William Evans.

The Friends' library : comprising journals, doctrinal treatises, and other writings of members of the religious Society of Friends (Volume 1) online

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power, and a decent compliance with the ex-
ternals of religion, for its heart-changing work,
seems to have given rise to them all. Each suc-
cessive advance lopped off" some of the cere-
monial excrescences, with a view of making
the system more conformable to the Apostolic
pattern. In the early part of the seventeenth
century, considerable progress was made in
this vv^ork, tending to prepare the way for
that more full and complete exemplification of
the original simplicity of the Gospel, which
was exhibited to the world by George Fox and
his coadjutors. It is no arrogant assumption
to assert, that to whatever point in the refor-
mation we turn our attention, we find the germ
of those principles, which were subsequently


developed and carried out by the founders of
our Society, actuating the Reformers and lead-
ing them to results, approaching nearer to
those attained by Friends, in proportion to
the faithfulness and measure of light bestowed
on the individual.

Opinions very similar to those held by our
Society, on the subjects of the indwelling and
guidance of the Holy Spirit, baptism and
other ceremonies, superstitious rites, war,
oaths, and a ministry of human appointment
and education, were promulgated by individu-
als at different periods, antecedent to the rise
of Friends, though not advanced as distin-
guishing tenets by any considerable body of

The reformation from Popery under Ed-
ward VI. was but partial. Many of the errors
and superstitions of that pompous and cere-
monial religion were retained ; partly because
the dawning light was not sufficient to reveal
their true character, and partly in compliance
with the popular prejudice in favour of ancient
institutions, and of a showy and imposing
form of worship. There were, however, men
of eminent piety and religious discernment,
who perceived the degeneracy from primitive
Christianity, which gave birth to those cor-
ruptions, and had since fostei-ed their growth
and promoted their increase, until they threat-
ened to supplant vital religion.

On the death of Edward, the hopes which
these had cherished, of further advances to-
ward the original simpUcity and purity of
Christianity, were extinguished by the acces-
sion of Mary, and the barbarous persecution
which followed. Many sealed with their
blood the testimony of a good conscience, and
by faithfulness unto death, not only proved
the sincerity of their profession, but prepared
the way for those neai'er approaches to Divine
Truth, which have since been made. If the
clearer spiritual light of the present day, un-
folds to us some points in which the belief of
those holy men was defective, it also places in
stronger relief, as a noble example worthy of all
imitation, the undaunted firmness and integrity
of their characters, their love of Christ, and
their devotion to his cause. It cannot be
viewed in any other light, than as a Divine
interposition in behalf of his suffering people,
that this bigoted and relentless queen so soon
closed her career, after a brief and inglorious

When Elizabeth came to the throne, she
found herself surrounded by Papists strong-
ly attached to their religion, and zealous for
its support. Her prudence dictated a cau-
tious course in changing the existing order
of things. Too great or sudden alterations,
might have hazarded the peace of the realm.

and even brought her crown into jeopardy.
Elizabeth, moreover, was fond of magnifi-
cence in her devotions ; and in this respect,
the pomp of popery suited well with her in-
clinations. It is questionable, indeed, whetlier
her preference for the Protestant religion was
not as much owing to her affection for her
brother, King Edward, and respect for the
memory of her father, as to any decided con-
viction of its nearer approximation to the
standard of Scripture Truth.

She restored the liturgy and order of wor-
ship as established by her brother, and strictly
enjoined its observance, though many of her
Protestant subjects conscientiously objected to
some parts of it. The idol of uniformity, and
the long-cherished idea of a catholic Church,
to which the Papists had made such lavish
sacrifices of human life, had strong attractions
even for Protestants ; and Elizabeth, as well
as her successors, persecuted even to death,
not a few of her pious subjects, in the vain
attempt to coerce the consciences of men, and
reduce them to one common standard.

The doctrines and form of worship revived
by Elizabeth after the death of Mary, left the
minds of many much dissatisfied. They de-
sired a more thorough separation from the
errors of Popery ; a simpler method of church
government, and a purer and more spiritual
religion and worship. These were called Pu-
ritans ; a name which, though bestowed on
them with no good design, yet agreed well
with those things for which they contended.

The Protestants who fled to Frankfort, dur-
ing the persecution under Queen Mary, unani-
mously concluded to dispense with the litany,
surplice and responses of the Church of
England : that public service should begin with
a general confession of sins, tlien the people
to sing a psalm in metre in a plain tune, after
which the minister should pray for the assist-
ance of the Holy Spirit, and proceed to ser-
mon. These innovations on the established
order of the service-book, led to warm dis-
putes, which soon spread into England ; and
though at times the breach would seem nearly
closed, yet the controversy was again and
again renewed, and eflx)rts made to procure
further reformations from the errors of tho
Romish Church.

Soon after Elizabeth came to the throne, she
appointed a commission to review the liturgy
as established by Edward. The alterations
made in it, were rather in favour of the Papists
than the Puritans, by many of whom it was
viewed as more objectionable than the old Ser-
vice Book. It was, however, presented to par-
liament, and adopted as the national form of
religion, by " The Act for the Uniformity of
Common Prayer and Service in the Church,


&;c." The same parliament passed an act
vesting the entire ecclesiastical jurisdiction in
the crown, and empowering the queen " with
the advice of her commissioners or metropo-
litan, to ordain and publish such further cere-
monies and rites as may be for the advance-
ment of God's glory and edifying his Church,
and the reverence of Christ's holy mysteries
and sacraments."

The act of uniformity was the source of
great mischief to the Church. Many conscien-
tious ministers and others could not conform
to its requirements, believing them to be
opposed to the doctrines and precepts of the
Bible. The rigorous cnfoi-cement of the act,
while it punished the bodies of men, and
wasted their estates, did not convince their
minds ; but rather strengthened their opposi-
tion, and alienated their affections from the

In the doctrinal views of the two parties,
the Conformists and the Puritans, there was
little avowed difference. The uneasiness arose
chiefly from a conscientious objection to the
assumptions of the bishops, the introduction
of numerous unscriptural offices and titles in
the church — the laxity of her discipline — the
prohibition of extemporaneous prayer — the
numerous festivals — the use of organs and
other instruments of music in time of worship
— of the sign of the cross in the ceremony of
baptism — kneeling at the ceremony of the
supper — bowing at the name of Jesus and on
entering or leaving their places of worship —
to the ring in marriage, as well as parts of the
words spoken during the rite ; and to the use
of the surplice and other vestments by the
priests during Divine service. Such were the
principal grounds of difference in the com-
mencement of the dispute ; and though the
Conformists affected to consider them non-es-
sential, yet they insisted on them with a per-
tinacity, which increased the opposition and
widened the breach, until at length it produced
an entire separation, from which have sprung
the various classes of dissenters.

That the Puritans were conscientious in
their objections to the established religion, will
not be questioned by such as are acquainted
with the piety of their lives, and the patience
and fortitude with which they endured perse-
cution for their religious opinions. Connect-
ed with these, was a steadfast resistance to
the assumed power of the crown, as visible
head of the Church, to prescribe to, and con-
trol, the conscience of the subject, in things
not essential. Against this they manfully con-
tended, while the reins of government were in
the hands of their opponents. But when the
revolution of civil affairs placed them in pos-
session of the power, they too soon forgot the

principles of rational and Christian liberty, for
which they had formerly struggled, and ex-
ercised on others, the oppi'ession and cruelty,
which they had so much condemned in their
own case.

Contending for their religious liberty, natu-
rally had the effect to make them more jealous
of their civil rights ; and hence, during the
subsequent reign, we find them standing forth,
as staunch opposers of the encroachments of
the crown.

That they were instruments in the hand of
Providence, for carrying forward the reforma-
tion from the errors and superstitions by which
Christianity had been overlaid, cannot be
doubted ; yet as this was a gradual work, ac-
complished by slow degrees, the corruptions
not being all discovered at once, but progres-
sively, according to the faithfulness of those
engaged in the work ; so others rose up and
separated from them, who carried the reform-
ation still further.

