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XXVIII. PROSPEROUS TIMES.
This royal infant, Heaven still move about her,
All princely graces
with her ;
So it is that our great poet feigns Archbishop Cranmer to prophesy of the future glory and prosperity of the infant Elizabeth; and though
we must make all due allowance for poetical exaggeration, and also for the partiality of Shakespeare for his queen, (for it was in her reign that he lived and wrote) yet every English man, woman, and child, should love and revere the name of Elizabeth, as having brought "upon this land, a thousand, thousand blessings." She was not indeed so perfect a character as these lines seem to imply. She had, like other sovereigns, her faults and her weaknesses, as we shall see in the course of the history of her reign; but, notwithstanding these, she was a great queen; a woman of no common capacity, and, above all, a firm Protestant, and a zealous promoter of the cause of the Reformation. It is in this last character particularly that we owe her so much; for she was a powerful instrument, in the hands of Providence, of restoring to the country that religion which had been so grievously persecuted in the days of her predecessor.
Had Elizabeth been the immediate successor of Edward the VI, though we might still have mourned over the early death of the young king, we should not have grieved so much for the interests of Protestantism, as we are inclined to do when we look at the intermediate reign of Mary. As we think of the number of martyrs sacrificed in those few years, we are disposed to imagine, that religion must have suffered in consequence very much indeed ; and then we begin to wonder, perhaps, why God should allow His own cause so to decline and fall. Now, had this really been the case, however dark and mysterious it might appear, it would yet be our part to submit to the wisdom of God, and to acknowledge that what He permitted must have been for the accomplishment of some wise and good purpose. But I said something to you of this kind not long ago, and therefore I do not intend to dwell upon it now ;-it is a different truth which I have to impress upon your minds to-day. But first, I must say, that all these persecutions and martyrdoms had not the effect we might have supposed they would have. They did not really injure the cause of Protestantism, nor diminish the number of those who were ready to stand up for the truth's sake. For as the martyrs fell, others, animated by their example, arose to fill their place; and thus it happened as with the persecuted Israelites in Egypt,—“the more they were afflicted, the more they multiplied and grew.' And so the great truth that we have to learn here is this,--that persecution, and sorrow, and affliction, are frequently among the means which God uses for promoting the success of the gospel, both with individuals, and in the world at large. The cause of religion is very
generally found to thrive better in times of adversity, than in times of prosperity.
Now, perhaps, this seems strange to you; you do not understand how it can be ; and yet there is something very similar going on in the natural world, which we are accustomed to see continually. The trees and herbs, and flowers and fruits,—what do they require to make them flourish and grow? Not sun. shine always; that would weaken and dry them up, and then they would soon become sickly, and die away altogether. No; sometimes rain, and sometimes wind, and sometimes even the heavy storm is necessary to promote their growth and vigour. All these tend to freshen and purify them, and to free them from blight and disease; and the wind when it blows so roughly, and howls so dismally in the forest, and shakes the trees as if it would tear them up by the very roots, even that boisterous wind does good; for it causes the roots to strike deeper and firmer into the ground, and makes the young trees stronger than they were before. Now cannot you understand that God may act sometimes in the same kind of way in the moral worldwith the cause of religion in general, and with His own people in particular? A long continuance of the sun-shine of prosperity is not good for any of us. It makes us too easy
too fond of this world; and then the things of eternity are forgotten, and religion grows weak in our hearts, and begins to sicken and fade like the plants and flowers in the scorching heat of summer. And so God, from time to time, sends the storm, and the wind, and the tempest,—sorrow, and trouble, and persecution upon His people, to force them to exercise their faith more vigorously ; that so they may become stronger and firmer,—"rooted and grounded” in Him, and may yield more of the fruits of holiness to his honour and glory. But it is now time to return to the history,
Elizabeth was only twenty-five years of age when she came to the throne, and yet she had already seen a great deal of sorrow and trouble. When very young, her mother Anne Boleyn had, as you remember, been tried, condemned, and executed ; and the recollection of that sad event must have embittered all the young days of Elizabeth's childhood. She was brought
up a Protestant; and though her love of the Reformation endeared her to her brother Edward, it had quite a contrary effect upon her sister, who soon began to dislike her, and to treat her unkindly upon that very account.
When Mary became Queen, Elizabeth was exposed to the full force of her displeasure.