Benjamin B. (Benjamin Blydenburg) Wisner.

Influence of religion on liberty. : a discourse in commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims, delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1830. online

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Online LibraryBenjamin B. (Benjamin Blydenburg) WisnerInfluence of religion on liberty. : a discourse in commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims, delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1830. → online text (page 2 of 4)
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to raise up and cast down kings, men were naturally con-
ducted to the inquiry, by what authority kings exercised
their dominion. And the Catholic princes who attempted by

* " No bishop, no kins:," was a maxim of that determined enemy of popular rights,
James 1. of England. During the progress of the Reformation " it was formed into
an express and fundamental maxim of state, that Catholicism was the best support of
absolute power, while Protestantism was favorable to rebellion and the republican
spirit. It would not, even in our days, be possible to drive this maxim out of the
heads of man}' statesmen." Viilers, pp. 276, 277. " It soon became apparent [in the
reign of Elizabeth in England] that they [the Puritans] tended naturally towards
republicanism; for certain it is that monarchy and episcopacy, the throne and the
altar, are much more nearly connected, than writers of bad faith, or little reflection,
have sought to persuade mankind." "Besides this insensible but natural inclination
toioards democracy, vjliich arises from the principles of a popular church-governmeivt,
there was another cause why the current should set in that direction; it was only
under commonweallhs that the Puritans saw their beloved discipline flourish." Lon-
don Quarterly Review, xvi. 517, 518.


force of arms to put a stop to the Reformation, drove its
advocates to the discovery that sovereigns may be lawfully
resisted when they encroach upon the rights of their subjects.
" These novelties," said Francis I. of France, when con-
versing, one day, on the influence of the Reformation,
" These novelties tend to nothing less than the overthrow
of all monarchy, divine and human."'^ And the actual result
was that, in a great portion of Europe, the Papal tyranny
was overthrown ; and in all countries in which the Reforma-
tion prevailed, the prerogatives of monarchs were much
reduced, or new governments were instituted essentially

From this general survey permit me now to turn your
attention to a brief view of the progress of the Reformation
in England. In that nation it was begun and carried on by
the government, while in the other countries to which it
extended, the leaders in commencing and conducting it were
of the people. This peculiarity of the Reformation in
England was productive of many evils, from some of which
the people of that country are not wholly relieved to this
day 5 yet, in one respect it was overruled for a good which
far more than counterbalances those evils. In other countries
the work of reform was generally carried forward, almost at
once, to the extent of the views of the learned and pious
instruments employed by Providence in its promotion ; and
thus established, by universal consent, in a state of much
imperfection : and thus has it been continued in those
countries to the present time. But in England, the govern-
ment, in its capriciousness and tyranny, stopped in the work
of reform, far short of the other Protestant Churches, and of
the wishes of its own most able and devoted Reformers.
This produced collision ; led to rigid examination of the
rights and duties of kings and subjects, first in regard to
religion, and then in regard to government ; and ultimately
struck out that spirit of religious and civil freedom, which

* Villers, p. 189.


the Puritans preserved from extinction in the mother country,
and brought to maturity in this western world.

Henry VIII. began the Reformation in England, to gratify
his furious passions : and, as his passions dictated, he con-
ducted it, till his death ; none scarcely, daring to utter a
whisper of opposition to his capricious and tyrannical pro-
ceedings. One circumstance, however, occurred which, in
the present connection, is worthy of special notice. While
" a most obedient son of the Papacy," Henry pubhshed a
book " against Luther, in defence of the seven sacraments of
the Romish Church ;" which procured from the Pope, for
him and his successors, the title of " Defender of the
Faith."* This book Luther answered, with a boldness and
superiority of argument which greatly exasperated Henry.
These circumstances probably had an influence in producing
the unquestioned fact, that Luther and Lutheranism had com-
paratively little effect on the reformation in England, and
the principal direct influence from abroad in promoting it
was sought and emanated from the famous John Calvin, the
other great leader in the work of pulling down the Popish
hierarchy.f Many English students resorted to Geneva, to
receive the instructions of this distinguished theologian.
His writings, too, were extensively circulated, and studied,
and exerted a powerful influence in England. Two results
followed of great importance to the cause of civil and
religious liberty. The divines of England became familiarly
acquainted with, and many of them warmly attached to, the
form of church-government instituted by Calvin at Geneva,
which was far more democratical than the ecclesiastical
polity established in the countries reformed under the influ-
ence of Luther. And the peculiar form of religious doctrine
at first propagated, and for a long time universally adopted,

