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The Five Mile Acr passed by the Parliament at Oxford to restrain Nonconformists from inhabiting corporato cities or towns, and prohibiting any minister from coming within five miles of any city or corporation under severe penalties, unless they would take the prescribed oath, received the royal assent 31st October, 1665.
The preamble to this act recognised as usual the existence of schism and rebellion; and, to provide against these evils, it declared, “ That divers parsons and others in holy orders, not having subscribed according to the act of uniformity, have taken upon them to preach in unlawful assemblies, and to instil the poisonous principles of schism and rebellion in the hearts of his Majesty's subjects, to the great danger of the church and kingdom,-Be it therefore enacted, that all such Nonconformist niinisters shall take the following oath :•I, A B, do swear that it is no: lawful, upon any pretence whatsoever, to take up arms against the Ring; and that I do abhor that traitorous position of taking up arms by his authority against his person, or against those that are commissioned by him, in pursuance of such commissions; and that I will not at any time to come endeavour ANY ALTERATION of government in Church or State.'--And all such Nonconformist ministers shall not, after the 21th of March, unless in passing the road, come within FIVE MILES of any city, town corporate, or borough, that sends burgesses to Parliament, or within five miles of any parish, town, or place, wherein they have, since the act of oblivion, been parson, vicar, or lecturer, or where they have preached in any conventicle, on any pretence whatsoever, before they have subscribed the above-said oath before the Justices of Peace at thc Quarter Sessions for the county in open court; upon forfeiture for every such offence of forty pounds, one-third to the King, onethird to the poor, and one-third to him that shall sue for it. And it is further enacted, that such as shall refuse the oath aforesaid shall be incapable of teaching any PUBLIC or PRIVATE SCHOOL, or of taking any boarders or tablers to be taught or instructed, under the penalty of FORTY pounds, to be distributed as above. Any two Justices of Peace, upon oath made before them of any offence committed against this act, are empowered to commit the offender to prison for six MONTHS without bail or mainprise."*
This savage law met with great opposition in the House of Lords, particularly on account of its enforcing so unreasonable and unnatural an oath. The Earl of Southampton, Lord Wharton, Lord Ashley, Bishop Earl, and others, spoke vehemently against it; the first of whom declared, not only that he could not take the bart arous oath
* Gough, vol. 2, p. 148.
himself, but that “no honest man could take it."* Nevertheless the madness of the times, and the great power and influence of the court bishops, prevailed against all reason and humanity. The chief promoters of this act, by whose superior influence it was carried, were the Lord Chancellor Clarendon, Archbishop Sheldon, and Bishop Ward, with “ALL THAT WERE THE SECRET FAVOURERS OF POPERY.”+
The great body of Nonconformist ministers refused to take the prescribed oath, choosing rather to leave their habitations, their relations and friends, and all visible support, than to destroy the peace of their consciences. Those ministers who had some little estate or substance of their own retired to some remote or obscure villages, or such little market towns as were not corporations, and more than five miles from the places where they had preached; but in many counties it was difficult to find such places of retirement, for either there were no houses untenanted, or they were annexed to farms which the minister would not occupy ; or the people were afraid to admit them into their houses, lest they should be suspected as favourers of Nonconformity. I
The sufferings of Dissenters were very great at this period. This general reference is made to shew the grievous annoyances to which Baptists, in common with other Dissenters, were exposed to in the exercise of their religious worship.
In 1670, such was the continued inveteracy of the ecclesiastical rulers of those times against the frequenters of “ Conventicles,” that ADDITIONAL CLAUSES to the act of 1664 were passed, the “Five Mile Act” being considered inoperative to prevent the assembling together of those who had conscientious scruples against the forms of worship by law established.
This bill was the cause of incredible hardships to all the Nonconformists, and many of the Baptists suffered severely by it. It was now enacted as follows :-"The preachers or teachers in any conventicle shall forfeit twenty pounds for the first, and forty for the second offence. And also those who knowingly suffer any conventicles in their houses, barns, yarás, &c., shall forfeit twenty pounds. Any Justice of Peace, on the oath of two witnesses, or any other sufficient proof, may record the offence under his hand and seal; which record shall be taken in law for a full and perfect conviction, and shall be certified at the next Quarter Sessions. The fines above mentioned may be levied by distress and sale of the offender's goods and chattels, of any other person or persons who shall be convicted
* Life of Baxter, part 3, p. 3. + Burnet, vol. I, p. 225.
Ivimey, vol. 1, pp. 357, 358.
AND PUNISHING THE SAID CONVENTICLES.
of having been present at the said conventicle, at the discretion of the Justice of Peace, so as the sum to be levied on any one person, in case of the povert: of others, do not amount to above ten pounds for any one meeting. The constables, headboroughs, &c., are to levy by warrant from the Justice, and the money is to be divided, one-third for the use of the King, another third for the poor, AND THE OTHER THIRD TO THE INFORMER OR HIS ASSISTANTS, REGARD BEING HAD TO THEIR DILIGENCE AND INDUSTRY IN DISCOVERING, DISPERSING,
The fines upon ministers for preaching are to be levied also by distress; and in case of poverty, upon the goods and chattels OF ANY OTHER PRESENT; and the like UPON THE HOUSE WHERE THE CONVENTICLE 18 HELD, and the money to be divided as above.
