Page images

few days after the commencement of the session, the commons passed an order that none should sit in their house but such as should receive the communion according to the usage of the church of England. And having observed a day of fasting, all the members on the next Lord's day received the sacrament in Westminster abbey at the hands of bishop Williams, dean of that church. They felt that they were entering on a great and serious business; and they chose to begin their work as religious men, and with such acts of solemn devotion as in that age were deemed appropriate to such a body.

If we observe the manner and the successive stages of their proceedings in relation to ecclesiastical affairs, we shall find additional reasons for rejecting the idea that they were presbyterians. Among the proceedings of the first business day of the session, an arrangement was made that on one day in each week the house should sit as a "grand committee for religion." A few days afterward, this grand commit tee named a sub-committee of forty, subsequently increased to eighty, "to inquire into the causes of the great scarcity of preaching ministers, and to consider of a way for removing scandalous ministers, and putting others into their places." The next thing done in relation to the church, was the adoption of a series of resolutions respecting the obnoxious canons framed by the late convocation. It was unanimously voted that the clergy in convocation or synod had no power to make any enactments which should be binding on laity or clergy without being ratified by act of Parliament; and it was resolved, that the particular canons in question contained matters contrary to the fundamental laws and statutes of the realm, to the rights of Parliament, and to the property and liberty of the subject. Immediately afterward it was resol

ved to impeach Laud as the author and imposer of those canons, while at the same time the Scotch commissioners preferred their complaint against him as one of the "incendiaries" or authors of the war between the two kingdoms.

Meanwhile, the known determination of the Parliament to enter upon some thorough ecclesiastical reform, had opened the door for the freest and boldest discussion, in the city and throughout the country. The press having been emancipated from the strict censorship which Laud had maintained over it, there was immediately a running fire of pamphlets from all sorts of writers, for and against the established system. The good Bishop Hall, and those five Puritan clergymen whose initials made up the word Smectymnuus, were carrying on their mem orable controversy a controversy the more memorable, inasmuch as John Milton came to the aid of the Puritan divines, with a pamphlet written in the bitter temper of those times, and in all that gorgeousness of imagination and of diction, which makes his ephemeral prose writings hardly less interesting than his most elaborate poems. But the discussion was not confined to the press. The pulpits resounded with it. Every place where intelligent men met each other, was a place for inquiry and debate on the great question of the day. It was in the expectation of such a discussion, that the Scotch commissioners, one of whom, Alexander Henderson, was a preacher, the John Knox of his day-brought with them in the capacity of chaplains, three of the ablest champions of Presbyterianism which their country could afford. One of these, Robert Baillie, afterwards principal of the University of Glasgow, left to posterity, in the shape of a voluminous series of letters to his presbytery, to his wife, and to his friends, one of the liveliest descriptions now extant, of that age of

revolution. In a letter to his wife, dated Newcastle, November 5, 1640, two days after the opening of the Parliament, Baillie says, "At our presbytery, after sermon, both our noblemen and ministers in one voice thought meet, that not only Mr. Alexander Henderson, but also Mr. Robert Blair, Mr. George Gillespie, and I, should all three, for divers ends, go to London : Mr. R. Blair, to satisfy the minds of many in England, who love the way of New England better than that of presbyteries used in our church; I, for convincing of that prevalent faction, [Laud's party,] against which I have written; Mr. Gillespie, for the crying down of the English ceremonies, for which he has written; and all four to preach by turns to our commissioners." In the first letter after their arrival in London, he says, "On Thursday last [November 19] was here a fast. Mr. Blair and I preached to our commissioners at home; for we had no clothes for outgoing. [A predicament somewhat like that in which Mr. Dickens found himself, on the first Sabbath after his arrival in Boston.] Many ministers used greater liberty than ever here was heard of. Episcopacy itself beginning to be cried down, and a covenant cried up, and the liturgy to be scorned. The town of London and a world of men, minds to present a petition, which I have seen, for the abolition of bishops, deans, and all their appurtenances." Writing to the presbytery, December 2, he says, "The courage of this people grows daily, and the number not only of people but of preachers, who are for rooting out of Episcopacy. All are for bringing them [bishops] very low; but who will not root them clean away are not respected." In the same letter he builds much on the hope, that Lords Say and Brook, and some leading men in the house of commons, who were known to have some sympathies with those

who had separated from the church of England, and who were therefore inclined towards congregationalism, would give their aid in the effort to abolish the office of the bishops.

