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The true liberty of conscience was, as yet, neither understood nor permitted, by any party whatever. The Reformation, as Mr. Neal most justly remarked, was "limited to the conceptions and ideas of those who were in power. Such as held sentiments or pursued inquiries different from their model, so far from being allowed to propose their opinions, or to hold separate assemblies for religious worship agreeably to their own view of things, were stigmatized as heretics, and pursued unto death." In the Church of Scotland the Reformers made the reading of the mass punishable with death. In the Church of England the Reformers made the rejection of the Established Prayer Book and Communion punishable by death. In the Church of Geneva the Reformers made the heresy of Servetus punishable by death. So it went
When the Reformers were driven out of England by Popish intolerance, the Lutherans of Germany persecuted even them, because they denied consubstantiation! Luther himself would have excommunicated, and probably, if he had had the power, would have violently persecuted the great and good Zuingle for differing from him on this point. Perhaps not one individual in that age understood religious liberty. The true idea of it, preparatory to its practice, was working out through the whole reign of Elizabeth; but it was discovered and saved in England and in Europe only so as by fire.
The Reformers themselves seemed at times under an infatuation almost diabolical, an intense ambition and selfishness of power which was amazing, in contending which party should keep the discovered light of God exclusively in their own shrines or vessels, under their own dominion, permitting none to draw but from their own urns. Instead of uniting all their energies of benevolence and learning at once, to give to the people the running streams from those living fountains that had just been unsealed, the hydra-headed monsters of superstition that kept guard over them being slain, they went to work building enclosed conduits or reservoirs, under lock and key, so that no man could come freely to drink; nay, if any man found a hidden spring that would burst up outside the conduits, and drank thereof with his family, and gave thereof to his neighbors, they shut him up in prison, or even put him to death! It was religious and civil despotism in the Romish world that had taught them this lesson, and it was hard to unlearn it. It had been enacted in the end of Henry's reign, that all books contrary to the doctrine set forth or to be set forth by the King, should be abolished. No person should sing or rhyme contrary to the said doctrine. The genius of music and poetry was muzzled and put under police, to make utterance only as taught by authority. This was Popery, and might have been expected. But the next reign was the Refor
Now then, in the next reign, even that of the gentle, saintly Edward, it was enacted in regard to the book of the order of divine worship, published by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other learned divines, that such of the clergy as officiated in any other manner, or refused to perform divine service exactly according to it, should have all the Church preferments taken from them, and be imprisoned for life. Writing or printing against this service book was to be punished likewise by fines and imprisonment for life. So it went on. The transfer of the Pope's supremacy to the crown of England was an immeasurable addition both to Henry's and Elizabeth's despotism. Under that alone could arise the Court of High Commission in 1559; and with this coincided the despotic act of uniformity, compelling all men in the kingdom to worship exactly alike; the fatal mistake of the Reformers, showing that they knew, as yet, little, if anything, of religious liberty. By such measures, the kingdom was for more than eighty years a scene of persecution, and the people were long excluded from anything like a free and general enjoyment of the benefits of the Reformation.
The Exodus of our Pilgrim Fathers from that ecclesiastical and political bondage, under which they had been suffering in England, singularly resembles the departure of the Israelites from beneath the hand of their task-masters in Egypt. Both these movements were the commencement of new dispensations, in which God took the instruments for his work as by violence, out of an old hierarchy. It has almost always been characteristic of the materials of such dispensations, that God's instruments in them have been inclined to remain in the old hierarchical form. God himself has forced them from it by his providence. The disciples of our Lord, when the New Testament Church was to be formed, would all, if possible, have remained in the Jewish dispensation, and preserved its form. They were violently broken away from it. Luther and his coadjutors would have remained in the Church of the papacy;-they were compelled to quit it. The Puritan Reformers in England would have remained in the Church of the Prelacy. But God did not suffer it; his purposes could not thus have been accomplished. Had they succeeded in getting the ecclesiastical establishment of England ordered according to their minds, they would never have learned the great lesson of liberty. They would have oppressed those, who differed from themselves. They would never have learned the true freedom of the Church in a sole and entire dependence upon God. This was a truth that had been so entirely lost sight of, so beaten down and destroyed from men's minds, that when it came up anew, with anything of its primitive glory, it seemed a heresy. Wherever the ground has
been long overgrown with weeds, if the good seed begins to spring up, men will at first look upon it as tares.
The seed corn of Christ's Church has been beaten from the chaff by the flail of persecution. So it was with the Puritans of England. Sometimes some kernels flew aside in strange places, and sprang up, men knew not how. The 20th of November, 1572, in England some of this seed corn, under the blows of that heavy flailsman, Archbishop Parker, fell out from the husk and cob of the establishment, and the first Presbyterian church in England grew from it. But in 1554 the great flail of Queen Mary had already driven a handful of this corn across the British seas into Frankfort. There, however, the tares of ceremonial despotism were sown along with it, and the good seed was soon after transplanted thence into Geneva. After remaining awhile in that mountain-girdled region of liberty and light, a school of great souls, where lessons were learned that were of power to change kingdoms, John Knox went to Scotland, and in the year 1559, on the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne of England, the exiles generally returned from Geneva and other foreign parts, to their native kingdom. Here some of them conformed to the State-and-Church discipline themselves, and sought to enforce it upon others. Others refused such conformity, and endured the oppressive tyranny of Church and State united against them, as against the Papists, the severity of the prelates becoming continually more severe, and the temper of the Puritans themselves growing more inflexible, like a steel anvil, the more it was beaten. Principles were beaten into-form and consistency on both sides. The Puritans were formed from the outset in the school of suffering and of patient endurance. They never made any revolution or rebellion in their native kingdom. Long before the civil wars broke out between the first Charles and his parliament, the persecution against them under James had grown so hot, that they were forced to leave the country, and take refuge in Holland.