The first of these was the society of Brown-
ists, who contended that the Church of Eng-
land was not a true chui'ch, because of the
Popish corruptions which she retained and en-
forced, and her persecution for the sake of
religion — that the power of church govern-
ment was in the members — that the ministry
was not subject to human selection and ordina-
tion, but that any brother who felt engaged,
might preach or exhort, and that prayer was
not to be limited to prescribed forms. Their
mode of discipline was congregational, every
society being distinct and independent of the
others ; holding intercourse and communion,
however, as brethren and professors of a com-
mon faith. The severe persecutions which
they experienced from the government, in-
duced many of this persuasion to fly to the
continent, where they met with little better
treatment. They appear to have been a
zealous and sincere people, living with strict-
ness and regularity, and preaching with much
fervour and energy.

The spirit of inquiry was now abroad, and
increasing in vigour and activity. Instead of
receiving opinions on the authority of church
canons or dignitaries, there was a growing
disposition to bring them to the test of re-
vealed truth. Many which had long been im-
plicitly adopted, and transmitted from one
generation to another, were now called in
question and warmly debated. As eax'ly as
1617, John Selden published his History of
Tithes, in which he contends that they ai'e of
human, not Divine appointment. It was not to
be supposed that those whose worldly interests
were aflected by such an opinion, would suffer
his book to pass without severe animadver-
sion ; and as a readier mode of counteracting



its effects than the resort to argument, the au-
thor was summoned before the High Court of
Commissions ; and, after various threats, com-
pelled to recant his sentiments.

Another class of dissenters, which took its
rise about this time, was the society of Inde-
pendents, which grew out of the IBrownists.
Its name is derived from the system of church
government, in which each congregation form-
ed a distinct body, regulating its own affairs,
judging of the fitness of persons applying for
membership, and of the propriety of expelling
such as walked disorderly, independent of all
others. Their doctrines agreed in the main
with those of the other dissenters. During
the times of the Commonwealth and Protect-
orate, they were distinguished by their attach-
ment to toleration, which the Presbyterians
denounced as "an hideous monster, the great
Diana of the Independents." They were not,
however, constant to their own principles ;
for, when they subsequently acquired the
power, they exercised considerable severity
toward both Friends and Baptists. They re-
ceived the patronage and support of Oliver
Cromwell, and are often mentioned in connex-
ion with the histor}?- of Friends.

At a very early period of the Reformation,
the subject of water baptism appears to have
attracted the serious attention of pious men,
and their researches into it, led some of them
to differ from the generally received opinions
respecting it.

From Fuller's Church History it appears
Wickliffe held " that wise men leave that as
impertinent, which is not plainly expressed in
Scripture — that those are foolish and presump-
tuous, who affirm that infants are not saved if
they die without baptism ; and that baptism
doth not confer [grace], but only signify grace
which was given before. He also denied that
all sins are abolished in baptism ; asserted,
that children may be saved without baptism,
and that the baptism of water profiteth not,
without the baptism of the Spirit."

During the fifteenth centuxy, there were
a number of persons in England who de-
nied the necessity of water baptism, and
held " that Christian people were sufficient-
ly baptized in the blood of Christ, and
needed no water ; and that the sacrament of
baptism with water, used in the church, is but
a light matter, and of small effect." Some of
these suffered death by fire, for adherence to
their principles ; and for a long period after-
wards, those who entertained similar views,
were the objects of severe persecution. In the
sixteenth century, the Society of Baptists or
Anabaptists took its rise. They objected to
infant baptism as unauthorized by Scripture,
and rebaptized those adults whom they con-

sidered as believers and admitted to the privi-
leges of their communion. Besides their pe-
culiar views on this subject, some of them
held war to be inconsistent with Christianity,
and doubted the lawfulness of oaths under the
gospel dispensation. They also insisted that
the gospel ought to be free, and denied the
right of tythes or other compulsory main-
tenance for its ministers. They were gene-
rally persons of great seriousness of mind
and strictness of deportment, searching the
Scriptures diligently ; and being wearied with
the ceremonies and impositions of men, were
desirous to practice that form of religion only,
which they believed to be sanctioned by our
Lord and his apostles.