On the 18th of December, the petition from the city of London, praying for the abolition of the episcopal system," root and branch," and thence called the root and branch petition, was presented to Parliament; and Baillie, writing to his presbytery, the next day, says, "Yesterday, a world of honest citizens in their best apparel, in a very modest way, went to the house of commons, and sent in two aldermen with their petition, subscribed, as we hear, by fifteen thousand hands, for removing episcopacy, the service-book, and other such scandals out of their church. It was well received." He adds, that "sundry petitions of several shires, to every one whereof some thousands of hands are put, will be given in against episcopacy." In another part of the same letter, he speaks of the convocation of the clergy which was then sitting twice a week, but doing nothing, for want of a commission from the king, empowering it to transact business. He says,

"We hear there was some thirty of them well minded for removing of episcopacy, and many more for paring of bishops' nails, and arms too." "The less good they intend, the better," [so men of a thorough partisan spirit always reason,]" the more easily they will be got overthrown." And again he expresses his fears, "that the separatists are like to be some help to hold up the bishops through their impertinency." In his Scotch presbyterian acrimony, he knew not how to trust those who were so far in advance of their age, as not to believe in national churches.

This may suffice to show, how, from the beginning of this Long Parliament, the expectations which men had of some thorough reform

in church and state, occasioned free and bold discussion in all quarters. The odium which the great ecclesiastical dignitaries had incurred, in consequence of their dependence on the king and their subserviency to his designs, created a popular prepossession against episcopacy it self. The success of presbyterianism in Scotland, created a prejudice in favor of a system, which had there shown itself capable of the most energetic and rapid achievements; and nothing was more natural, than to suppose that the same system might be equally triumphant in England. The sudden popularity of the Scotch among the English, and the adroit intermeddling of the commissioners from Scotland and their chaplains, gave a great impulse to the presbyterian party. Yet, if Baxter's testimony may be received—and what witness can be more worthy of credit, especially on such a question?—the great body of the English Puritans had not made up their minds, long after this time, in favor of presbyte rianism, as preferable to some reformed and primitive system of episcopacy. Even the authors of Smectymnuus, while they denied that the superiority of bishops to other ministers was by any Divine law, were at that time so far from the Scotch temper, that they were willing to petition Parliament," that if episcopacy be retained in the church, it may be reduced to its primitive simplicity." Nay, the Nay, the "root and branch" petition itself, was aimed rather against English episcopacy in the concrete, than against episcopacy in the abstract; -it spoke of the government of archbishops, lord bishops, deans, and archdeacons," and its prayer was, "that the said government with all its dependencies, roots and branches, might be abolished," and that "the government according to God's word" might be established.

In Parliament, the London, or

"root and branch" petition, remained for some time on the table, no party being quite ready to begin the discussion. Meanwhile, another petition was in preparation, which expressed the wishes of the body of the Puritan clergy who had not yet been expelled from the estab lishment. This, which was called the ministers' petition, was presented to the house of commons on the 23d of January, 1641, signed by seven hundred beneficed clergymen. It asked distinctly not for the abolition of episcopacy, but for the reformation of certain corrup tions and abuses in the system as then existing. Appended to the pe tition was a schedule of the things complained of in detail, filling, as Baillie says, twenty sheets of paper. Other petitions came in from all parts of the country, some for epis copacy, others against it. But, so far was presbyterianism, in the Scotch sense of the word, from being the thing demanded by the re forming party, those who petitioned against episcopacy had no other platform agreed upon among themselves; and this notorious fact was forcibly objected against them in the counter petitions.

Baillie appears to have been a watchful, but by no means a cool observer of the progress of events. His passionate Scotch prejudices often led him to presume that what was done for Puritanism, and was not done for the separatists, was of course designed to promote the iden tical thing for which he and his col leagues were so industriously labor. ing. He notices the ministers' petition, while it was "posting through the land for hands to make it stark," and he says that by the time it returns, “a large remonstrance, by some dozen of hands out of the whole number, will be ready, against the bishops' corruptions in doctrine, discipline, life and all." And flattered by the idea that his book against Laud—a work which he re

garded with the same amusing affection with which the good vicar of Wakefield regarded his own famous treatise against deuterogamy had "given good help" to the framing of that remonstrance, he thinks that when the remonstrance is presented to Parliament, "the root of episcopacy will be assaulted with the strongest blast it ever felt in England." He goes on to say that "the primate of Ireland"-archbishop Usher, one of the greatest and best men of that age, whose views were as large and his feelings as free and catholic as those of the illustrious Irish archbishop of our day-" and a great faction with him, will be for a limited good," that is, a "reduced episcopacy," an episcopacy with small dioceses and without lord bishops; but he "trusts they can not thrive in any of their designs." "The far greatest part," he says, "are for our discipline for all the considerable parts of it; they will draw up a model of their own, with our advice, to be considered upon by commissioners of the church, and others appointed by Parliament, and (if God shall bless this land) by these commissioners to be settled in every congregation at this extraordinary time, till afterward the church being constitute, a general assembly may be called to perfect it." How far this scheming Scot misunderstood, at that time, the designs of those who swayed the Parliament, he himself was afterwards a witness. On the same day on which the ministers' petition was presented to Parliament, it so happened that the king summoned the two houses to meet him at Whitehall, and delivered them a speech or lecture on various matters in their proceedings, giving them to understand what he would consent to, and what he would reject if enacted by them. Among other things which he discoursed upon, was this subject of church reformation, respecting which so many petitions had been presented. Vol. I.