* Neal's History of the Puritans, American edition, i. 56.

t Another circumsfauce which subsequently had a still greater influence in produc-
ing this result was, the invitation to England, early in the reign of Edward VI. of
Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer, distinguished divines of the continent, who were of
the Reformed or Calvinistic class of Protestants, and who were made divinity pro-
fessors at Oxford and Cambridge. Neal i. 94.


in England, was that usually designated by the title Calvin-
istic* The influence which the former of these results
would exert on the cause of religious and civil liberty has
been already stated ; that of the latter shall be evinced by
the statements of another, who thought not, most probably,
what honorable testimony he was giving to this oft maligned
system of religious doctrine. A late writer of great force
and eloquence, f in delineating the character of the Puritans,
in which, he justly considers, is to be found the main spring
of their wonderful achievements, thus expresses himself.
" The Puritans were men whose minds had derived a
peculiar character from the daily contemplation of superior
beings and eternal interests. Not content with acknowledg-
ing, in general terms, an overruling Providence, they habitu-'
ally ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being, for
whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection
nothing was too minute. To know Him, to serve Him, to
enjoy Him, was with them the great end of existence.
They rejected with contempt the ceremonious homage which
other sects substituted for the pure worship of the soul.
Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through
an obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on the intolerable
brightness, and to commune with Him face to face. Hence
originated their contempt of earthly distinctions. The dif-
ference between the greatest and the meanest of mankind
seemed to vanish, when compared with the boundless interval
which separated the whole race from Him on whom their
own eyes were constantly fixed. They recognized no title to
superiority but His favor ; and, confident of that, they
despised all the accomplishments and all the dignities of the
world. If their names were not found in the registers of
heralds, they felt assured that they were recorded in the
Book of Life. If their steps were not accompanied by a
splendid train of menials, legions of ministering angels had

* Neal, i. 54i— 649.

t The writer of the review of Milton. Edinburgh Review, xlii. 339.


charge over them. Their palaces were houses not made
with hands ; their diadems, crowns of glory which should
never fade away. On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles
and priests, they looked down with contempt : For they
esteemed themselves rich in a more precious treasure, and
eloquent in a more sublime language ; nobles by the right of
an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a
mightier hand. The very meanest of them was a being to
whose fate a mysterious and terrible importance belonged —
on whose shghtest action the spirits of light and darkness
looked with anxious interest, who had been destined, before
the heaven and earth was created, to enjoy a felicity which
should continue when heaven and earth should have passed
away. Events which short-sighted politicians ascribed to
earthly causes, had been ordained on his account. For his
sake empires had risen, and flourished, and decayed. For
his sake the Almighty had proclaimed his will, by the pen of
the evangelist, and the harp of the prophet. He had been
rescued by no common Deliverer, from the grasp of no
common foe. He had been ransomed by the sweat of no
vulgar agony, by the blood of no earthly sacrifice. It was
for him that the sun had been darkened, that the rocks had
been rent, that the dead had arisen, that all nature had shud-
dered at the sufferings of her expiring God." How just, as
well as eloquent, this delineation ? And how pervading, in
this noble character, the doctrines of the evangelical system ?
How vital in its production, does the candid observer per-
ceive, the doctrines of divine decrees, of assurance, and of
the perseverance of the saints, those distinctive peculiarities
of the Calvinistic faith ?* Indeed, my hearers, much as the
name of Calvin has been scoffed at and loaded with reproach
by many sons of freedom, there is not a historical proposition
more susceptible of complete demonstration than this, that

* '' In tracing the coherence among the systems of modern theology, we may
observe, that the doctrine of absolute decrees has ever been intimately connected
with the enthusiastic spirit." " The spirit, too, of enthusiasm, bold, daring, and un-
controlled, strongly disposed their [the Puritans] minds to adopt republican tenets."'
Hume, Hist, of England, iii. 372, 690.



