Puritanism in England

Let us again get before our eye the two parties to the great religious struggle raging in England and in Scotland in the period under consideration. We saw how that the yoke of the Pope was thrown off both in England and in Scotland where the Reformation had triumphed. We also saw that the Pope’s place in the church had been taken by the civil magistrate, the king, who set himself up as the highest authority in the church. The demand of the king was that the church having disposed of the Pope, recognize him as its head and swear allegiance to him. In England the church did so, and with its head, the king, is known in history as the State or Anglican Church.

Then began a movement in England known as Presbyterianism or Puritanism. The Puritans were men whose eyes were opened to the truth that the civil magistrate may not be tolerated as the authority in the church, that the head of the church is Christ who rules through his chosen organs, the elders. For this form of church government, known as Presbyterianism, the Puritans fought. The struggle in the Church of England of this period was a struggle between Anglicanism with its Romish system of church government and with the king as its Pope, and Presbyterianism. The great ambition of the king was to impose his authority on the church. An independent clergy was deemed a menace to the throne.

The entire life of King James and of his son, Charles I, was taken up with the attempt to exterminate Presbyterianism and to maintain themselves as head of the church. To that end he imposed upon them his prelacy, responsible to him only. In the second place he insisted on uniformity of worship but the worship he would impose upon the church was thoroughly Romish.

As was said, Bishop Laud, with the support of the king, enforced uniformity of worship with a heavy hand. Puritan preaching was everywhere silenced; ecclesiastical tyranny was rearing its head everywhere m the land; the spirit of the people was broken by a cruel and shameful punishment; superstitious Romish rites enforced with a heavy hand were displacing the pure and scriptural forms which the Reformers had introduced.

It was at this moment that an occurrence took place in Scotland which turned the tide of affairs and brought deliverance to both Scotland and England.

We now turn to the northern kingdom, viz., Scotland. We recall that the reformer of Scotland was Knox. What Luther was to Germany, Zwingli to Switzerland, and Calvin to Geneva, Knox was to Scotland. Knox was an advocate of the Presbyterian system of church government. For the public worship he prepared in 1564 a book of common order called Knox’s Liturgy, which was approved by the General Assembly in the same year. It was largely based on that of the English congregation in Geneva which in turn was modeled on that of Calvin. Presbyterianism had struck deep root in Scotland.

The great ambition of King James had been to stamp out Presbyterianism in Scotland and to set up his prelacy. In 1610 he succeeded. Prelacy was again set up in Scotland, dioceses were again assigned to King James’ bishops. Alongside of these bishops, church sessions, presbyteries and synods continued to be held. James could not succeed in imposing his prelates upon Protestant Scotland. The Protestant Scots were inflexibly bent upon repudiating a form of church government which they believed to be condemned by Scripture. They also repudiated James’ ritualistic worship which they held to be idolatry.

In all his labors in this direction the king reaped nothing but disappointment, vexation and trouble which accompanied him to his grave. The Reformation had given a clergy independent from the State, and an intelligent middle class. Against both James was bitterly opposed. He regarded a free clergy, Presbyterianism, as a menace to his throne. All his life he labored, but unsuccessfully, to destroy it. In doing so he blasted his reputation as a king and laid up a store of misfortunes and sorrows for his son, Charles I, and alienated from his house a nation which had ever borne loyalty to his ancestors despite their many and great faults.

Charles I followed in his father’s footsteps. Also his ambition was to set up prelacy in Scotland. James had made some great changes, yet he had not dared to alter the larger features of public worship. This is exactly what Charles undertook to do. In 1637 under the instigation of Laud he ordered the imposition of a liturgy upon the Scottish church, which upon examination was found to be alarmingly Popish. In several points it even borrowed literally the very expressions of the Mass Book.

The king also ordered the Bishop of Canterbury to frame for the clergy canons for its government, the keynote of which was the unlimited power and supremacy of the king in the church. Many of the bishops knowing the spirit of their countrymen informed the king that there was a tempest in the air and advised him to wait with the imposition of his canons and liturgy until the return of calmer times. The king, however, would not listen; the liturgy must be enforced.