Their views of the Christian ministry did
not make it essential, that those who took part
therein, should prepare for it by the acquisition
of learning ; but gave liberty for any to speak
a word, either in doctrine or exhortation, who
believed themselves called thereto and quali-
fied by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some
were zealously opposed to a hireling ministry,
declaiming against it in their preaching, by
which they subjected themselves to severe
sufferings. Many of this persuasion were
imprisoned during the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, and patiently endured their con-
finement, showing by their steadfastness un-
der suffering, that they were actuated by
motives sincerely conscientious. Of this class
was the pious John Bunyan, whose imprison-
ment lasted nearly twelve years.

The first Presbyterian church established in
England, was in 1572. It consisted of Puri-
tans, (then so called) who, among other things,
dissented from the government of the church
by bishops, &c., conceiving that by pastors
and presbyters or elders, to be more consistent
with Holy Scripture. They agreed with the
Independents, in denying the divine right of
the bishops to order and direct the congrega-
tion ; but instead of leaving each distinct, with
absolute control over its own members and
officers, they associated several churches in
one synod, and a number of these again united
in forming a general assembly, which is the
supreme ecclesiastical body.

This society comprised a much larger num-
ber of inembers than either of the others we
have mentioned ; and the part they acted in
the revolution which drove Chai'les I. from the
throne, and finally brought him to the scaf-
fold, as well as in the affairs of government
during the interregnum, rendered them suffi-
ciently conspicuous.

The persecutions they endured, while the
reins of government were in the hands of the
Church party, we should suppose would have
taught them moderation and charity towards


the conscientious dissent of others ," but no
sooner were they placed in the seat of power,
than they began to contend for uniformity in
faith and practice ; the moloch of Christen-
dom, to which many of her choicest sons
have been wantonly sacrificed.

So fierce was their opposition to toleration,
that after a long conference of a Committee
of Parliament, for the purpose of making some
agreement, by which the Independents might
be accommodated in their views of church
government, the scheme was necessarily aban-
doned ; because the Presbyterians refused to
concede anything. They who but lately had
contended against the divine right of the bish-
ops, were now urgent to make all yield to the
divine right of presbytery. The ministers of
Sion College pronounced toleration " a root of
gall and bitterness;" others of the sect declaim-
ed against it, as contrary to godliness — open-
ing a door to libertinism and profanity, and
that it ought to be rejected as '■'•soul-poison.''''
Liberty of conscience was declared to be the
nourisher of all heresies and schisms, and
most of the sermons preached before the
House of Commons, while the question was
under debate, breathed the spirit of persecu-
tion, and incited the ruling powers to draw
the sword against such as would not conform.
The Presbyterians little thought that their own
arguments would quickly be used against
themselves, and the severity they had exer-
cised upon others, returned with full measure
into their own bosoms. This was lamentably
the case after the restoration, when the Church
of England having regained her power, exer-
cised it with so little mercy, in the vain at-
tempt to force men's consciences into a con-
formity with her prescriptions.

We have now noticed the principal sects
which existed at the time our Society arose,
and to whom the reader will find allusion
made in the writings of Friends. They were
all strenuously opposed to the Roman Catho-
lic church ; and while King James I. and his
son, Charles L, were both suspected of favour-
ing that religion, as well as some of the dig-
nitaries of the Episcopal church; the dissenters
availed themselves of every opportunity to
show their dislike to it. This contributed not
a little to alienate their affections from the
throne, and to widen the breach to which their
persecution had given rise.

The violation of their natural and civil
rights ; the disregard of their often-repeated
and respectful petitions, and the frequent
breach of promises solemnly made, tended to
make the Puritans suspicious of James, and
induced them to watch with tlic most jeal-
ous eye, every encroachment of the crown.
The house of Stuart were remarkable for ar-

rogant and arbitrary assumption, in virtue
of their prerogative. However the exigency
of the occasions may extenuate some of
their acts, there are others, which deserve no
milder appellations than tyranny and oppres-
sion. Against these, the dissenters inveighed
with boldness and vehemence, and, as is usu-
ally the case, the cry of oppression rallied to
their side a host of partisans, until at length
the king had lost the affections of a large por-
tion of his subjects. Instead of pacifying them
by some concessions, and soothing their in-
censed feelings by gentleness and clemency,
measures still more harsh and offensive were
pursued toward them.

