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revising the Constitution, and it was inter-wrought with the question
of Cromwell's negatives. Article XXXVII. of the original Instrument
of the Protectorate had guaranteed liberty of worship and of
preaching outside the Established Church to "such as profess faith in
Jesus Christ," and Cromwell, in his last speech, had noted this as
one of the "fundamentals" he was bound to preserve. How did the
Parliament meet the difficulty? Very ingeniously. They said that the
phrase "such as profess faith in Jesus Christ" was a vague phrase,
requiring definition; and, the whole House having formed itself into
a Committee for Religion, and this Committee having appointed a
working sub-Committee of about fourteen, the sub-Committee was
empowered to take steps for coming to a definition. Naturally enough,
in such a matter, the sub-Committee wanted clerical advice; and, each
member of the sub-Committee having nominated one divine, there was a
small Westminster Assembly over again to illuminate Parliament on the
dark subject. Dr. Owen and Dr. Goodwin were there, with Nye, Sidrach
Simpson, Stephen Marshall, Mr. Vines, Mr. Manton, and others. Mr.
Richard Baxter had the honour of being one, having been asked to
undertake the duty by Lord Breghill, when the venerable ex-Primate
Usher had declined it; and it is from Baxter that we have the fullest
account of the proceedings. When he came to town from Kidderminster,
he found the rest of the divines already busy in drawing up a list of
"fundamentals of faith," the profession of which was to be the
necessary title to the toleration promised. Knowing "how ticklish a
business the enumeration of fundamentals was," Baxter tried, he says,
to stop that method, and suggested that acceptance of the Creed, the
Lord's P[r]ayer, and the Decalogue would be a sufficient test. This
did not please the others; Baxter almost lost his character for
orthodoxy by his proposal; Dr. Owen, in particular, forgetful of his
own past, was now bull-mad for the "fundamentals." They were drawn
out at last, either sixteen or twenty of them in all, and handed to
Parliament through the sub-Committee. Thus illuminated, Parliament,
after a debate extending over six days (Dec. 4-15, 1654), discharged
its mind fully on the Toleration Question. They resolved that there
should certainly be a toleration for tender consciences outside the
Established Church, but that it should not extend to "Atheism,
Blasphemy, damnable Heresies to be particularly enumerated by this
Parliament, Popery, Prelacy, Licentiousness or Profaneness," nor yet
to "such as shall preach, print, or avowedly maintain anything
contrary to the fundamental principles of Doctrine held forth in the
public profession," - said "fundamental principles" being the
"fundamentals" of Dr. Owen and his friends, so far as the House
should see fit to pass them. They were already in print, with the
Scriptural proofs, for the use of members, and the first of them
_was_ passed the same day. It was "That the Holy Scripture is
that rule of knowing God, and living unto Him, which whoso does not
believe cannot be saved." The others would come in time. Meanwhile it
was involved in the Resolution of the House that the Protector
himself should have no veto on any Bills for restraining or punishing
Atheists, Blasphemers, damnable Heretics, Papists, Prelatists, or
deniers of any of the forthcoming Christian fundamentals.[1]

[Footnote 1: Commons Journals of days given; Neal, IV. 97-100;
Baxter's Life, 197-205. On this visit to town, Baxter had the
honour to preach before Cromwell, having never done so till then,
"save once long before when Cromwell was an inferior man among
other auditors." He had also the honour of two long interviews with
Cromwell, the first with one or two others present, the second in
full Council. They seem to have been reciprocally disagreeable. On
both occasions, according to Baxter, Cromwell talked enormously
for the most part "slowly" and "tediously" to Baxter's taste, but
with passionate outbreaks against the Parliament. On the second
occasion the topic was Liberty of Conscience, and what was being
done in the Subcommittee and by the Divines on the subject. Baxter
ventured to hint that he had put his views on paper and that it
might save time if his Highness would read them. "He received the
paper after, but I scarce believe that he ever read it; for I saw
that what he learned must be from himself - being more disposed to
speak many hours than to hear one, and little heeding what another
said when he had spoken himself." Cromwell had made up his mind
about Baxter long ago (Vol. III. p. 386), but had apparently now
given him another trial, on the faith of his reputed liberality on
the Toleration question. But Baxter did not gain upon him.]

