Images de page
PDF
ePub

the Nonconformists was continued, and carried on, says Neal, to a pitch hardly to be paralleled in a Protestant nation. Doctor Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln, published a letter for putting the laws in exccution against the Dissenters, in concurrence with another drawn up by the Justices of the Peace, at Bedford, bearing date January 14, 1684. Many were cited into the Spiritual Courts, excommunicated, and ruined. Two hundred warrants of distress were issued out upon private persons and families in the town and neighbourhood of Uxbridge, for frequenting conventicles, or not coming to church. The Baptists appear to have had their full share in the sufferings of these times.”

It is not desirable to dwell further upon the ecclesiastical events of this reign. King Charles II. died February, 1685.

James, Duke of York, his brother, succeeded to the throne, who aid not at all disguise his affection for Popery; for on the first Lord's day after his accession he went publicly to mass.

The parliament, a large number of whom were professed Protestants, to shew their conforming spirit to the King's wishes, and to gratify his passion for revenge against those who had been averse to his accession on account of his religion, presented an adūress to his Majesty, May 27, to desire him to issue a royal proclamation to put the penal laws into execution AGAINST DISSENTERS FROM THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND. The opposition to them now became as severe as it had ever been in the late King's reign. The Duke of Monmouth's rebellion gave the Court a plausible cxcuse for carrying it to the utmost extreme. There is no doubt but many Dissenters engaged in this ill-tined and ill-fated expedition, which terminated in the destruction of almost all who engaged in it.

“In 1687, the King was resolved to humble thc Church of England, because many of that community were not willing to go all the length he wished, though they had constantly professed the doctrines of non-resistance and passive obedience. For this purpose he began to flatter the Dissenters with promises of his favour, and endeavoured by his agents to persuade them to accept the kindness of the King, and to concur with him in his design.”*

Though the Dissenters had been an oppressed people, yet they were a powerful and respectable class of the community; and notwithstanding so many of them had left the country through persecution, they were still very numerous. Burnet says, “The Dissenters at this time were divided into four main bodies, the Presbyterians, he says,

* Ivimey, vol. I, p. 467.

the Independents, the Anabaptists, and the Quakers.” Burnet presents a comparative view of these four scets. Of the Anabaptists,

“they were generally men of virtue and of universal charity ; and as they were FAR FROM BEING ON ANY TREATING TERMS with the Church of England, so nothing but A UNIVERSAL TOLERATION could make them capable of favour or employment."

The enormous extent to which Dissenters had suffered during the reigns of Charles II. and James II. may be learned from the following truly deplorable statistics of persecution and endurance in England :

In the preface of Delaune's work upon Nonconformity, it is stated that “ Delaune was one of near eight thousand Protestant Dissenters who had perished in the reign of King Charles II., and that merely for dissenting from the church in some points which they were able to give good reason for ; and yet for no other cause, says he, were they stifled, I had almost said murdered, in jails. As for the severe penalties inflicted on them for seditious and riotous assemblies, designed only for the worship of God, he adds, that they suffered in their trades and estates, within the compass of three years, at least £2,000,000; and doubts, whether in all the times since the Reformation, including the reign of Queen Mary, there can be produced any thing like such a number of Christians who have suffered death; and such numbers who have lost their substance for religion.”

Another writer adds," that Mr. Jeremy White had carefully collected a list of the dissenting sufferers, and of their sufferings; and had the names of sixty thousand persons who had suffered on a religious account, between the restoration of King Charles II. and the revolution of King William, FIVE THOUSAND OF WHOM DIED IN PRISON !”+

In addition to those who suffered in England “many transported themselves and their effects into Holland, and filled the English churches of Amsterdam, the Hague, Utrecht, Leyden, Rotterdam, and other parts. If we admit the dissenting families of the several denominations in England to be one hundred and fifty thousand, and that each family suffered no more than the loss of £3 or £4 per annum, from the act of uniformity, the whole will amount to twelve or fourteen millions ; a prodigious sum for those times! But these are only conjectures ; the damage to the trade and property of the nation was undoubtedly immense; and the wounds that were made in the estates of private families were deep and large, many of whom, to my certain knowledge, wear the scars of them to this day.”I Neal's History, vol. 5, p. 19. † History of the Stuarts, p. 715.

* Neal's History, vol 5, p. 20.

"*

It is impossible to form an accurate estimate of the number of sufferers, or to give an account of the damages his Majesty's dissenting subjects of the several denominations sustained, by the persecutions of this and the last reign. Many families were impoverished and reduced to beggary. Many lives were lost in prisons and noisome jails. Many ministers were separated from their people, and forced to live, as they could, five miles from a corporation. Many industrious and laborious tradesmen were cut off from their trades, and their substance and household goods plundered by soldiers, or divided among idle and infamous informers. The vexatious suits of the commons, and the expenses of those courts, were immense.

The remaining brief period of James II.'s reign furnishes but few incidents material to notice. The ever memorable year 1688 saw the termination of thie Stuart dynasty in this country.

“ The glorious revolution of 1688" placed William and Mary on the British Throne-an event hailed by all the friends of religious freedom. The Baptists were amongst the foremost to tender their congratulations, and to offer their expressions of loyalty and affection. The foliowing extract from a declaration attached to the Confession of Faith of 1689, will exhibit their feelings, and will be read with interest. They declare “ their most hearty and united determination to venture their all for the Protestant religion, and the liberties of their native country," &c. “And we do,” say they, “with great thankfulness to God, acknowledge his special goodness to these nations, in raising up our present King William, to be a blessed instrument in his hand, TO DELIVER US FROM POPERY AND ARBITRARY POWER; and shall always, as in duty bound, pray that the Lord may continue him and his royal consort long to be a blessing to these kingdoms; and shall always be ready, to the utmost of our ability, in our places, to join our hearts and hands, with the rest of our Protestant brethren, for the preservation of the Protestant religion, and the liberties of the nation."

