Cromwell allowed a large degree of toleration to all Protestants, viz., the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians and the Congregationalists. He left the great majority of clergymen undisturbed.
His rule, however, was disliked for its rigor on the one hand and for its broad tolerance on the other. As the result of his tolerance there was much controversy of rival religious bodies. For the great majority of the people of England this was greatly distasteful. This majority wanted peace and to get peace they would see one established form of the faith inculcated upon the nation, that all controversy might cease.
Oliver Cromwell died in 1568. He was succeeded by his son Richard, who found the burden which even his father had borne uneasily unsupportable to him and he resigned, and retired into private life.
Weary of the confusion and alarm that prevailed under the committee of safety, that was now formed to guide the destinies of the nation, the nation as one man turned their eyes to the son of the former sovereign, Charles II.
Charles II was a wicked man. At the time of his ascendency to the throne he was only 80 years old, but already a veteran in vice. He was a consummate hypocrite, e.g., he so regaled the English Presbyterians sent over to wait on him in Holland with pious discourse that they thought that they were getting as king an experienced Christian. He knew how to bewail the sins of his father and could talk of the power of godliness as fluently as if he had been pupil all his days to a Puritan. Yet there were two things he lacked: a conscience and a heart. He was a tyrant. He prized his throne because it enabled him to wallow in low, bestial pleasures. His first move was an attempted union between the Anglicans and Presbyterian parties. His object was to include both parties in the church. However, there was a rising tide of national reaction against Puritanism. It was too strict and too godly for the masses. This tide the king could not stem. The first Parliament chosen after his restoration was fiercely royalist and Anglican. The first Parliament made provisions to bar the Puritans from the church, so the convocations of Canterbury and York met and made some six hundred changes in the Prayerbook, all derogatory to Puritanism. This changed Prayerbook received the royal assent.
By the Act of Uniformity the use of any other service than that of the revised Prayerbook was forbidden under heavy penalties. Each clergyman was asked to take an oath of assent to all and to everything contained therein, and the clergy had to declare that it was unlawful to take up arms against the king. From 1500 to 2000 Presbyterian ministers gave up their places rather than take the oath. The result was that the Puritan party was banished from the Church of England. Several acts soon followed, induced in part by fear of conspiracy against the restored monarchy. A fine, imprisonment, and ultimate deportation were the penalties for the presence at a service not conducted according to the Prayerbook.
Notice the wickedness. The Anglicans by their measures forced the Puritans out of the church, yet would grant them no freedom of worship.
Yet despite this persecution, dissenting preaching and congregations continued.
This work of destruction was carried very far. No pains were spared to render the non-conformists or Puritans odious. They were branded with vile names and loaded with the guilt of murderous plots. According to one authority six hundred persons were hanged.
The ambition of the Anglican church was to maintain itself as a state church. This could be done by cleaving to the King, and by flattery convert him to the suppression of Puritanism. So the King was told that his throne was not secure, that there was ever danger of conspiracy against him by Puritanism. Hence Parliament, which was predominantly Anglican, by the so-called Five Mile Act bade every minister to take the oath condemning resistance to the King and pledging no attempt at any change of government either in the state or the church. The King, of course, was pleased by this support and loyalty of the Anglican Parliament and raised no objection therefore when Parliament by its acts forced the Puritans out of the church.
King Charles was a great spendthrift. He was constantly in need of money, much more than Parliament was willing to furnish him. Louis XIV of France gave Charles access to his inexhaustible purse with the purpose of attaching Charles to his person and using him as a tool for the execution of his designs. He aimed at nothing less than to bring all Europe under his sway and extirpate Protestantism. Charles secretly promised to co-operate with him, for in his heart he was Catholic, though openly repudiating Catholicism. So he joined the King of France in a war against Holland.
So with dragoons hewing down Protestants in Scotland, with arbitrary edicts wasting Protestantism in England, with Holland smitten down and Louis XIV standing over it with a great sword, it seemed as if the last hour of the Reformation had come and the triumph of the Jesuits assured.
Meanwhile King Charles was suddenly seized by a violent illness. Previously he had been in good health, so that men whispered that he had been poisoned to make room for his brother, the Duke of York, James II, because Charles did not give himself with heart and soul to the project of the Pope. He was too lazy for that. It soon was evident that the King was dying. His features were ghastly and his pains wracking as he complained of the fire that burned in him. His couriers looked on with perfect indifference as he died. Behind, him was a past of crime, around him two kingdoms groaning under his tyranny, before him the judgment throne; yet he neither felt the burden of his guilt nor seemed to dread the reckoning.
All the while he was professing to be of the Church of England, expressing both zeal and affection to it, he was secretly reconciled to the Church of Rome. He died in 1685, at the age of 54. His corpse was treated with great indifference, his burial mean, without pomp.