As if to show how much in earnest they were on this whole subject,
the House had at that moment the notorious Anti-Trinitarian John
Biddle in their custody. Since 1644, when he was a schoolmaster in
Gloucester, this mild man had been in prison again and again for his
opinions, and the wonder was that the Presbyterians had not succeeded
in bringing him to the scaffold in 1648 under their tremendous
Ordinance of that year. His Socinian books were then known over
England and even on the Continent, and he would certainly have been
the first capital victim under the Ordinance if the Presbyterians had
continued in power. At large since 1651, he had been living rather
quietly in London, earning his subsistence as a Greek reader for the
press, but also preaching regularly on Sundays to a small Socinian
congregation. In accordance with the general policy of the Government
since Cromwell had become master, he had been left unmolested. The
orthodox had been on the watch, however, and another Socinian book of
Biddle's, called _A Two-fold Catechism_, published in 1654, had
given them the opportunity they wanted. For this book Biddle had been
arrested on the 12th of December, and he had been brought before the
House on his knees and committed to prison on the 13th. The views
which the House were then formulating on the Limits of Toleration in
the abstract may be said therefore to have been illustrated over Mr.
Biddle's body in the concrete. His case came up again on the 15th of
January, when the House, after hearing with horror some extracts from
his books, ordered them to be burnt by the hangman, and at the same
time instructed a Committee to prepare a Bill for punishing him. The
punishment, if the Presbyterians could succeed in falling back on
their Parliamentary Ordinance of May 1648, was to be death.[1]

[Footnote 1: Wood's Ath. III. 593-598; Commons Journals of dates.]

It was really of very great consequence to the Commonwealth of the
Protectorate what theory of Toleration should be adopted into its
Constitution, whether the Parliament's or Cromwell's. For the ferment
of religious and irreligious speculation of all kinds in the three
nations was now something prodigious, and there were widely diffused
denominations of dissent and heresy that had not been in existence
ten years before, when the Long Parliament and the Westminster
Assembly first discussed the Toleration Question. Our synopsis of the
English sects and Heresies of 1644 (Vol. III. 143-159) is not,
indeed, wholly out of date for 1654, but it would require extensions
and modifications to adjust it accurately to the latter year. There
had been the natural flux and reflux of ideas during the intervening
decade, the waning of some sects and singularities that had no deep
root, the interblending of others, and new bursts in the teeming
chaos. _Atheists_, Sceptics_, _Mortalists_ or _Materialists_,
_Anti-Scripturists_, _Anti-Trinitarians_ or _Socinians_, _Arians_,
_Anti-Sabbatarians_, _Seekers_, and _Divorcers_ or _Miltonists_: all
these terms were still in the vocabulary of the orthodox, describing
persons or bodies of persons of whose opinions the Civil Magistrate
was bound to take account. Sects, on the other hand, that had been on
the black list ten years ago had now been admitted to respectability.
_Baptists_ or _Anabaptists_, _Antinomians, _Brownists_, nay even
INDEPENDENTS generally, had been regarded in 1644 as dark and
dangerous schismatics; but now, save in the private colloquies or
controversial tracts of Presbyterians, no feeling of horror attached
to those names. INDEPENDENTS, indeed, were now the Lords of the
Commonwealth, and _Anabaptists_ and _Antinomians_ were in high
places, so that the most orthodox Presbyterians found themselves side
by side with them in private gatherings and committees. In the
Established Church of the Protectorate there was to be a
comprehension of Presbyterians, Independents, and such Baptists and
other really Evangelical Sectaries as might be willing; and,
accordingly, the question of mere Toleration outside the Established
Church no longer concerned the Evangelical sects lying immediately
beyond ordinary Independency. If, from objection to the principle of
an Establishment, they chose to remain outside, they would have
toleration there as a matter of course. To make up, however, for this
removal of so many of the old Sectaries from all practical interest
in the question on their own account, there were new religious
denominations of such strange ways and tendencies, such unknown
relations to anything hitherto recognised as Orthodoxy or as Heresy,
that the poor Civil Magistrate, or even the coolest Abstract
Tolerationist, in contemplating them, might well be puzzled. The
following is a list of the chief of these new Sects that had sprung
up since 1644: -

