Page images

wholly unprepared to grant to others the freedom which they asked for themselves.”*

With opposing elements such as these, a stern monarch aided by ministers who were prepared to enforce conformity by the civil power, and an excited array of zealous professors whose zeal amounted in many cases to fanaticism, there could be nothing but contention during the reign of Elizabeth. Yet we come nearly to the end of that reign before we encounter any dispute about the doctrines of the Church. The questions of Predestination and Free Will arose, but it should be constantly borne in mind that these had no necessary connection with the Reformation. They had agitated the Church from the times of St. Augustine downward. Conscious of this the Reformers had framed their Articles of Religion in such wise as to admit to their communion the assertors of either view in this great argument. There is no doubt that the debates which prevailed on these points increased the bitterness of already existing differences ; all we desire to maintain is that they were no necessary part of the disagreements which arose from the agitations of the Puritans. We

• Price's History of Nonconformity, vol. i., p. 445.

arrive then almost at the close of the Tudor dynasty before the variations advance from ritual to something more weighty.

There had as yet been no dispute on the nature of the Sacraments. All attempts to impugn the necessity and lawfulness of Infant Baptism had proceeded from foreigners whose endeavours to propagate their doctrines in England were thwarted by one side as much as by the other. Nor had the authority of the Christian ministry yet been called in question. All parties admitted the same source for this authority. All were agreed about the channels in which it could flow. Nor as yet had the subject of the endowment of religion by the State been made a matter of contention.

But just at the end of the sixteenth century we come upon the names of Presbyterians and Independents (or Brownists, as they were first termed), marking bodies which had withdrawn themselves from the services of the national Church, and shewing that it was no longer vestment or prayer-book only that was opposed, but that Episcopacy and State endowments were added to the objects of attack. From this date religion begins to be inextricably mixed up with all political questions, and mid

the din of the ensuing strife we hear her voice growing fainter and fainter till it almost dies away.

During the reign of the first Stuart, and even before that, the Puritans had found for themselves many defenders in Parliament, and the number was increased by the policy of the monarch. The king's attempts to encroach on the privileges of the people were simultaneous with his marked exhibition of contempt for the Puritan petition. Thus were these two bodies wedded together, and the opposition made more determined than ever. The Arminian tendencies of the royal partisans led to a display of all the rigour of Calvinism in the Parliament. By rapid transitions it came to pass that the clergy of the Established Church inclined towards the king and the government rather than towards the people. The monarch was to the Church the source of a power which the fanaticism of her opponents seemed to render needful, and that they might be better able to calculate on his support, many churchmen scrupled not to go all lengths in exalting his dignity and in advocating that right divine which he was so earnest in claiming.

Another cause of alienation was soon added. The foreign policy of the Stuart kings was wholly directed to the conciliation of the Catholic sovereigns abroad. To secure this end no sacrifice seemed too great. Indulgences grievous to the now incensed Protestant spirit of the English people were granted to the supporters of the Romish religion. Emissaries of the Bishop of Rome were received at court with marks of the greatest respect, and a marriage with a princess of a Roman Catholic house helped in no small degree to bring about the downfall of Charles the First.

When the monarchy fell, toleration was conceded to everything but Episcopacy. We have therefore an opportunity of observing the course pursued by the Presbyterians. A hundred years before they had begun to exclaim against the high hand of Prelacy and to clamour for liberty of conscience as the right of every man. How did they behave in their turn? We ought not, perhaps, to credit entirely the descriptions of violence and bigoted excesses which we read in the satirist of those times. But as one proof among many that the tolerance of the one side was as little as that of the other, we may notice that in the Westminster Assembly the claims of the Baptists, who were then just rising into notice, to be heard among the rest of the sects, were not for a moment tolerated. We may therefore believe the calmer words of that poet who lived amid the tumult, and to whom we point as one of the greatest ornaments of our language, when he says:

“New Presbyter was but old Priest-writ large."* We find consequently that before the Restoration came about, the religious world of England had become a chaos. The conflicts of the numberless sects, which had no basis of antiquity to rest on, became so desperate that the lovers of peace and order saw no prospect of religious quiet before them, save in the restoration of the dethroned Episcopacy. To bring back the Bishops, however, was not to puț the Church in her former condition. Dis- · sent had established for itself a regular organization. It had struck firm root, and could not be extirpated. Of the sects which then sprang into existence most have died away, but the three greatest still remain as a standing witness how from small differences harshly treated mighty schisms grow, and the opposition of

* Milton. Miscellanies ; On the new forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament, line 20.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »