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At that time, nothing seemed more improbable, than his defection from the Roman See. But subsequently thwarted in his application for a divorce, from Catherine, he boldly threw off his allegiance, and set the thunders of the Pontiff at defiance. This may be considered as the early dawn of the reformation in England ; though it shot but a few trembling rays across the gloom of that seemingly interminable night, which had buried the world in spiritual darkness, for a thousand years.
The most that can be said is, that during the life of Henry, the dawn maintained a feeble and dubious glimmering upon the tops of the mountains. But when the government passed into the hands of that extraordinary youth, Edward the sixth, the struggling light rapidly gained the ascendency. A protestant himself, he soon manifested an earnest desire, to emancipate his subjects from the cruel dominion of thé !
man of sin.'
Encouraged and assisted by his privy council, together with a number of distinguished foreign divines, who had taken refuge in England, from the storm of persecution abroad, he proceeded with great zeal and prudence towards the accomplishment of a thorough national reform; and was on the point of finishing these pious labors, when the pation and world sustained an irreparable loss, by his early death, which took place in the sixteenth year of his age, and the seventh of his reign. Thus,' says Neal, 'was an end put to all his noble designs for perfecting the Reformation. He was indeed, an incomparable prince, of most promising expectations; and in the judgment of the most impartial persons, the very phoenix of his age.' Had his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and their successors of the house of Stuart, inherited his virtues, what sufferings, oppressions, and bloodshed would have been prevented, during the next hundred and thirty years: but then, we should have had no New England, or it would, most certainly, have contained a very different population, from that which is now so free, enlightened, and happy.
My reason for going back so far, is the belief, (not commonly entertained, perhaps,) that the germ of puritanism began to shoot up towards the close of Henry's reign, and was fast expanding into strength and symmetry, when Edward was taken away in wrath, from a sinful nation.
Scarcely was this pious youth at rest in his grave, when the bloody Mary began to make her protestant subjects feel how much they had lost by his death. She revived all the fooleries and abominations of popery: kindled the fires of Smithfield; and did everything in her power, to restore the nation to the bosom of Rome. These violent measures, drove many of the most zealous protestants in the kingdom, to Frankfort, Geneva, and other places on the continent, where they became acquainted with Calvin and his illustrious compeers, and imbibed opinions, which cost them very dear, and exiled their descendants to America, in the following reigns.
Upon the death of Mary, these pious sufferers returned with joy to England, expecting that the new Queen Elizabeth, would not only annul all the arbitrary acts of her sister's reign, but finish the reformation which had been arrested by the early death of her brother. In this last particular, they were utterly disappointed ; and as to the first, she proceeded so slowly for a considerable time, that it could scarcely be known what were her ultimate intentions. One thing, however, was perfectly clear. She was resolved not only to be the supreme head of the church, but to coerce a perfect conformity in the rites and ceremonies, as well as doctrines of the national church. Hence her high court of commission, her star chamber, and all the other engines of ecclesiastical oppression.
Grieved and afflicted, to see how the simplicity of the gospel was obscured and discredited, by the habits and ce.emonies of an idolatrous church, great numbers united in earnestly entreating ber Majesty, to abolish these symbols of Antichrist; or at least, not to impose them upon the consciences of her loyal subjects. Bent, however, on the project of a perfect uniformity at all hazards, the queen and her counsel were inexorable ; and it was about this time, that the remonstrants first received from their enemies, the title of Puritans, which was applied as a term of reproach, to all who plead for a purer form of worship.
As soon as the government found the inefficacy of laws and threats, to enforce uniformity, the strong arm of power was exerted with terrible effect, to accomplish the object. Hundreds of faithful ministers were cruelly thrown upon the world, with their wives and children to starve, for no other crime than refusing to wear the mark of the beast.' Many ended their days in prison, and others came out at length, after their families had been reduced to beggary, with their own constitutions utterly ruined, by the hardships of their confinement ; while others, again, fleeing from city to eity, wandered up and down in the land, gained a precarious subsistence from the hand of charity. From these men, thus 'persecuted, afflicted, tormented,' descended our Carvers, our Bradfords, our Winslows, our Cottons, and a long list of other christian worthies, who early braved the Atlantic billows, and settled in the rigorous wilds of New England.
The Puritans of whom I have been speaking, waited long and suffered to the utmost limit of human endurance, before they could bring themselves to the painful resolution, of separating from the national church. But in 1566, a number of them baving committed their cause to God, solemnly withdrew from a communion, in which they could not enjoy liberty of conscience; and this was the first secession, from what could then scarcely be called the protestant church of England. Up to this point, my brethren, we may distinctly trace the leading principles of our forefathers; and from this period, the storm of persecution raged with great violence, during the greater part of the queen's reign. It abated, indeed, some little time before her death, but the respite which the non-conforming Puritans enjoyed, was only a short and deceitful calm. All their bigh hopes, from the young king James, who had repeatedly declared in favor of toleration, before and after he came to the throne, were in a little time cruelly dashed to the ground. Instead of redressing their grievances, he insultingly told them, that they must either conform, according to the requisitions so often promulgated in the last reign, or suffer the utmost rigor of the laws.
The time will not permit us to follow these devoted victims of arbitrary power, from one scene of insult and suffering to another, through a long course of years. Nor does the painful recital seem to be necessary; as it would; be little more than a repetition, of what has already been related. Suffice it to say, that in this and the following reigns, the non-conformists were treated with the most disgraceful severity. They were fined and imprisoned without mercy, and contrary to the fundamental laws of the realm. They were cut off as far as possible, from every means of emolument, and even subsistence in their native land; and to fill up the measure of their sufferings, were denied the melancholy privilege of seeking an asylum, in any other part of the world. All the ports from which they could escape, were strictly watched, and more than once, when on the point of embarking for the continent, they were arrested and imprisoned, or cruelly driven back, to the places from whence they came, but where they had neither friends, nor homes to receive them.
A considerable number of these hunted and sorrowing fugitives, however, found their way to Holland, early in the seventeenth century, and established an independent church at Amsterdam. From thence they soon removed to Leyden, where they enjoyed great quietness and prosperity, for about ten, or twelve years ; and where they might have ended their days in peace. But in 1617,
, these pious exiles, began to turn their thoughts to the new world, and we must now follow them in their pilgrimage across the ocean. The reasons which influenced them to so perilous an undertaking, are thus briefly stated by Neal, . their indefatigable historian.
While they sojourned in Leyden, perceiving that their congregation was on the the decline, by their aged members dying off, and their children marrying into Dutch families, they consulted how to preserve their church and religion, and at length, after several solemn addresses to heaven, the younger part of the congregation, resolved to remove into some part of America, under the protection of the king of England, where they might enjoy the liberty of their consciences and be capable of encouraging their friends and countrymen to follow them.'
But they were not entirely agreed among themselves,