FIFTH-MONARCHY MEN: - At first sight this does not appear a new sect,
but merely a continuation of the old MILLENARIES or CHILIASTS (Vol.
III, pp. 152-153), who believed that the Personal Reign of Christ on
Earth for a thousand years was approaching. The change of name,
however, indicates greater precision in the belief, and also greater
intensity. According to the wild system of Universal Chronology then
in vogue, the past History of the World, on this side of the Flood,
had consisted of four great successive Empires or Monarchies - the
Assyrian, which ended B.C. 531; the Persian, which ended B.C. 331;
the Macedonian, or Greek Empire of Alexander, which was made to
stretch to B.C. 44; and the Roman, which had begun B.C. 44, with the
Accession of Augustus Cæsar, and which had included, though people
might not see how, all that had happened on the Earth since then. But
this last Monarchy was tottering, and a Fifth Universal Monarchy was
at hand. It was that foreshadowed in Rev. xx.: "And I saw an Angel
come down from Heaven, having the key of the Bottomless Pit and a
great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the Dragon, that great
serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand
years, and cast him into the Bottomless Pit, and shut him up, and set
a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the
thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed
a little season. And I saw Thrones, and they sat upon them, and
judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were
beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the worship of God, and
which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had
received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they
lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the
dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." This
prophecy was the property of all Christians, and might receive
different interpretations. The literal interpretation, favoured by
some theologians, was that, at some date fast approaching, Christ
would reappear visibly on Earth, accompanied by the re-embodied souls
of dead saints and martyrs, while the rest of the dead slept on, and
that in the glorious reign of Righteousness and the subjugation of
all Evil thus begun for a thousand years men then living, or the true
saints among them, might partake. This interpretation, though scouted
by the more rational theologians, had seized on many of the more
fervid English Independents and Sectaries, so that they had begun to
see, in the great events of their own time and land, the dazzling
edge of the near Millennium. The doctrine had caught the souls of
Harrison and other men of action, hitherto classed as Anabaptists or
Seekers. Now, so far there was no harm in it, nor could any of the
orthodox who rejected it for themselves dare to treat it as one of
the heresies to be restrained by the Civil Magistrate. Evidently,
however, there was a root of danger. What if the Fifth-Monarchy men
should make it part of their faith that the saints could accelerate
the Fifth Monarchy, and that it was their duty to do so? Then their
tenet might have strange practical effects upon English politics.
Already, in the time of the Barebones Parliament, there had been
warnings of this, the Fifth-Monarchy men there, or outside the
Parliament, having distinguished themselves by an ultra-Republicanism
which verged on Communism, and also by their zeal for pure
Voluntaryism in Religion and the abolition of a paid Ministry and all
express Church machinery. The fact had not escaped Cromwell, and in
his speech at the opening of the present Parliament he had taken
notice of it. In that very speech he had singled out for remark "the
mistaken notion of the Fifth Monarchy." It was a notion, he admitted,
held by many good and sincere men; nay it was a notion he honoured
and could find a high meaning in. "But for men, on this principle, to
betitle themselves that they are the only men to rule kingdoms,
govern nations, and give laws to people, and determine of property
and liberty and everything else, - upon such a pretension as this:
truly they had need to give clear manifestations of God's presence
with them, before wise men will receive or submit to their
conclusions." If they were notions only, he added, they were best
left alone; for "notions will hurt none but those who have them."
But, when the notions were turned into practice, and proposals were
made for abrogation of Property and Magistracy to smooth the way for
the Fifth Monarchy, then one must remember Jude's precept as to the
mode of dealing with the errors of good men. "Of some have
compassion," Jude had said, "making a difference; others save with
fear, pulling them out of the fire."[1]

[Footnote 1: Hearne's _Ductor Historicus_, 1714 (for the old
doctrine of the Four Monarchies); Thomason Pamphlets; Carlyle's
Cromwell, III. 24-27. - The Fifth Monarchy notion was by no means an
upstart oddity of thought among the English Puritans of the
seventeenth century. It was a tradition of the most scholarly thought
of mediæval theologians as to the duration and final collapse of the
existing Cosmos; and it may be traced in the older imaginative
literature of various European nations. Thus the Scottish Sir David
Lindsay's long poem entitled _Monarchy, or Ane Dialogue betwix
Experience and one Courtier of the Miserable Estate of the World_,
the date of which is 1553, is a moralized sketch of the whole
previous history of the world, according to the then accepted
doctrine of the Four past Secular Monarchies, with a glance around at
the Europe of Lindsay's own time as already certainly in the dregs of
"The Latter Days," and an anticipation, as if with assured personal
belief, of a glorious Fifth Monarchy, or miraculous reconstitution of
the whole Universe into a new Heaven and Earth, to begin probably
about the year 2000.]