“ And it is further enacted, that Jastices of the Peace, constables, headboroughs, &c., may be warranted with what aid, force, and assistance they shall think necessary, TO BREAK OPEN AND ENTER INTO ANY HOUSE OR PLACE where they shall be informed of the conventicle, and take the persons so assembled into custody ; and the LIEUTENANTS, OR OTHER COMMISSIONED OFFICERS OF MILITIA, may get together such force and assistants as they think necessary to dissolve, dissipate, and disperse such unlawful meetings, and take the persons into custody.” To ensure the strict execution of this act, it was added, “That if any Justice of the Peace REFOSB TO DO HIS DUTY in the execution of this act, HE SHALL FORFEIT FIVE POUNDS.*".
While these oppressive measures were pursued, and the nation in general was immersed in vice and irreligion, London was visited by the playue, which at that time is said to have been the most dreadful within the memory of man. In 1666, in addition to the terrible calamities of the war and the plague, the city of London was laid in ashes by a dreadful conflagration.
In 1672, there appears to have been a disposition with the King to grant somE INDULGENCE to Nonconformists. That portion of the declaration more particularly applying to Dissenters is as follows:
“That there may be no pretence for any of our subjects to continue THEIR ILLEGAL MEETINGS AND CONVENTICLES, we do declare that we shall from time to time allow a sufficient number of places, as they shall be desired in all parts of this our kingdom, for the use of such as do not conform to the Church of England, to meet and assemble in, in order to their public worship and devotion, which places shall be open and free to all persons.
* Ivimey, vol. 1, pp. 362-4.
“But to prevent such disorders and inconveniences as may happen by this our indulgence, if not duly regulated, and that they may be the better protected by the several magistrates, our express will and pleasure is that none of our subjects do presume to meet in any place until such place be allowed, and the teacher of that congregation approved by us.
Mr. Andrew Gifford, of Bristol, appears to have been one of the earliest of the Baptists who availed himself of this act of indulgence, which was, indeed, said to have been a deep laid scheme of the King, under the plausible pretence of toleration TO INTRODUCE POPERY.
The license of Andrew Gifford, from which an extract is furnished, is to the following effect :-“We do hereby permit and license Andrew Gifford, of our city of Bristol, of the persuasion commonly called Baptisés, to be a teacher, and teach in any place licensed and allowed by us, according to our said declaration. Given at our Court, at Whitehall, the twenty-fifth day of September, in the twelfth year of our reign, 1072. GIFFORD, a Teacher.
“ By His Majesty's Command,
“ ARLINGTON.” This act of indulgence not answering the King's purpose for the introduction of Popery, WAS SOON AFTER ABROGATED, AND FRESH SHACKLES WERE FORGED for Nonconformists.
The Test Act was passed in 1673, by which Dissenters were effectually prevented from holding any place under Government, without prostituting so solemn an ordinance of Christ, by receiving the Lord's Supper according to the usuage of the Church of England, in some parish church on some Lord's day, immediately after divine service and sermon.
Baptists and other Nonconformists would alike share in the persecution consequent upon such an intolerant act.
In 1675, niany professions of respect were made in the House of Lords for the Protestant Dissenters; and the Duke of Buckingham proposed to bring in a bill of indulgence.
“Though this was doubtless the pretext to encourage Popery, yet it is probable the Bapti-ts were willing to take the opportunity it afforded them of devising means to promote the interest of the denomination. In proof of this, we find that the London ministers addressed a circular letter to the churches both in England and Wales, inviting their brethren of the Baptist persuasion to meet the following May, in the metropolis, with a view to form a plan for the providing an orderly standing ministry in the church, who might give
* Ivimey, vol. , p. 231.
themselves to reading and study, and so become able ministers of the New Testament. The letter bore date the 2d of the eighth month, 1675, and was signed by most of the London pastors, among whom were Daniel Dyke, William Collins, and William Kiffin.”*
It is probable, however, that the severity of persecution against the Nonconformists prevented their meeting.
"It, however, proves that the learned en who were among the Baptists and pastors of the churches, were very desirous of providing a LEARNED MINISTRY, which could not now be expected, without establishing seminaries of their own, as the universities and public schools were shut against them.”+
About 1683, very violent measures were adopted towards all deno. minations of Dissenters, and several eminent Baptists became great sufferers. It may be noticed that Mr. Thomas Delaune, the champion of Nonconformity, suffered great hardships in prison, where he died.
Defoe remarks of this writer-" The treatment which the renowned and learned author of the Plea for Nonconformity, (a book perfect of itself,) will for ever stand as a monument of the cruelty of those times.”
“They who affirm that the Dissenters were never persecuted in England for their religion, will do well to tell us what name we shall give to the sufferings of this man of merit; than whom few greater scholars, cleverer heads, or greater masters of argument, ever graced the English nation." I
The period has now arrived for a notice of the particular circumstances which led to the adoption of the Confession of Faith of 1677 (the articles of which were subsequently mainly adopted by the Assembly of 1689.) It appears that, in 1677, there was an assembly of the pastors and elders of the Baptist Churches, both in London and in the country. This gathering was probably in consequence of the letter sent in October, 1675. They agreed to set forth “a Confession of Faith," said to be done by the elders and brethren of many congregations of Christians (baptized upon profession of their faith) in London and in the country. The motto is, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Rom. 8., 10. “ Search the Scriptares.” John v., 39. “ Printed in the year 1677."||
There are no names to this confession. A further reference to this interesting document will be given in due course.
During the remaining part of this King's reign “ the persecution of
* Ivimey, vol. 1, p. 415. Ivimey, vol. 1, pp. 403, 404.
† Ivimey, vol. I, p. 416.
Ivimey, vol. 1, p. 421.