His brother, James II, reigned in his stead. A daughter of this monarch was married to William of Orange of the Netherlands. James II made it his ambition to put down Protestantism. His first move was his attack on constitutional government. He remodeled the bench of the judges. This remodeled bench was willing to fall in with the measures of the court. It decreed that monarchy and hereditary succession were by divine right, that the legislature was vested in the person of the prince, that the power of the King to dispense with law was law. The judgment of the bench was that the kings of England are sovereign princes; and that the laws of England are the king’s laws; and in the third place that it is an inseparable prerogative of the kings of England to dispense with all penal laws in particular cases and for particular, necessary reasons; fourthly, that of those reasons and necessities the king is the sole judge; fifthly, that this is not a trust invested in or granted to the king, but the ancient remains of the sovereign power of the kings of England which never yet were nor could be taken from them.
This sapped the liberties of England to their very root. It was an overthrow of the power of the constitution, as complete as it was sudden.
The king proceeded to exercise his usurped power without reserve. Promotions and favors were showered all around upon members of the Church of Rome. Popish seminaries and Jesuit schools were founded not only in London but in all the larger towns, and Romish ecclesiastics of every rank and name swarmed the land. The Romish Church was again regularly organized. Four bishops were publicly consecrated and under the title vicar apostoli sent down to the provinces to exercise their functions in the dioceses to which they were appointed. A mighty harvest of converts was looked for and that it might not be lost from want of laborers to reap it, regulars and seculars from beyond the sea flocked to England to aid in gathering it in.
The Protestant Anglican Church of England was rapidly losing its right to the name national. It was gradually disappearing from the land under the work of the king, by which her rights were being usurped by Popish candidates.
This so-called dispensing power of the King while daily enlarging the sphere of the Romish Church was daily contracting that of the Protestant one. The Protestants were forbidden to preach on controverted points, while the priests were urged to attack the Protestant faith. This the priests did with all their power. Their sermons were printed by secret authority and distributed throughout the land. Apparently the King was opposed to both Catholics and Protestants alike preaching on controverted points, for he issued an edict to that effect. The King’s order had just the opposite effect of that which he intended. It called forth in defense of Protestantism a host of mighty intellects and brilliant writers, who sifted the claims of Rome to chaff, and thus exposed the falsehood of her contentions, in such a way that popery was better understood by the people of England than ever before. Against these powerful writers was pitted perhaps the shallowest race of popish controversialists that ever attempted to defend their church. They did little besides translating a few French works into English. Hardly a week passed without a Protestant sermon or tract being issued from the press. They were written with a cutting logic, and destroyed the Romish defenses. The exposure was complete. The discomfited Romanists could only exclaim, that it was bad manners to treat the King’s religion with such contempt.
To silence these Protestant plans, a new court of inquisition was established. The members of the commission were empowered to exercise all manner of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, in other words, to put the Church of England in the grave. A beginning was made by attacking Dr. Sharp, a learned divine, an eloquent preacher. The King sent an order to the bishop of London to suspend Dr. Sharp. The bishop excused himself by stating that the order was contrary to law. Dr. Sharp was then suspended by the court of ecclesiastical commission.
The Jesuits said to the King that his prerogatives were being disputed by the Church of England (this was actually the case), that therefore the army alone was the safe basis for his power. Accordingly James assembled an army of 15,000. The nation now saw a cloud gathering over it, a cloud that was threatening to burst.
It was while the King was pursuing this course, that he published his gracious declaration for liberty of conscience. The real purpose of this indulgence was to set men free from the established Church of England.
The King -by this time had overtaxed the patience of the English people. He was overturning laws, filling the judicial bench with his own men, remodeling the Church and the universities, strengthening the popish element of the army by Catholic recruits from Ireland; Parliament he dissolved; in brief, he was destroying the privileges of the people of the Protestant religion of England. England was fast sinking into the abyss from which Wycliffe a spirit had rescued it.
The people of England turned their eyes in search of a deliverer from the continent, and they fixed their eyes on William 111 of the house of Orange. He proved to be the one man in Europe capable to sustain the burden of sinking Protestantism. Ranged against him were Austria, Spain, France and James II. These powerful kingdoms were all leagued together for a common faith and a common interest. On the other hand the prince gathered around him what allies he could from the Protestants of Europe. King James soon received from his envoy at the Hague the news of the prince’s design to descend on England. When he received this news, the King was speechless. The first thing he did was to try to fill the nation with fear of the deliverer. A proclamation was issued that a great and sudden invasion from Holland with an armed force of foreigners would speedily be made, and that, under the pretense of saving liberty and religion, proposed the utter subjugation of the people to the foreign power.
