Images de page

the learning of ancient and modern times, brightened by manners the most polished and conciliating, seasoned by humanity, and exalted by patriotism, leave an indelible stain on his memory, and contributed to the spread of disaffection to regal government, which had long been growing; and which, in the following reign, burst upon the head of the unhappy Charles.—But of all the acts of James, none gave more offence to men of genuine piety, or was attended with worse consequences to the interests of the Church, than his edict to encourage recreations and sports on the Lord's day. The book, or declaration, which was published on this subject, is said to have been composed by Bishop Morton; and was ordered to be read in all the Churches of the Kingdom. To a reflecting mind, the reading of the Fourth Commandment, as a part of Divine worship ; the response of the congregation, “ Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law;" and the proclamation for the breach of the law, by the profanation of the sabbath, must have presented a medley of devotion, impiety, and absurdity, singular in its kind, and calculated to make the offices of religion the sport of infidels.

Charles the First appears to have been a Prince of great sensibility, and to have possessed amiable and excellent dispositions. Had he lived in times more tranquil, or had he presided over a constitution better ascertained and fixed; had the rights of conscience been, in his time, esteemed sacred ; and, finally, had he not been seduced from the moderation of his temper, by the pestilential influence of Counsellors, arrogant and passionate, he might have finished a reign of glory to himself, and of happiness to his subjects, with the accumulated honours of a grateful and affectionate people. Many, even of the


harshest and most objectionable measures of his reign, and which cannot be justified, as they were subversive of all the maxims of a limited government, will yet, from the peculiarity of his situation, admit of some excuse, or at least, alleviation. The precedents of former reigns, handed down through a succession of Princes, presented to his eyes traces of power almost despotic, and seldom subject to any control. Popular assemblies had been considered by the Monarchs he succeeded, rather as chambers for registering the edicts of the Sovereign, than as a high Council to direct and limit his operations. Educated by his father in those lofty opinions of prerogative, which he bequeathed to him with his sceptre, taught by his instructions to hope for a throne established upon divine right, Charles was led to consider the limitations the Commons opposed to his power, as an attack upon the inheritance left him by birth-right. The spirit of liberty, which he saw rising every day, and which seemed to acquire a new accession of strength, called, he thought, for more vigorous exertions to repel the hostile aggressions of his subjects. His subjects justly concluded, that the rights of several millions of men, required some better security than the absolute will of their Prince; and were resolved to persevere in the contest, till they wrested them from the grasp of power. In this collision of interests and claims, a breach taking place between Charles and his Parliament, he proceeded to levy by his prerogative, those sums of money from his people, wbich the consent of their representatives only could legally impose. Arbitrary imprisonment was employed to enforce, what arbitrary power had determined to exact. The Courts of Star-Chamber and High Commission, both of which were arbitrary, and conducted by no other

law than the pleasure of the judges, were employed to overwhelm with their terrors and cruelties, the genius of liberty. The Petition of Right itself, to which the King had given his assent, was wantonly violated, and every measure that could irritate and inflame the minds of men, was tried to render them tame and submissive. Indovations in the Church were added to tyranny in the State, and instances of both were multiplied with such rapidity, that they bade defiance to every consideration of decency and prudence. The impious book of Sunday sports, which had disgraced his father's proclamations, was again restored, and the Ministers of Christianity were enjoined, under the pains of deprivation, to desecrate the worship of God, by reading it. Almost every measure of this unhappy Prince, for some years previous to the call. ing of the Long Parliament, was either rash and impru. dent, or illegal and violent; or such as clashed with every idea of religion and government, that his subjects had learned to form. Despotism in government, and intolerance in religion, oppressed and inflamed the spirits of the people.

It was during his reign, and principally by the influence and power of Archbishop Laud, that the great body of the Clergy revolted from the doctrine of Grace, and sunk into the system of Semi-Pelagianism. The dispute indeed was nominally between the followers of Calvin and those of Arminius; but an essential part of the system of the latter was either excluded, or obtained no distinguished place in the creed of many of those who sheltered their doctrines under his name. The doctrines of Human Depravity, Regeneration by the influence of the Holy Spirit, and Justification by faith in the blood of Christ, all of them holding a distinguished rank among those taught by

Arminius, were either entirely discarded, or not suffered to occupy a prominent place in their discourses. Absolute Predestination and final Perseverance, the two peculiarities of Calvinism, were keenly opposed, but the leading features of vital Christianity, constituent parts both of Arminianism and Calvinism, and of the beautisu! Liturgy of the Church of England, ceased, in a great measure, to give animation and effect to the ministry of the clergy. Morality, an essential part, but only a part of religion, was separated from that stock on which alone it could bud and blossom, and fill the world with fruit; and, being thus cut off from its vital sap, it languished and died. A morality without spirit and nerves, was substituted for the Evangelical energies of faith, that works by love to God and to man.-The morals of many who frequented the Court of Charles were, certainly, relaxed ; and this was reckoned a sufficient mark of discrimination, by which the Cayaliers were known from those who were in opposition to the Government. The manners of the Pu. ritans, were generally correct, and even austere, and their deportment being stiff and uncourtly, formed a striking contrast with the urbanity and polished manners of their opponents. Though these distinctions of the parties were prev alent, it would be absurd to suppose that they were uniform. Many individuals of piety and virtue, were probably attached to the Court: and many persons of loose principles and habits, concealed under the veil of hypocrisy, were probably connected with the opposite party. The name assumed by the Puritans was that of the Godly, and upon their opponents they imposed that of the Malignants; names which never could be exclusive. ly descriptive of the parties to which they were applied ; and modesty forbade the assumption of the one, and charity the imposition of the other.

This ill-advised Prince, by violating the liberties, and attacking the religious principles of his Scottish subjects, roused them to resistance; and his own army, ill disciplined, and disasrected to his service, having suffered a partial defeat, and being in want of pay, soon became as dangerous to his power, as was that of his formidable opponents: hence the calling of a new Parliament became absolutely necessary. The members of that assembly meeting, while their resentment of former indignities was strong, and while liberty was yet bleeding by her recent wounds, proceeded to disarm the band that had inflicted her wrongs. In their correction of numberless abuses, introduced by the incontrollable sway of absolute power, in the establishment of the principles of a free constitution, in chasing from the throne those counsellors who had recommended arbitrary measures, and in abolishing for ever the Star-Chamber and High Commission Courts, and other institutions incompatible with a limited monarchy, the merits of that assembly deserve to be recorded with gratitude in the memory of every Englishman. But in the prosecution of their vengeance against Strafford and Laud, their conduct was a complication of injustice, cruelty, and tyranny. Whatever were the demerits of these two ministers, in promoting the maxims of arbitrary government, they had offended against no statute or law of their country, which could expose them to capital punishment; much less were they justly liable to the pains of treason. The constructive treason for which they were put to death was, in itself, a violation of the most obvious principles of liberty, and their violent conduct was the more atrocious, because was attended

« PrécédentContinuer »