Calvin. That liberty has been derived, all of it, from the
Puritans ;* and no individual had so much influence in
forming the principles and character of the Puritans as

Henry VIII. was succeeded in the throne of England by
the amiable and pious Edward VI. ; during whose short reign
the Reformation was carried forward to the state in which it
is now by law estabHshed in that kingdom. All the English
Reformers were gratified with the ecclesiastical changes made
in this reign : most of them, however, hoping for further
modifications ; which would, no doubt, have been made, had
the life of Edward been prolonged. j-

His untimely death made way for the accession of " the
bloody Mary." Papacy was restored ; and a violent perse-
cution of the Protestants ensued. This was a most untoward
event. Yet it was a necessary part of that " severe disci-
pHne " by which Providence was preparing a portion of the
nation for the discovery and maintenance of the principles of
religious and civil freedom. The sincere Protestants, both
ministers and laymen, to save their lives, retired in great
numbers, to the continent, and, in various places, were kindly
received and entertained, especially at Frankfort, where they
were most numerous. Here, simply with a view to obtain
accommodation for public worship, and not give offence to
the French congregation whose church they were permitted
to use a portion of every Sabbath, they agreed to vary their
mode of conducting the public service from that which had
been enjoined by king Edward. This, after a time, pro-
duced among them an unhappy contention, which issued in
the division, ever since continued, into Conformists and
Puritans. The latter party were, at last, constrained to

* Principles and institutions in some degree popular had, indeed, existed in the
En^lisii government, derived from the Saxons ; but tliey iiad, when the Puritans
arose, been eitlier subverted, or their influence done away, by the encroachments of
the king's prerogative ; so that the first principles of hberty had to be struck out anew.

t Neai, i. 86—125.


leave Frankfort, and retired to Geneva, where they were
received with great kindness, and had a church assigned
them for their worship. Here, deeming themselves released
from obligation to use the service-book of king Edward, as
it was " now set aside by act of Parliament," and they were
" in a strange land," they adopted, and used for several years
while their exile continued, a form of worship and discipline
resembling that of the Genevan Church, and materially dif-
fering from that soon to be re-established in their own
country.* For this simpler liturgy and more democratic
church-government they formed a strong attachment, which
was to be productive of important effects upon their return
to England. While residing at Geneva they also prepared
and published a translation of the Bible, with notes, in which
they were led, by the persecution carrying on by the govern-
ment at home, to assert the lawfulness, in certain cases, of
resisting the authority of kings. This Bible was afterwards
generally circulated in England ; and the " traiterous con-
ceits," as king James styled them, in its notes,-}- no doubt had
an influence upon the political feeling of the nation.

Mary died in 1558, and was succeeded by Elizabeth,
who had been educated in the Protestant faith. Papacy
was again abohshed, and the Reformed religion restored, as
it had been established under Edward VI. : absolute au-
thority being given, by act of parliament, to the queen and
her successors in regard to religious doctrine, worship and
discipline ; " all persons in any public employs, whether
civil or ecclesiastical," being required to take " an oath in
recognition of the queen's supremacy in all causes ecclesias-
tical and civil, on penalty of forfeiting all their promotions in
the Church, and of being declared incapable of holding any
public office. "J The Puritans, who had returned home
upon Ehzabeth's accession, all took the oath ; hoping that,

* Neal, i. 148—153.

t See Neal ii. 41, and the account of the authorized English version of the Bible
prefixed to Dr. Adam Clarke's Commentary.
t Neal, i. 166.


in the exercise of her supremacy, the queen would effect
the further reformation they so ardently desired. Happy
would have been the consequences, in many respects, had
the hope been realized. But then, the Puritans would have
obtained from the government what they wished, and been
satisfied ; and the principles of religious and civil liberty
would not have been elicited. Providence, therefore, in
wisdom, permitted the queen to decide, that there should be
no more changes in religion, and that all must, under severe
penalties, conform, in every particular, to the established
worship.* And this determination she proceeded rigorously
to enforce, by deprivation, fines, imprisonment, banishment
and execution ; not permitting even the parliament to inter-
fere. The effect was, what the effect of persecution com-
monly is, to make the sufferers more devotedly attached to
their principles, and to drive them to new ajaplications of
them, and new methods of defending them. With these
views the Puritans, under the guidance of the fundamental
principle of the Reformation, were stimulated to a more
diligent and prayerful study of the Scriptures. And various
and most happy were the consequences.