RANTERS: - "These made it their business," says Baxter, "to set up the
Light of Nature under the name of _Christ in Man_, and to
dishonour and cry down the Church, the Scripture, and the present
Ministry, and our worship and ordinances; and called men to hearken
to Christ within them. But withal they conjoined a cursed doctrine
of Libertinism, which brought them to all abominable filthiness of
life. They taught, as the FAMILISTS, (see Vol. III. p. 152), that God
regardeth not the actions of the outward man, but of the heart, and
that to the pure all things are pure ... I have seen myself letters
written from Abington, where among both soldiers and people this
contagion did then prevail, full of horrid oaths and curses and
blasphemy, not fit to be repeated by the tongue or pen of man; and
this all uttered as the effect of knowledge and a part of their
Religion, in a fanatic strain, and fathered on the Spirit of God."
The Ranters, in fact, seem to have been ANTINOMIANS (see Vol. III.
151-152) run mad, with touches from FAMILISM and SEEKERISM greatly
vulgarized. Of no sect do we hear more in the pamphlets and
newspapers between 1650 and 1655, though there are traces of them of
earlier date. The pamphlets about them generally take the form of
professed accounts of some of their meetings, with reports of their
profane discourses and the indecencies with which they were
accompanied. There are illustrative wood-cuts in some of the
pamphlets; and, on the whole, I fancy that some low printers and
booksellers made a trade on the public curiosity about the Ranters,
getting up pretended accounts of their meetings as a pretext for
prurient publications. There is plenty of testimony, however, besides
Baxter's word, that there was a real sect of the name pretty widely
spread in low neighbourhoods in towns, and holding meetings. Among
Ranters named in the pamphlets I have noticed a T. Shakespeare. "The
horrid villainies of the sect," says Baxter, "did not only speedily
extinguish it, but also did as much as ever anything did to disgrace
all sectaries, and to restore the credit of the ministry and the
sober unanimous Christians;" and this, or the transfusion of
Ranterism into equivalent phrenzies with other names, may account
for the fact that after a while the pamphlets about the Ranters cease
or become rare. Clearly, in the main, the regulation of such a sect,
so long as it did last, was a matter of police; and the only question
is whether there were any tenets mixed up with Ranterism, or held by
some roughly called Ranters, that were capable of being dissociated,
and that were in fact in some cases dissociated, from offences
against public decency. Exact data are deficient, and there were
probably varieties of Ranters theologically. Pantheism, or the
essential identity of God with the universe, and his indwelling in
every creature, angelic, human, brute, or inorganic, seems to have
been the belief of most Ranters that could manage to rise to a
metaphysics - with which belief was conjoined also a rejection of all
essential distinction between good and evil, and a rejection of all
Scripture as mere dead letter; but from a so-called "Carol of the
Ranters" I infer that Atheism, or at least Mortalism or Materialism
(see Vol. III. p. 156-157), had found refuge among some of the
varieties. Thus: -

"They prate of God! Believe it, fellow-creature,
There's no such bugbear: all was made by Nature.
We know all came of nothing, and shall pass
Into the same condition once it was
By Nature's power, and that they grossly lie
That say there's hope of immortality.
Let them but tell us what a soul is: then
We shall adhere to these mad brainsick men."[1]

[Footnote 1: Baxter's Life, 76-77; and Thomason Pamphlets
_passim_. The pamphlet last quoted is in Vol. 485 (old
numbering). I have also used a quotation from another pamphlet in
Barclay's _Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the
Commonwealth_ (1876), pp. 417-418.]

STRAY FANATICS: THE MUGGLETONIANS: - Sometimes confounded with the
Ranters, but really distinguishable, were some crazed men, whose
crazes had taken a religious turn, and whose extravagances became
contagious. - Such was a John Robins, first heard of about 1650, when
he went about, sometimes as God Almighty, sometimes as Adam raised
from the dead, with the power of raising others from the dead. He had
raised Cain and Judas, and other personages of Scripture, forgiving
their sins and blessing them; which personages, changed in character,
but remembering their former selves quite well, went about in
Robins's company and were seen and talked with by various people. He
could work miracles, and in dark rooms would exhibit himself
surrounded with angels, and fiery serpents, and shining lights, or
riding in the air. He had been sent to Bridewell, and his
supernatural powers had left him. - One heard next, in 1652, of two
associates, called John Reeve and Ludovick Muggleton, who professed
to be "the two last Spiritual Witnesses (Rev. xi.) and alone true
Prophets of the Lord Jesus Christ, God alone blessed to all
eternity." They believed in a real man-shaped God, existing from all
eternity, who had come upon earth as Jesus Christ, leaving Moses and
Elijah to represent him in Heaven - also in the mortality of the soul
till the resurrection of the body; and their chief commission was to
denounce and curse all false prophets, and all who did not believe in
Reeves and Muggleton. They visited Robins in Bridewell and told
_him_ to stop his preaching under pain of eternal damnation; but
they favoured some eminent Presbyterian and Independent ministers of
London with letters to the same effect. They dated their letters
"from Great Trinity Lane, at a Chandler's shop, against one Mr.
Millis, a brown baker, near Bow Lane End;" and the editor of
_Mercurius Politicus_, who had received one of their letters so
dated, had the curiosity to go to see them, with some friends of his,
in the end of August 1653. He found them "at the top of an old house
in a cockloft," and made a paragraph of them thus: - "They are said to
be a couple of tailors: but only one of them works, and that is
Muggleton; the other, they say, writes prophecies. We found two women
there whom they had convinced; whom we questioning, they said they
believed all. Besides there was an old country plain man of Essex,
who said he had been with them twice before; and, being asked whether
he were of the same opinion and did believe them, he answered, Truly
he could not tell what to say, but he was come to have some discourse
with them in private." Two mouths after this interview (Oct. 1653),
they were brought before the Lord Mayor and Recorder for their
letters to ministers, and sentenced to six months of imprisonment
each. But they were to be farther heard of in the world. Muggleton
indeed to as late as 1698, when he died at the age of ninety, leaving
a sect called THE MUGGLETONIANS, who are perhaps not extinct
yet. - Among those who attached themselves to Reeves and Muggleton was
a Thomas Tany, who called himself also "Theauro John," and professed
to be the Lord's High Priest. They would have nothing to do with him,
and put him on their excommunicated list. Whether because this preyed
on the poor man's mind or not, he was found in the lobby of the
Parliament House on Saturday, Dec. 30. 1654, with a drawn sword,
slashing at members, and knocking for admittance. The House, who were
then in the midst of their debate on the proper Limits of Toleration,
ordered him to be brought to the bar: - "Where," say the journals,
"being demanded by Mr. Speaker what his name was, answered'
_Theeror John_'; being asked why he came hither, saith, He fired
his tent, and the people were ready to stone him because he burnt the
Bible - which he acknowledgeth he did. Saith it is letters, not life.
And he drew his sword because the man jostled him at the door. Saith
he burnt the Bible because the people say it is the Word of God, and
it is not; it deceived _him_. And saith he burnt the sword and
pistols and Bibles because they are the Gods of England. He did it
not of himself; and, being asked who bid him do it, saith God.' And
thereupon was commanded to withdraw." He was sent into custody
immediately. - Stray fanatics like Robins, Reeves, Muggleton, and
Theauro John, seem to have been not uncommon through England.[1]

[Footnote 1: Godwin, IV. 313-317; Mercurius Politicus, No. 167 (Aug.
18-25, 1653); Commons Journals, Dec. 30, 1654; Barclay's _Religious
Societies_, pp. 421-422.]

BOEHMENISTS AND OTHER MYSTICS: - Of the German Mystic Jacob Boehme
(1575-1624) there had been a _Life_ in English since 1644, with
a catalogue of his writings, and since then translations of some of
the writings themselves had appeared at intervals, mostly from the
shop of one publisher, Humphrey Blunden. The interest in "the
Teutonical Philosopher" thus excited had at length taken form in a
small sect of professed BOEHMENISTS, propounding the doctrine of the
Light of Nature, i.e. of a mystic intuitional revelation in the soul



Online LibraryDavid MassonThe Life of John Milton, Volume 5 (of 7), 1654-1660 → online text (page 3 of 69)