The Puritans had always insisted in a strict observance of the Sabbath. This strict Sabbatism was aided by the publication of a work bearing the title, Doctrine of the Sabbath. In this work a plea was made for the perpetuation of the fourth commandment in Jewish rigor.
In opposition to Puritanism King James issued his famous Declaration Sports in which he advocated the ‘old popular games and dances on the Sabbath. This action of the king aroused Puritanism and from this time on it began to grow into a political force. The king’s Declaration of Sports seemed to the Puritans a command to disobey the will of God. This in addition to his high-handed treatment of Parliament and his failure to support the hard-pressed Protestants in Germany in the opening of the Thirty-Year War were resented and drove the commons into a steadily growing political sympathy with Puritanism. The Anglicans on the other hand were identified with the crown. In 1625 King James’ reign came to an end for in that year he died. The outlook in his realm was ominous. He was succeeded by his son Charles both in England and in Scotland. Besides the crown, his father had bequeathed one other gift upon him, a book of which he (King James) was the author. It bore the title of Basilicon Doron. The work was meant to supply the prince with a model on which to mold his character and a set of rules to govern. The two leading doctrines of this book were (1) the divine right of kings, (2) the anarchical and destructive nature of Presbyterianism. Monarchy, says James, is the true pattern of divinity. Kings sit upon God’s throne in earth. The subject may make no resistance but by flight. Under no circumstances may they take up arms against a king. For proof he adduced the Scripture in which the prophet Elisha flees to the wilderness before the wicked king instead of instigating an insurrection. He also cited the example of Samuel, who though he predicted that the king’s rule would become oppressive, nevertheless admonished the people to submit. It can readily be understood that he hated Puritanism, as this movement represented a challenge to his ecclesiastical authority. James believed that the king fell with the bishop, so that his motto was, “no bishop, no king.” We find this paragraph in the aforesaid work, “Take heed, therefore, my son, to such Puritans in the church and commonwealth whom no deserts can oblige, neither oaths nor promise bind, breathing nothing but sedition, aspiring without measure, railing without reason, and making their own imaginations without any warrant of the Word the square of their conscience. I protest before the Great God that ye shall never find with any highland or border thieves greater ingratitude and more lies and vile perjuries than with these fanatic spirits. Suffer therefore not the principles of them to brook your land.” This book was Charles’ Bible. All Parliament, laws, charters, privileges, had their being from the king and might at his good-pleasure be put out of existence. To deny this doctrine was the highest crime of which a subject could be guilty. There was but one man in all England who could plead right of conscience and that was he. All his life was taken up with a fight against Presbyterianism, for the reason that Presbyterianism, or let us say, Calvinism, proceeding from the sovereignty of God, insisted on the divine maxim that God shall be obeyed rather than man, that a king shall be obeyed only in so far that the rule he imposes upon his subjects agrees with the rule of God as found in God’s Word.
This principle spelled both civil and religious liberty in their right sense. Of this liberty Charles was an inveterate enemy. He fought it with all the zeal that was in him; he pursued his conflict through a succession of tyrannies, doublings, plunders, and battle-fields until he arrived at the scaffold where he lost his head.
As to his nature, Charles was a stronger man than his father and morally a better man. As a religionist he was sincere, his family life was pure. He was also a man with more personal dignity than his father.
The first error of Charles was his French marriage. It joined him to a daughter of the Roman Catholic Church. In the eyes of his countrymen his Catholic wife was the link that joined him to the Pope.
His second mistake was his dissolution of three successive Parliaments. The reason for this king’s action was that these Parliaments insisted upon redress of their grievances before they would vote any support of money. The backbone of the House of Commons were Calvinists. Parliament had many grievances against the king. To prevent Calvinistic discussions the king caused a declaration to be prefixed to the Thirty Nine Articles to the effect that no man shall nut his own sense on any article but shall take it in the literal and grammatical sense.
Charles finally took complete leave of Parliament
and governed alone. He began to tax his subjects whenever and to whatever extent it suited him. Those that refused to pay he imprisoned. The right hand man of the king was Bishop Laud archbishop of Canterbury. He was a man of austere manners, industrious habits, and violent zeal. Laud acquired complete ascendency in the councils of Charles. The king was greater on the throne, but the subjects were ruled according to Laud’s word. In other words, Laud was the power behind the throne. As a churchman Laud with the help of the king enforced with a heavy hand conformity of religion and worship in England to his own views of what religion and worship ought to be. His sole aim was to rescue Christianity from the gothicism or the rudeness of the Reformation and to bring back the ancient splendor which had characterized worship in the Greek and Roman temples. He provided candlesticks and copes for the administration of the Lord’s Supper. He set up a large crucifix above the altar and fitted the window of the chapel with a picture representing God. Such of the clergy who refused to conform to and to imitate his fancies were persecuted as guilty of schism and rebellion against ecclesiastical government. A Lectureship was forbidden; Puritan preachers silenced; the Declaration of Sports re-issued.
Laud made the distinction between the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church so narrow that, as one said, they could hardly see this distinction at Rome. According to Laud’s diary the Pope twice offered him a red hat.
In the civil courts the Puritans were severely handled, while the Anglicans were treated with great clemency; while the former were fined, favors were showered upon the latter. The scaffold was not set up but short of this every severity was employed which might compel the nation to worship according to the form prescribed by the king and the archbishop. Under these circumstances many Puritans began to despair of their religious and political outlook and to plan to follow the Separatist across the Atlantic. What they sought was the freedom to preach and to organize. Between 1628 and 1640 at least 20,000 Puritans crossed the Atlantic.