They were punished as factious schismatics
— as enemies to the king and government, and
inciters of the people to rebellion — were fined,
whipped, maimed, imprisoned and banished —
enduring almost every species of hardship and
suffering which cruelty could suggest. It were
no wonder, if men who had felt so severely
the abuses of regal power, should be in favour
of a form of government, by which it could
be restrained within more just and reasonable
limits, and the rights of the subject be more
effectually secured.

The disputes between the Puritans and the
Church party, which had been carried on with
no little acrimony, during the reigns of Eliza-
beth and James I., increased in violence under
Charles, and began to assume the most serious
aspect, threatening to destroy the peace of the
nation. The Puritans had augmented in num-
bers and importance, and the flagrant out-
rages committed upon them, produced com-
miseration in the minds of many, who yet
were sincere in their attachment to the religion
of the Church. So little regard was had to law
or equity in the treatment of them, that their
cause gradually became identified with the pre-
servation of the constitution and laws of the
country. To be a Puritan, was synonymous
with an opponent of ecclesiastical domination ;
of the tyranny and encroachments of royalty,
under the convenient plea of prerogative ; and
to be the advocate of the rights and liberties of
the subject. In this way politics and religion
became blended, and afterward it was the po-
licy of each party to maintain the connexion.

Beside the matters originally contested, new
sources of dissatisfaction and other subjects of
dispute, became involved in the controversy.

Many of the clergy of the establishment had
become corrupt and licentious — they seldom
preached — neglected their congregations and
places of worship, and were engaged in prac-
tices, not only unbecoming the sacred charac-
ter, but, in some cases, even scandalously im-
moral. They encouraged, rather than repress-
ed the licentiousness of the times ; and seemed


much more addicted to mirth and amusements,
than to the duties of the ministerial office.
Their example, and that of the court, had a
demoralizing effect on others, especially the
lower orders of society.

In order to counteract the opinion that
the reformed religion was severe and strict
in its requisitions, James published, in 1618,
a royal declaration, drawn up by one of the
Episcopal bishops, stating, that " for his good
people's recreation, his majesty's pleasui'e was,
that after the end of Divine service, they should
not be disturbed, letted, or discouraged from
any lawful recreations, such as dancing, either
of men or women, archery for men, leaping,
vaulting, or any such harmless recreations ;
nor having May games, whitsonales, or mor-
rice dances, or setting up of May poles, or
other sports therewith used, so as the same
may be had in due and convenient time, with-
out impediment or let of Divine service."

This was a source of great offence to the
Puritans ; and when the declaration was re-
published by Charles, and directed to be read
in all the churches, many of the ministers
refused to comply.

The license given by the indulgence, pro-
duced the results which might reasonably have
been anticipated. The sports degenerated into
noisy and tumultuous revels, with tippling,
quarrels and sometimes even murder. These
disorders grew to such a height, that the jus-
tices, in some counties, petitioned the judges of
the courts to suppress them, which they did.
But Archbishop Laud, then primate of Eng-
land, summoned the judges before the king
and council, for invading the Episcopal juris-
diction. A sharp reprimand and an order to
revoke the prohibition, was the result. The
archbishop taking the matter into his own
hands, was informed by the bishop of Bath
and Wells, within whose diocese the prohibi-
tion had been enforced, that the restoration of
the wakes and revels, &c. would be very ac-
ceptable to the gentry, clergy and common
people ; in proof of which, he had procured
the signatures of seventy-two clergymen ; and
believed, if he had sent for an hundred more,
he could have had the consent of them all. It

Online LibraryWilliam EvansThe Friends' library : comprising journals, doctrinal treatises, and other writings of members of the religious Society of Friends (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 105)