The canons of Archbishop Bancroft were of such mortal despotism, that it would have been a reproach to the Church of Christ, if there had not been within it a body of Christians determined to resist them. A true regard to the purity of the gospel would on such an occasion, of itself alone, bind Christians to such resistance as a duty. The Puritans were likewise compelled into it as a necessity. The unmitigated cruelty with which the canons were enforced caused many of the Nonconformists to quit the kingdom, and form churches on freer independent principles in the Low Countries. To such an excess of vigilant severity had proceedings been carried, that ministers and private Christians were imprisoned on the charge of having held a conventicle, merely because, on the Lord's day, they had repeated
together the heads of the discourse which they heard preached in the Established Church. A learned barrister who undertook to be their counsel, was himself thrown into prison for this boldness, and not released to the day of his death.
All true liberty was stricken down. But it needed such an extreme of cruelty to bring things to a crisis, and to teach the disciples of Christ that in separating from such a tyrannical church they were not committing a sin, but performing a duty; they were not separating from the Church of Christ, but maintaining its liberty; they were not committing schism, but resisting the causes of it. If the persecuting flailsmen had let them alone, they would have remained in bondage all their life-time. They would have remained under the yoke and tyranny of the national Church, trembling at the bare thought of an independent Church, that simple form of Christ's kingdom in the New Testament, as if a step towards it were a mortal sin. The compulsion which, under God's Providence, drove them to it, was the only thing that tore from their minds the veil of the prelacy, that removed their blindness, that enlightened them as to the nature of the Church and of its Christian liberty.
Thus Archbishop Bancroft, and they who before and with him worked upon the Puritans, were but beating off the Nightmare of ecclesiastical superstition from their souls. They were filing away the rust, and purging out the dross from the metal. They were all unconsciously hard at work, in a perfect tug and sweat of persecution, carrying on the processes which were necessary order to smelt the ore and separate it, when they thought verily they were confining it in the bowels of the mountain. It was a great work, a wonderful work of God's providence and truth, this work of teaching our fathers that they had themselves a right as Christians to be a Church of Christ, without asking leave of the rubrics or the prelates, of the King or the Church of England. It was an idea that may be truly said to have been beaten into them-welded asit were, to their souls, and wrought into unalterable hardness, by the blows of Church and State despots, on the anvil of ecclesiastical tyranny. Their enemies thought they could terrify them from separating, by holding it up to their consciences as a sin against Christ. They thought with this terror on the one sidethe terror of quitting the Church, as if they were committing schism-and the threat of prisons and tortures on the other, they could frighten and beat them into conformity with the superstitions of the Church of England, and make them its tools. But instead of this, they disciplined and beat their consciences out of darkness into light, out of the remaining bondage of the Papal church and the despotism of the prelatical, into the liberty of the gospel. So, from looking upon a great duty and privilege as if it
were a sin, persecution taught them the cheerful performance of it as a duty, trusting in God.
This great work of separation from a corrupt and oppressive Church once accomplished, there would be the possibility and 'room for a free and symmetrical growth in Christ. But not, as yet, in England. The despotism of the Church there was almost omnipotent. There must be a transplantation of the separated free germ into a land prepared of God for it, where it might demonstrate to the world how much more powerful is the Church of Christ under Christ's headship and government, than under man's; in Christ's liberty, than under the State's protection and jurisdiction. Nearly all that could be done in England was the effecting the work of separation; but that done, the germ separated, being a living germ in Christ, almost everything was done; its growth from strength to strength, from glory to glory, under Christ's care, was inevitable. The vine shot forth its branches, and was filled with fruit,although the boar out of the wood strove to waste it, and the wild beast of the field to devour it. Once brought out of Egypt, it could grow; and God himself cast out the heathen and planted it. He prepared room before it, and caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.
There was a remarkable providence, and discipline of providence, in the selection and training of the chosen keeper of this vine, in its infancy, before its final setting in New England soil. The roots of this vine, under the care of John Robinson of Norfolk, strike back into the year 1602, when, in the language of the pious pilgrim, Governor Bradford, certain men of England, "whose hearts the Lord had touched with heavenly zeal for his truth, shook off the yoke of Anti-Christian bondage, and as the Lord's free people, join themselves by a covenant of the Lord, into a church estate, in the fellowship of the gospel." In the persecutions and labors of this band of Christians, Mr. Robinson participated, and his friends were almost ruined by the tyranny of the Ecclesiastical courts. Born in 1576, and educated at Cambridge, he became a minister of the gospel in 1607, and in the same year went over with the Pilgrim Church into Holland.
John Robinson of Norfolk ! There is all his name, title, he raldry. Who knew or cared for him, except to endeavor to set foot upon him, as a worm, save those "touched hearts," of which Governor Bradford spake, that came with him out of bondage. He never reached this country, though his heart was set upon it, nor does his name appear with the roll of the May Flower Pilgrims, except for a few moments on the deck of the vessel THIRD SERIES, vol. iv. no. 1.