s vicegerent, and appointed to govern the Church;” but some have been afraid that one aspect of his argument might seem to countenance the Voluntary theory, and to exempt civil government from the duty and responsibility of giving countenance and support to the Church. Certainly no such idea was ever in Gillespie’s mind, nor is it my opinion that his reasoning, rightly understood, gives it the least shadow of support.
Besides, if there be any danger arising from the extreme fineness with which his distinctions are drawn in that branch of his argument: it is completely removed by the succeeding chapter, in which he treats “of the power and privilege of the magistrate in things and causes ecclesiastical, what it is, and what it is not.” It would be well if magistrates would study carefully the passage alluded to, that they might acquire some information respecting the proper nature and boundaries of their duties and responsibilities circa sacra , about religious matters, as distinguished from what they have always been so eager to usurp, power in sacris , in religious matters, which forms no part of their peculiar duty, and is not within their province.
The third book, “Of Excommunication from the Church, and of Suspension from the Lord’s Table,” has the appearance of being an answer to Prynne, who had written largely against the exercise of such power by Church officers. But it is evident that Gillespie had more in view than merely to answer Prynne. He makes no express reference to the Parliament’s jus divinum queries, but he meets them nevertheless, and gives to them very conclusive answers, while appearing to be merely replying to a less formidable antagonist. The very tenor of Prynne’s writings gave him this opportunity, for Prynne kept as closely to the line of the parliamentary queries as he with propriety could, so that Gillespie was both enabled and fairly entitled to answer both at once, so far as they were identical or similar. The work, in short, is a very complete refutation of the whole Erastian theory, taking up its leading points systematically, clearing away all obscurities of language, reducing every argument to its elementary principles, stating these in the form of simple propositions, and in terms strictly defined, so as to preclude sophistry or mere verbal subtleties, and proceeding to refute error and demonstrate truth, in a manner singularly clear and forcible, displaying, each in a very high degree, extensive learning, sound judgment, intellectual acuteness and strength, and the pure and lofty spirit of genuine Christianity.
Another very able and elaborate work on the Erastian controversy was written and published also in the year 1646, by Samuel Rutherford, entitled, “The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication.” Although Rutherford manifests a thorough understanding of the subject, and treats very fully of all its main elements, exhibiting great learning and extreme minuteness in thought, argument, and illustration, his work is not, upon the whole, so successful as that of Gillespie. It is defective in point of arrangement, and especially for want of a statement of the systematic order which the author meant to follow, though it is perfectly plain that in his own mind there was a system by which he regulated his course of argument. But the very minuteness of his learning and his reasoning is felt to obscure, or rather to overlay the subject; and while tracing out every point of detail, the general impression is either weakened, or fails to be forcibly conveyed. This, however, is criticism according to modern taste; for the style of the times when Rutherford wrote, was to exhaust every subject under discussion, and to leave nothing unsaid upon it that could be said. In this respect, therefore, Rutherford merely followed the spirit of the age in which he lived; and whosoever will carefully peruse his very elaborate work, will obtain ample materials for the refutation of Erastianism.
There appeared another work at that time, not indeed written by one of the Assembly of Divines, but so intimately connected with the controversies which were agitated among them, that it deserves to be mentioned here.
This was a treatise written by the celebrated Apollonius of Middleburg, entitled, “Consideratio Quarundam Controversiarum ad Regimen Ecclesisae Dei Spectantium, quae in Angliae Regno bodie Agitantur.”
When this treatise was published, a copy of it was sent to each member of the Westminster Assembly. “It was,” says Baillie, “not only very well taken, but also, which is singular, and so far as I remember, absque exemplo , it was ordered, nemine contradicente , to write a letter of thanks to Apollonius .” The spirit of this work is thoroughly Presbyterian, encountering alike the theories of the Independents and the Erastians. It consists of seven chapters, each treating of a separate topic briefly, but with great clearness and force of reasoning. They are as follows:
It will at once be seen, that in the discussion of these topics the learned author must come into direct collision with both the Independents and the Erastians; yet his work has very little of a merely controversial character, being a calm and dispassionate, but very clear and able, disquisition concerning these important theological questions. There is another very valuable work by the same author, written a short time before the meeting of the Westminster Assembly, but treating very fully of the Erastian theory.
Its title is, “Jus Majestatis Circa Sacra; sive, Tractatus Theologicus de jure Magistratus circa res Ecclesiasticas.” A translation of this work, for the purpose of general circulation, would be a very valuable contribution to the cause of religious liberty, which is at present beset by so many and such formidable enemies.
But we must quit this digression, however alluring the subject, and return to what remains to be stated respecting the concluding labors of the Westminster Assembly. Enough, if the attention of the reader has been directed to some of the most important works relating to the great Erastian controversy, which he may peruse for himself. And we do not hesitate to say, that it is scarcely possible for any man, especially for any Christian, to engage in a study of deeper and more universal importance. For it directly involves the glory of the Mediator, as sole Head of his body the Church, and sole King in Zion, his spiritual kingdom,
And it is so eminently the great controversy of the present day, that upon its right or wrong determination depends the continuance of peace throughout Christendom, or the speedy commencement of commotions and conflicts of the most portentous nature, shaking the foundations of society, and ending in wide-spread anarchy and desolation.
CHAPTER 5 -
CONCLUSION OF THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY.
The Larger and Shorter Catechisms
A catechism for the instruction of children and of the comparatively ignorant in religious truth will always be regarded as a most important matter by every true Christian Church; and as the Catechism of the Church of England was undeniably both meager and unsound, it formed a part of the Assembly’s duty to prepare a more accurate and complete catechism, as a portion of the national system to be established. The attention of the Assembly was occupied almost entirely by the discussions respecting the Directories of Ordination and Worship, till towards the end of 1644. They then began to prepare for composing a Confession of Faith and a Catechism; and according to their usual course of procedure, committees were appointed to draw up an outline, in regular systematic order, for the consideration of the Assembly. But the progress of the Assembly in these points was retarded by the various events which have been already related, so that little was done till towards the end of May 1645. The committees from that time forward carried on their labors in preparing the Confession and the Catechism simultaneously, but, as Baillie says, “languidly, the minds of the divines being enfeebled by the delay of the House to grant the petition respecting power to exclude scandalous persons from communion.” After some progress had been made with both, the Assembly resolved to finish the Confession first, and then to construct the Catechism upon its model, so far at least as to have no proposition in the one which was not in the other; by which arrangement there would be left scarcely any ground for subsequent debate and delay. But political movements, answers to the Independents and to the Erastians, and other disturbing influences, so impeded the Assembly’s progress, that the Catechisms were not so speedily completed as had been expected. The Shorter Catechism was presented to the House of Commons on the 5th of November 1647, and the Larger on the 14th of April 1648. After they had been carefully perused by the Parliament, an order was issued on the 15th of September 1648, commanding them to be printed for public use. The king, during his residence in the Isle of Wight, after many solicitations, consented to license the Shorter Catechism, with a suitable preface; but as the negotiations did not end in a treaty, that consent was never realized.
There have been many inquiries instituted in order to ascertain, if possible, by whom the original outline of the Catechism was prepared, but hitherto without success. In our opinion, there is no reason to think that it was done by any one person. Committees were appointed to prepare every thing that was to be brought before the Assembly. We find no separate committee named expressly for the purpose of drawing up the Catechism; and we find repeated proofs of a very close connection between the Catechism band the Confession. It may reasonably be inferred that both subjects were conducted by the same committee, which was composed of Drs. Gouge and Hoyle, Messrs Herle, Gataker, Tuckney, Reynolds, Vines, and the Scottish ministers. Some add Arrowsmith and Palmer; both men of great piety, learning and abilities, and the latter termed by Baillie “the best catechist in England.” Palmer, it appears, was appointed to draw up a section in the Directory of Public Worship, on catechizing; but it did not give satisfaction, and that topic was not inserted in the Directory. Scarcely could it be called an unfair inference, were we to conclude from this fact that Palmer had no peculiar share in framing the Catechism. It may be mentioned, that Dr. Arrowsmith was appointed Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge, in the year 1644, before the Catechism was begun, and that his attendance upon the Assembly after that period was only occasional, in consequence of the new sphere of duties on which he was called to enter. Mr. Palmer was also constituted Master of Queen’s College, Cambridge, in the same year; but he continued to attend the Assembly very constantly till the time of his death, in the year 1647,
The chief matters on account of which the Assembly had been called together being now completed, so far as depended on that venerable body itself, the Scottish commissioners prepared to take their departure. This, indeed, had to a certain extent already taken place, though not formally.
The celebrated Alexander Henderson had been sent to Newcastle to converse with the king, during his majesty’s residence along with the Scottish army, for the purpose of endeavoring to persuade him to consent to such terms as might form the basis of a satisfactory and permanent peace. Exhausted already with the long continuance and severity of his arduous public toils, and finding it impossible to make any impression on the mind of the infatuated monarch, Henderson left Newcastle and returned to Edinburgh; where he soon afterwards died, leaving behind him a reputation unsurpassed by any man since the days of the first reformers.
And towards the close of the year 1646, Baillie obtained permission to leave the Assembly and return to Scotland, that he might communicate to the Commission of the Scottish General Assembly what had been done by the Westminster Divines, preparatory for the meeting of the Assembly at Edinburgh in August 1647, when it was expected that the proceedings of the Westminster Assembly would be formally considered and approved of by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, as the ground of the desired uniformity in religion between the two kingdoms. Gillespie and Rutherford still remained, as the Westminster Assembly had been required by the Parliament to add Scripture proofs to the Confession of Faith; but Gillespie left London in time to be present in the General Assembly, Rutherford remaining a little longer. It may be stated, that the Assembly had intentionally abstained from inserting texts of Scripture in the copy of the Confession first presented to Parliament, not because they had themselves any difficulty in doing so, but to avoid giving offense to the Parliament, whose custom had previously been, to enact nothing concerning religion on divine right, or on scriptural grounds. This change in the procedure of the Parliament was doubtless intended to cause delay; but its effect was, the rendering of the Confession a much more perfect work than it would otherwise have been.
On the 24th of October 1647, Samuel Rutherford moved, that it might be recorded in the books of the scribes, that the Assembly had enjoyed the assistance of the honorable, reverend, and learned commissioners of the Church of Scotland, during all the time they had been debating and perfecting these four things mentioned in the Covenant, namely, a Directory for Public Worship, a uniform Confession of Faith, a Form of Church Government and Discipline, and a public Catechism. The Assembly assented unanimously to this motion; and Mr. Herle, the prolocutor, rose up, and, in the name of the Assembly, returned thanks to the honorable and reverend commissioners for their assistance. He went on to explain the causes which prevented the Directory from being so well observed as it ought to be, and lamented that the Assembly had not