They became convinced of the moral and perpetual obli-

* The controversy at first related chiefly to the habits of the clerg-y and the ceremo-
nies of worship. The Puritans have often been greatly blamed for their stiffness in re-
g^ard to these, in themselves, confessedly, indifferent things. Among their descendants,
for whom, at so great sacrifices, they obtained so rich an inheritance, are found those
who think they were highly censurable in this particular. But let their reasons be at-
tentively considered, and let candor decide. They alleged, 1. That the /zates were
the knnwn badges of popery, and regarded extensively by the people, who had been
brought up under the Romish superstition, as giving validity to the administrations
of the priests ; and the ceremowiV* were considered as having an inherent efficac}' : it
was therefore essential to a thorough reformation that both should be laid aside.
2. Those who enjoined them admitted that they were not required by scriptural
authority ; but the fundamental principle of the Reformation was, that the Scriptures
are the sufificieni and only rule of faith and practice. 3. Christ is the sole lawgiver of
his Church, and has directed all things necessary to be observed in it to the end of the
world ; therefore, when he has indulged a liberty to his followers, it is as much their
duty lo maintain it, as to observe any other of his precepts. If things acknowledged
to be indifferent may be imposed by the civil authority, then that authority maj' take
moay liberty of cov science where Christ has left \\ free. Such a ]>rinciple ought to be
resisted, at all times, and in its every application. Obsta principiis, was the grand
principle vviih the Puritans, in ref<M'ei)ce lo encroachments upon their religious rights,
as it was afterwards wilh their deseiidanls in the American colonies in reference to
the violation of their civil rights. " The wisdom of zeal for any object is not to be
irieasured by the particular nature of that object, but by the nature of the principle,
which the circumstances of the times, or of society, have identified wilh such object."
JVesideni Quinry's Centennial Address at Bosl<>j), in J830, p, 16.


gation of the fourth commandment ; and " were," conse-
quently, their historian attests, " strict observers of the
Christian Sabbath or Lord's day. It was," he says, " a
distinguishing mark of a Puritan in these times," i. e. in
Ehzabeth's reign, " to see him going to church twice a day,
with his Bible under his arm. And while others were at
plays and interludes, at revels, or walking in the fields, or
at the diversions of bowling, fencing, &ic. on the evening of
the Sabbath, these, with their families, were employed in
reading the Scriptures, singing psalms, catechising their
children, repeating sermons, and prayer. Nor was this only
the work of the Lord's day ; but they had their hours of
devotion on the week days, esteeming it their duty to take
care of the souls, as well as the bodies, of their servants.
They were circumspect as to all the excesses of eating,
drinking, apparel, and lawful diversions, being frugal in
housekeeping, industrious in their particular callings, honest
and exact in their dealings, and solicitous to give to every
one his own." They " were not," indeed, " without their
failings. Their notions of the civil and religious rights of
mankind were," as yet, " derived too much from the Theoc-
racy of the Jews, which was now at an end. Their be-
haviour was severe and rigid, far removed from the fash-
ionable freedoms and vices of the age ; and possibly they
might be too censorious, in not making those distinctions
between youth and age, grandeur and mere decency, as
the nature and circumstances of things would admit. But,
with all their faults, they were the most pious and devout
people in the land.^^* With this character, they were fitted
to govern themselves 5 they were now prepared to be free.
And speedily did a wise and gracious Providence lead them
to the discovery and successful maintenance of the princi-
ples of religious and civil freedom.

