Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

were, the voluntary support of the ministry, (Gal. vi. 16 ;) the cultivation of sympathy, which supposes some common principles between the members which can never exist in a promiscuous assembly gathered by external force ; and the exercise of discipline by expelling the offender from their communion ; and, upon his penitence, by cordially receiving him again to their fellowship. As every church was complete in itself, they appealed to no other tribunal, and the administration of discipline was easy, expeditious, and effectual.* This primitive system exercised the whole of the new nature ; was adapted to secure eminence of spiritual character ; and afforded unexampled facilities for the propagation of the Gospel.

Such is a brief outline of the system which the Scriptures favour ; but every attentive reader of the New Testament, who was unacquainted with the facts of history, would be led to believe, from several intimationst and predictions, that the simplicity and purity of the early church would hereafter be assailed by the corruptions of ungodly men. He would have decisive, though painful evidence, of the inspiration of the Scriptures, in the shape of fulfilled prophecy—if he placed the simple narrative of the Acts of the Apostles beside those pages which describe the universal ignorance, impiety, and delusion which extended from the pope, who boasted of Divine authority, to the peasant, who paid his mite for an

* Bishop Burnet, in his History of the Reformation, gives a striking instance of the difficulty which the pious bishops of a former period felt in the administration of discipline. The confession presents a painful contrast to the facility with which offenders were formerly excluded from the church.-See 1 Cor. V., 2 Cor. ii. The following is an extract of a letter written (Anno 1567) by Cox, Bishop of Ely, to Gualter of Zurich :-“We have some discipline,” he says, “among us, with relation to men's lives, such as it is; but if any man would go about to persuade our nobility to submit their necks to that yoke, he may as well venture to pull the hair out of a lion's beard."

+ 1 Tim. iv. 1-3.

indulgence to sin. He would observe the exact correspondence of the Bishop of Rome to that description given by Paul (2 Thess. ii. 9) of him “ Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped ; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God :” and he would equally perceive that prophecy had faithfully described the means by which his ascendancy has been attained and upheld : “Whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.”-v. 9, 10. The mystery of iniquity which had been secretly operating, was now fully revealed ; and the claims of Rome were as impious as they were extensive. These claims were at length successfully resisted in Germany and Switzerland (A. D. 1521) by Luther, Zuinglius, and their sainted fellow-labourers. By their successful exertions, the long-lost Bible was restored to the people ; the circulation of indulgences was stopped, and Divine worship was rendered spiritual and refreshing.

It is probable that the writings and labours of Wycliffe (A. D. 1356–1384) were as “bread cast upon the waters ;" and although the direct efforts of his holy life cannot now be traced, it may be presumed that the precious truths which he circulated with such noble contempt of danger, have not been allowed to fall to the ground. They may have silently prepared some for resisting the papal authority ; and the narratives of his fortitude may have inspired others to endure the persecutions to which their religion exposed them.

Although the English Reformation, (A. D. 1533,) which was accomplished by Henry VIII., is sullied by its immediate origin and the temper with which it was effected, yet there were undoubtedly many who sighed for deliverance from papal bondage, and would have greatly rejoiced had it

arisen from conviction rather than convenience.* But, how. ever great may be the faults which disfigure the act by which the chain was broken, they were unspeakably less than the wickedness which originally drew it around the neck of the nation. The Protestant establishment of this country, which acknowledges the reigning monarch as its head, thus commenced its existence. In this form it was continued during the short reign of Edward VI., (A. D. 1547,) whose lamented decease made way for the accession of Mary, (A. D. 1553.) This unhappy princess was intensely devoted to the Romish see, and the restoration of its ascendancy was the object of all her measures. She had adhered to Popery during her late brother's reign, and, when urged to conform to Protestantism, had refused, and pleaded for liberty of conscience. But the liberty she claimed for herself was now universally denied to those who refused to embrace Popery. The forms of Protestant worship were abolished, and a reconciliation effected with the papal court. The unrelenting bigotry of the queen consigned numbers to the flames; but as these executions taught men to read, in fiery characters, the real spirit of Popery, it may be safely affirmed, that the interests of Protestantism, under Providence, were more advanced by the persecutions of Mary, than by the policy of Elizabeth.

Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee : the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain."-(Psalm lxxvi. 10.) Upon the decease of Mary, her sister Elizabeth ascended the throne, (A. D. 1558,) who cautiously, but successfully, restored the abolished forms of Protestant worship.

During the reign of Elizabeth, and, indeed, during that of Mary, many estimable men, generally known by the name of Puritans, t were anxious to secure greater purity of wor

* Note (B).

† Neale, in his History of Puritans, thus speaks of them :-“If a man maintained his steady adherence to the doctrines of Calvin and the Synod

ship. They were originally favourable to the principle of an establishment. Their efforts were, as might be expected, unavailing ; and since they could not gain the object of their desire within the pale of the church, they resolved peaceably to withdraw. They perceived that the only remedy consisted in the formation of Christian societies, whose members should be qualified, from their spiritual character, to manage their own affairs, and which should be free from external control. They were probably stimulated in their inquiries by the arrival of many refugees from the United Provinces, (A. D. 1568,) who fled to England to escape from the cruelty of the Duke of Alva.

Their views on the subject of church government were drawn from the New Testament, both as it regards the completeness of every Christian church in itself, and the mode of ministerial support. These were brought into more public notice by the efforts of Robert Browne, of Corpus Christi, or Bene't College, Cambridge, Master of the Free School, St. Olave's, Southwark, and Chaplain to the Duke of Norfolk. He was cited to appear before Archbishop Whitgift for the opinions he had circulated ; but his high connexions procured his release. After having resided a short time with some Dutch emigrants in the diocese of Norfolk, where the prelates denied them the free exercise of worship, he retired with a few friends to Zealand, where he originated an Independent church. It is now impossible to ascertain the motives which led Browne to adopt this course ; but he afterwards renounced these views, was appointed to the rectory of Achurch, Northamptonshire, and died as a Con

of Dort; he kept the Sabbath, and frequented sermons; if he maintained family religion, and

her swear, nor be drunk, nor comply with the fashionable vices of the times, he was called a Puritan.”

"*

formist. The apostacy of a single individual, how much soever to be deplored, can never weaken the real claims of any cause.

Christianity flourishes, although Judas betrayed his master, and Protestantism is not to be condemned because Bishop Jewel temporized, and the excellent Archbishop Cranmer once recanted. The early Independents were invidiously called Brownists ; and, " in 1593, an act was passed in which they were required to abjure the realm, and which further declared, that such as should remain beyond a specified time, or return without license from the queen, should suffer death as felons.' Many secretly perished in prison ; others died under the hands of the executioner ; Elias Thacker and John Copping suffered at Bury St. Edmunds ; Greenwood, a divine, and Barrow, a lawyer, were executed at Tyburn. Penry, a young man of ardent piety and intelligent zeal, was imprisoned for his adherence to the same views. He thus addressed Judge Popham from his prison : “ I am bound to seek the comfort of the word and sacraments, where I may have them without submitting to any other ecclesiastical government than that which is derived from Jesus Christ.” He was condemned, and suffered martyrdom, by hanging at St. Thomas, Waterings. f This eminent man was connected with a small society of Independents, who, after having changed their place of meeting to avoid discovery, were at last detected assembling in the village of Islington. This society was consequently broken up. Johnson, Smith, Ainsworth, Canne, Robinson, who were ministers in different parts of England, with many others, escaped to Holland. Henry Ainsworth, the eminent Hebraist, laid the foundation of an Independent church at Amsterdam.

* Vide Chap. II. of Dr. Vaughan's Religious Parties.
+ Note (c).

I Note (D).

« AnteriorContinuar »