He charged the petitioners with malice; and as to the proposed reduction of episcopacy by taking away temporal power from the bishops, he declared his determination "not to consent that their votes in Parliament should be taken away; for," said he, "in all the times of my predecessors, since the conquest and before, they have enjoyed it as one of the fundamental constitutions of the kingdom." This speech was one of those many ill advised movements on the part of the king, which had no effect but to accelerate the approach of revolution. Baillie says of it, "This declaration will do no evil. Many who inclined to keep bishops being put out of state and brought low, while they see they must continue lords of Parliament, will join themselves more heartily to those who will essay to draw up their roots." On the next business day, the house of commons showed how little they regarded the king's impertinent interference, by appointing a time for taking into consideration the ministers' petition with the remonstrance accompanying, and the petition from the country for church reformation. The London petition was afterward assigned to be considered at the same time. The slowness of the proceedings shows something like a reluctance to grapple with a subject in respect to which none could foresee the result, and few perhaps were settled in opinion. On the 6th of Februa ry, Baillie says to his wife," About them [the bishops] we are all in perplexity. We trust God will put them down, but the difficulty to get all the tapouns of their roots pulled up,

is yet insuperable by the arm of man. "The ministers' remonstrance these days by-gone hath been read in the house by parts, for it is long. They desire not an answer in haste, for fear their friends in the house be not strong enough to pull up that old oak, but many tears here are weekly sown for that

end." "We pray, preach and print against them [the bishops] most freely. Many a sore thrust get both men and women thronging in to our sermons."

On the 9th of February, after a sharp debate, in which some who afterward sided with the king insisted that the root and branch petition should be cast out without a hearing, all the petitions were referred to a large committee, who were "to prepare heads out of these petitions for the consideration of the house," but were not to meddle with the question about removing the office of bishop; "the house reserving to itself the main point of episcopacy, to take it into their consideration in due time." "Before this commit tee, every other day," says Baillie, "some eight or ten of the remonstrants appear. Dr. Burgess [af. terward one of the assessors or vice presidents of the Westminster Assembly] commonly is their mouth. We suspected him as too much episcopal, and wished he had not been of the number, but he has such a hand among the ministry and others, that it was not thought meet to discard him; yet he has carried himself so bravely that we repent of our suspicions. The passages of the remonstrance that have yet been called for, he has cleared to the full contentment of all the committee, except Mr. Selden the avowed proctor for the bishops. How this matter will go the Lord knows. All are for the erecting of a kind of presbytery, and for bringing down the bishops in all things spiritual and temporal, so low as can be with any subsistence; but their utter abolition, which is the only aim of the most godly, [ah! Baillie, "the most godly" are those that agree best with thee!] is the knot of the question; we must have it cut by the axe of prayer."

After this protracted hearing of the petitioners, the committee reported to the house three heads of

matter to be considered, the secu lar employments of the clergy; the sole power of the bishops in ecclesiastical affairs, and particularly in ordinations and church censures; and the large revenues of deans and chapters of cathedrals, with the inconveniences attending the appli cation of those revenues. Much debate ensued. On the 10th of March, it was resolved that the legislative and judicial power of bishops in the house of peers, is a great hindrance to the discharge of their spiritual function, prejudicial to the commonwealth, and fit to be taken away by a bill. The next day, a similar resolution was adopted in regard to bishops or other clergymen being justices of the peace or hav ing judicial power in any secular court, thus determining to sweep them out of the star chamber. Eleven days later the same condemnation was voted against their being employed as privy counselors, or in any temporal office. Such were the results of consideration and discussion on the first head reported by the committee.

For more than a month after the date of the last named resolution, both houses were chiefly occupied with the trial and attainder of the Earl of Strafford. Yet during that period, the three resolutions concerning the secular employments of the clergy were put into the form of a bill, which was carried through its several stages in the house of commons, and was sent up to the lords on the first of May. This most reasonable and moderate measure of reform, the want of which secularizes and dishonors the church of England at this hour, was rejected in the house of lords. So much hope was there, of any substantial improvement with the consent of the court prelates and their party. The majority of the lords expressed by resolution their willingness to pass every part of the bill excepting that part which was to take away

« PreviousContinue »