From such sentiments it will be clear that the Baptists were a devotedly loyal people, and ardently attached to Protestant principles.

The persecutions to which Nonconformists had been subjected during the previous reigns were principally for their maintenance of principles contrary to those of the established religion of the times; thus, for example, in the reign of Henry, Catholics were persecuted for their nonconformity to Protestantism, and Dissenting Protestants for their nonconformity to the King's creed.

In the reign of Mary, Catholicism being the then established

religion, Protestants, whether episcopalian or nonconformists, were subject to the ecclesiastical penalties of this reign.

It has been seen, that even in the days of the pious Edward persecution did not sleep; and reviewing the illustrious era of Elizabeth, so often referred to with distinction, it appears that those who were conformists to the national religion under her sister Mary suffered as nonconformists under her ; from which it will be evident, that if a man desired to go smoothly down the current of opinion in the course of two or threc reigns, he must have become a professor of as many religions, alternating from Popery to Protestantism, and from Protestantism to Popery.

This is not the place to refer to distinguished characters, whose names might be mentioned, who found these alternations not inconvenient.

The Act of Toleration of William III. laid aside the necessity for such equivocal professions. It put a legal termination to persecution, and respect was, for the first time, shewn to the rights of conscience. The Catholics had liberty to worship, on an equal footing, with the Protestant; and all Dissenters enjoyed the same advantage, without being any longer exposed to cruel penalties, as under previous religious dynasties. Thus far was a great advance made in evangelical civilization.

This Act of Toleration, which was passed after the ascension of William and Mary, gave confidence to those who had dissented from the established religion in the previous reigns. Baptists, who remained silent, now appeared as the strenuous defenders and advocates of their despised principles. Those who had been exiled returned to their native country, and a comparatively moral verdure was presented on the surface of society. Those who had previously held their religious meetings only in secret could now openly meet for worship, and enjoy the sacred ordinances of religion according to the dictates of conscience, “none daring to make them afraid.”

Scattered Christians formed themselves into respective distinct communities, and appointed their pastors and ministers; and it may be observed, that in one year after the flight of James II., under the mild and tolerant sway of William and Mary, it will be seen that above one hundred Baptist churches, by their pastors, ministers, and messengers, in their representative capacity, met in London, for the best and holiest of purposes,—the glory of God, and the highest interests of man. More decided reference will be made to this important gathering.

In his answer to the address of his loyal Dissenting subjects, King William said, “MY GREAT END WAS THE PRESERVATION OF THE PROTESTANT RELIGION; AND WITH THE ALMIGHTY'S ASSISTANCE AND PERMISSION 80 TO DEFEND AND SOPPORT THE SAME, as may give it strength and reputation throughout the world, sufficient to preserve it from the insults and oppression of its most implacable enemies; and that more immediately in these kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland ; AND I WILL USE MY UTMOST ENDEAVOURS 80 TO SETTLE AND CEMENT ALL DIFFERENT PERSUASIONS OP PROTESTANTS IN SUCH A BOND OF LOVE AND COMMUNITY, AS MAY CONTRIBUTE TO THE LASTING SECURITY AND ENJOYMENT OF SPIRITUALS AND TEMPORALS TO ALL SINCERE PROFESSORS OF THAT HOLY RELIGION."

The reign of William was indeed but brief, during which the King manifested his good will towards Protestant Dissenters, but this excited the jealousy and envy of their enemies, who by their influence in Parliament contrived TO PREVENT THE GOOD INTENTIONS OF THE KING TOWARD THEM FROM BEING CARRIED INTO EFFECT, viz., that the Dissenters should, in common with all his Protestant subjects, BE RENDERED ELIGIBLE TO EVERY POST OF HONOUR AND IMMUNITY

IN THE STATE.

It was the King's wish that the TEST AND CORPORATION Acts, so far as they related to Dissenters, SHOULD BE REMOVED. Upon this question ecclesiastical power interposed its influence against that desire. His Majesty was in advance of that age. Even the Act of Toleration was NOT OBTAINED WITHOUT CONSIDERABLE DIFFICULTY.

The liberal policy of William III. excited the malignity of the enemies of truth and freedom, and in 1696 his murder by the hand of the assassin was contemplated.

On the occasion of King William being preserved from that assassination plot, "planned by the Tories and Jacobites, and encouraged by Louis XIV.,” the Baptists were amongst the earliest of his Majesty's subjects to present their address of loyalty and affection.

It was on April 9, 1696, that Mr. Stennett, of Pinner's Hall, (who prepared the address,) was introduced to the King by the Right Honourable Charles Mordaunt, the third Earl of Peterborough, and the first Earl of Monmouth. This address excited a great deal of public attention, and was, doubtless, calculated to raise the Baptists in the estimation of his Majesty and the Court, who knew how to appreciate the unbought suffrages of men that had always steadily opposed the measures of the Tory and Jacobite party.

As the address was a BAPTIST ADDRESS, and as “it had excited a great deal of public attention,” and evinced that loyalty of feeling for which, AS A BODY OF PROFESSING ChristiANS, BAPTISTS HAVE BEEN EVER DISTINGUISUED, it is given entire, and will be perused

« PrécédentContinuer »