Hitherto Puritans and Conformists had agreed in the

* Neal, i. 560.


opinion that it belonged to the government alone to pre-
scribe forms of discipline and worship for the Church,
differing only in their views of the extent to which the gov-
ernment ought to proceed in laying aside the additions
which, all believed, had been made to the model left by
the Apostles.* But in the discussions produced by Eliza-
beth's perseverance in refusing to proceed further in the
work of reform, and by her severe measures for enforcing
uniformity, juster principles were evolved. Early in Eliza-
beth's reign, Mr. Cartwright, a leader of the Puritans,
published " An Admonition to the Parliament," in which he
maintained, that "the Christian sovereign ought not to be
called Head under Christ of the particular and visible
churches within his dominions," and that " the civil magis-
trate ought not to ordain ceremonies, or determine contro-
versies in the Church, as long as they do not intrench upon
his temporal authority. "f

Some years after the same Mr. Cartwright maintained
in his divinity lectures at Cambridge, and published, that
" The names and functions of archbishops and archdeacons
ought to be abolished, as having no foundation in Scripture.
The offices of the lawful ministers of the Church ought to
he reduced to the apostolical institution ; the bishop to
preach the word of God and pray, and deacons to take care
of the poor. The government of the Church ought not to
be intrusted with bishop's chancellors, or the officials of
archdeacons ; but every Church should be governed by its
own minister and presbyters. Bishops should not be created
by civil authority, but ought to be fairly chosen by the
Church. "J Hitherto both parties had allowed that the
ecclesiastical constitution might be very much regulated by
convenience and motives of state policy. Here was the
discovery and advancement of the principle that, in this
department as well as in that of doctrine, nothing should
be determined or sanctioned without the warrant of Scrip-

* Neal, ii. Author's Preface, ix. t Neal, i. 173. t Nea), i. 279.

ture. This, it will be at once apparent, was another very-
important step in the developement of the principles of
religious and civil liberty. Mr. Cartwright, for advancing
such " dangerous doctrines," was deprived of his professor-
ship and expelled the university, and constrained to go into
voluntary banishment. But his opinions were embraced by
the whole body of the Puritans.

In the mean time, "several of the deprived ministers"
residing in and about London, had, upon " solemn consulta-
tion with their friends " and earnest " prayer," come to an
" agreement, that it was their duty, in their present circum-
stances, to break off from the pubhc churches, and to assem-
ble, as they had opportunity, in private houses, or elsewhere,
to worship God in a manner that might not offend against
the light of their consciences."^ The assembhes instituted
in consequence of this determination were soon suppressed
by the government. But the conduct and motives of those
who had held them were, by their Puritan brethren, gen-
erally approved. And thus was developed the important
principle that it was lawful, for conscience sake, to resist
the civil and ecclesiastical authority in separating from the
Established Church.

While these discussions and developements were going
forward, the queen and the bishops had been constantly de-
vising new expedients, and increasing the severity of their
measures, for enforcing rigid uniformity. These violent pro-
ceedings at length drove " multitudes to a total separation,
and so far prejudiced" them " as not to allow the Church of
England to be a true Church, nor her ministers true minis-
ters ; they renounced all communion with her, not only in
the prayers and ceremonies, but in hearing the word and the
sacraments. These were the people called Brownists,
from one Robert Brown, a preacher in the diocese of Nor-
wich ;" who, besides the errors just mentioned and some
others, first among the Reformers in England maintained the

* Neal, i. 232.


following truths, so fundamental in their bearing upon re-
ligious and civil liberty, viz. " that, according to Scripture^
every Church ought to be confined within the limits of a
single congregation, and that the government should be
democratical ;" that churches should be constituted by
" such as desired to be members making a confession of
their faith in the presence of each other, and signing a
covenant ; that the whole power of admitting and excluding
members, with the deciding of all controversies, was in the
brotherhood ; that church officers, for preaching the word
and taking care of the poor, were to be chosen by the free
suffi-ages of the brethren ; and that in church censures, there
should be an entire separation of the ecclesiastical and civil

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Online LibraryBenjamin B. (Benjamin Blydenburg) WisnerInfluence of religion on liberty. : a discourse in commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims, delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1830. → online text (page 2 of 4)