The day arrived. It was a Sunday morning in Edinburgh. At the stated hour the dean arrived to begin the service with the new liturgy. A vast crowd had assembled, and the dean began to read. Very soon a frightful tumult arose, a clamor of voices. A stool was flung at the dean; the dean shut his book and fled.

Then came the bishop, who thought that the greater dignity of his office would be able to inspire more reverence in the crowd. At his appearance however the tempest broke out anew. He was greeted with cries of ‘Tope,” “Antichrist.” He too fled from the pulpit and on his way home had to be defended from the fury of the mob by the police.

Again the king was informed of the true feeling of the nation and advised to Show clemency. Instead of taking the advice to heart the king grew more bitter and issued a proclamation that the new liturgy had to be enforced and branded with treason all that opposed it. This thoroughly aroused the spirit of the Scots. Noblemen, gentlemen and commons came from all directions for concerted opposition. Committees called Tables were formed, one for the nobles, one of the barons, a third for the commons, a fourth for the church. Here again we see that all is not gold that glitters. A great deal of the opposition to the king’s liturgy and canons sprang up from purely political motives. Any movement curtailing the power of the king was welcomed by the nobles and the barons. These four committees resolved to renew the National Covenant of Scotland. The Covenant read in part as follows: “The underscribed, noblemen, barons, gentlemen, commons, ministers promise and swear all the days of our life constantly to adhere unto and to defend the true religion and to labor by all means lawful to recover the purity and liberty of the Gospel as it was established and professed before the introduction of the late innovations; and that we shall defend the same and resist all those contrary errors

and corruptions, according to our vocation, and to the utmost of that power which God has put into our hands all the days of our life.” The Covenant also pledged its swearers to support the king’s majesty. In December of the same year a general Presbyterian assembly deposed the bishops and repudiated the entire ecclesiastical structure which James and Charles had erected since 1597. This of course was sheer rebellion, as the bishops were the arms of the king.

In 1640 Charles resolved to punish the Scots. He needed however money to carry on the contemplated war and was therefore compelled to call an English parliament. This Parliament, before it would vote to finance the king’s war, again ‘‘popped up” with the old political and religious grievances and demanded redress. The result was that Charles immediately dissolved this Parliament. No money was voted him. Quarles now called upon the bishops to furnish the funds Parliament had refused him. The clergy raised a large sum in the various dioceses. As a result Charles raised an army and marched to the Scottish border. The Scots were not taken unaware; they knew that the king was preparing to invade their country. The Scots marched to the border; the king was compelled to retreat. His army had little heart for fighting. A treaty of peace was soon concluded which the Scots accepted in the excess of their loyalty to the king. The Scots fought not to rid themselves of the king but for the peaceful preaching of their religion and their civil rights. They would give the king obedience but only such obedience as God permitted. When the king would usurp God’s place in their lives they resolves to obey God rather than man and set themselves against the king.

The following year Charles again denounced the Scots as rebels and again prepared to invade their territory. The Scots however instead of waiting for his arrival invaded England and discomfited his forces on his own territory, and levied a tax on the whole of Northumberland to defray the expenses of their own military campaign against the king. The king was again compelled to make peace with the Scots. Thus the king had brought the fire into England. The church of Scotland now had rest for twenty years, in which period Presbyterianism flourished in Scotland.