The King’s next move was to reverse his whole policy. However, the news of the Dutch fleet bearing William III, induced the King to immediately withdraw his concessions again. The King now sank lower than ever in the confidence of the nation. Soon the prince was in England. His journey was prosperous. The King’s fleet was at hand to drive him back. Due to a shifting of wind and a severe storm the King’s fleet was incapacitated for an entire year so that the prince could enter without opposition. The King fled. All deserted him, his fleet, his army, his friends, his flatterers, his children and even his wife. He was alone, and finally fled to Prance to his wife who had preceded him. King William ascended the vacated throne of England, as the representative of Protestants in Europe, February 13, 1689.
Seven bishops refused the allegiance to the new sovereign and with them about four hundred clergy. To them James II was still the Lord’s anointed. They were deprived of freedom of worship.
By the Toleration Act of May 4, 1689, all who swore allegiance to William and Mary, and rejected the jurisdiction of the Pope, with transubstantiation, the mass, the invocation of the virgin and the saints, and subscribed to the doctrinal portions of the 39 Articles were granted freedom of worship. Diverse forms of Protestant worship could now exist side by side. The Dissenters, those that broke away from the Anglican Church because its head was the King of England, amounted to a tenth of the population of England, and were divided into Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers. There was then religious freedom. However, no such privileges were granted to those denying the Trinity and the Catholics. The effective relief of the Catholics did not come till 1791 and was not complete till 1829.
Restoration of Scotland.
In Scotland Episcopacy (the Anglican State Church) was restored. All the acts that had raised Presbyterianism to the state religion of Scotland were aft- nulled. It will be recalled that in 1643 Episcopacy had been abolished by parliament and a thoroughly Presbyterian system of church government, a directory of worship, and a new Calvinistic confession known as the Westminster Confession had been prepared by an assembly known as the Westminster Assembly. These preparations had been adopted by Parliament in 1648. It meant the abolition of Episcopacy as the state religion. This had happened under the protectorate of Cromwell. However, Cromwell died in 1658.
The monarchy was restored with Charles II at the head in 1616. In 1661 he was able to persuade Parliament to abolish, Presbyterianism as the state religion in the three islands, England, Scotland and Ireland. In September of the same year four bishops were appointed in Scotland. Further, all officebearers, including the Presbyterian, were required by Parliament to disown the covenants of 1638 and 1643. A word about these covenants. The first of these, the Covenant of 1638, had been made because Charles I had ordered the imposition of a liturgy which was essentially that of the Church of England upon the church folk of his entire realm. Scotland, it will be recalled, had flared up in opposition, and in 1638 had signed a national covenant to defend the true religion, Presbyterian Calvinism. Five years later in 1643 Presbyterian England, Scotland and Ireland formed the Solemn League and Covenant for the preservation of the aforesaid religion. It was these covenants that Charles I in 1661 required all office-bearers in Scotland to disown. Besides, two years later Parliament imposed a heavy fine upon all church-goers of Scotland for absence from the new Episcopal governed churches. Further many Presbyterian ministers were removed from their office and from their flock by Parliament. The sheep, or parishioners, who clave to their pastors and who thus refused to place themselves under the administration of the bishops placed in the room of the deposed pastors, were heavily fined. If they refused to pay, soldiers were quartered with them, Many of these oppressed supporters of the Covenants, or Covenanters as they are known in history, engaged in an uprising known as the Pentland Revolt. Pentland was the leader. This uprising was ruthlessly crushed and the Presbyterians treated with great severity. In retaliation one of the King’s bishops, Sharp, was murdered. This crime was followed by another uprising. This revolt was also crushed, at Bothwell Bridge. The captured insurgents were treated with great severity.
Six months later, the King’s brother James, later James II of England, was put in charge of Scottish affairs. The uncompromising Presbyterians, now known as Cameronians, from one of their leaders, Richard Cameron, were now hunted-down folk. James II, or VII as he was numbered in Scotland, oppressed the Cameronians with such severity that the first year of his reign became known in history as the “killing time”. The government’s barbarity toward the Presbyterians is unbelievable. The twelve hundred who had surrendered themselves at Bothwell Bridge were stripped almost naked, tied two by two, and driven to Edinburgh. On the way they were treated with great inhumanity. Arriving at their destination, whereas the prison was full, they were penned like cattle in the Grey Friar’s Churchyard. Their misery was heart-rending. They were left without the slightest shelter. They were exposed to all kinds of weather and made too steep on the bare earth. They were treated cruelly by their guards, who robbed them of their little money and often drove away the citizens who sought to relieve their great sufferings by bringing food and clothing. This continued for five months. At the end of this time but two hundred of the twelve hundred remained! The others died of exposure, ill-treatment and hunger. These two hundred were embarked aboard a vessel and transported to Barbados. The heat and the thirst in the floating dungeon was unbearable. The ship was overtaken by a terrible tempest and thrown upon the rocks. Many of the prisoners died. Those that escaped were carried to Barbados and sold as slaves.