Let us now return to the controversy between the king and Parliament. The quarrel between the king and Parliament was nothing but the quarrel of Scotland transferred to England. The issue was whether the king through (his arms, viz. the bishops, should continue as the authority in the church. There were two parties in England, the Presbyterians and the Anglicans. These parties were quite well balanced, so that the poise of the conflict was in the hand of the Scots. Whichever side they espoused gained the victory. As could be expected the Scots joined the ranks of the Presbyterians. The beginning of the struggle was the meeting of Parliament in 1640, known in history as the Long Parliament in that it lasted eight years. It was evident at the very outset that the Presbyterian Protestants were in the majority. The grievances under which the nation groaned were first discussed. The nation’s laws were infringed upon, its religion changed, and the throne was surrounded by evil counsellors. The rupture between the king and the people widened daily. Two of the king’s favorites were brought to the block by this parliament. Despotism was swept away as in a moment. The king became afraid. In a speech held in January, 1641, he said, “I will willingly and cheerfully concur for the reformation of all abuses both in the church and commonwealth, for my intention is to reduce all things to the best and purest times as they were in the days of Queen Elizabeth.” He even addressed sweet words to the Presbyterians in Scotland, “I can do nothing with more cheerfulness than to give my people a general satisfaction.” He even ratified the General Scottish Covenant and made it law. The King who had proven false so many times was almost trusted again.

At this time something terrible happened in Ireland. We refer to the Irish Massacre, the butchering of the Protestants by Catholics, as horrible as that of Saint Bartholomew. The slaughter lasted for many months. Forty thousand as the lowest estimate were murdered; some say between two hundred and three hundred thousand. The northern part of Ireland was nearly depopulated. The persons concerned in the atrocity pleaded the king’s authority and produced Charles’ commission with his seal attached to it. It has indeed been established on good grounds that the king was privy to this fearful massacre. The effects of the massacre were that it shattered the belief in the king’s sincerity and fanned into a fiercer flame the passion that seemed to be expiring. The king returned to England (he had been visiting in Scotland). Rumors were in circulation that he contemplated bringing the army of the north (the northern kingdom was for the king) to London to suppress Parliament. The king denounced five of the leading members of Parliament as traitors and went in person to the House with the police to apprehend them. The five members left just before the king arrived and thus escaped arrest. The House voted that a breach of privilege had been committed. London bristled with mobs crying for justice. Confidence was now at an end between Charles and Parliament.

The king soon left London for Nottingham in the northern kingdom. Here he summoned the populace of the north to rally about him at York for war. They did so—it meant the beginning of Civil War in England. Scotland united with England against the king, aiding England with an army. The basis on which they combined was civil and religious liberty. The bond of alliance adopted was; Tine Covenant (of Scotland), and The Solemn League (of England). Some of the articles of this joint covenant were: 1. The defense and the establishment of the Reformed Presbyterian religion in the three Kingdoms, i.e., in England, Scotland and Ireland. 2. The promotion of uniformity among the churches of the three Kingdoms. 3. The extirpation of popery and prelacy, and all unsound forms of religion. 4. The preservation of Parliament and of the liberties of the people. 5. Sincere and earnest endeavor to set up an example before the world of public, personal, and domestic virtue and godliness.

Let us now return to the Long Parliament. Parliament abolished Episcopacy as the State religion in January, 1643. Now came the question what to put in its room. In 1643 the lords and commons passed an ordinance for the calling of an assembly of divines for the settling of the government and the liturgy of me Church of England. Notice that the state calls this assembly. This assembly is called the Westminster Assembly because it met at Westminster. The overwhelming majority of this assembly was Presbyterian- Puritan. The assembly framed the following documents: 1. The Westminster Confession. 2. A form of government or church government. 3. A directory for public worship. 4. A Larger and a Shorter Catechism.

The system of church government the assembly framed was thoroughly Presbyterian. The order of worship it provided was that used in conservative, Presbyterian and Congregational churches.

The Westminster Confession and the Catechism are among the most noted expositions of Calvinism. They are infralapsarian as is our Confession. In addition to our Confession it emphasized a covenant of works and a covenant of grace.

The four documents were presented to Parliament. The directory for public worship was soon accepted. Parliament looked askance at the establishment of Presbyterianism as a state religion. Yet it finally ordered it in 1646. The same month that witnessed the abolition of the old prayer book saw the execution of Laud.