Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

the original doctrine of Christianity, had disappeared from Christendom. From time to time there had been some vigorons protests against the wide corruption; some flashes of light athwart the deepening darkness; some bold assertions of the inalienable right to read God's word, and to be governed by God's law. The succession of witnesses had never failed. But at last there was a wide awaking, and nations and governments, as well as individual souls, were roused to throw off the burthen of superstition and the yoke of spiritual despotism. It is true that the distinctive doctrinal principle of the Reformation, which gave it spiritual life, was the doctrine of God's free forgiveness offered to all men through Christ, and received and realized by the simple act of believing, without the merit of propitiatory penance, or the help of priestly absolution. But the power of the movement was, that it asserted the authority of the Scriptures against the authority of tradition, of the papacy, and of the so-called Catholic Church. The supremacy of the Bible as a rule of faith and practice, over all ecclesiastical traditions, all judgments of councils, all decrees of Popes, and all statutes and ordinances of men, was the great power of the Reformation. That memorable movement in the world's progress was the assertion, implied rather than explicit, of the duty, and therefore the right, of "private judgment "--the right of the individual soul to think, to inquire, and thus to know and do God's will. The underlying force which wrought that great upheaving of the nations, was the principle that not the church only as an organized institution, nor the state as a power ordained of God, but the individual as personally responsible, is bound to learn, in the use of all practicable means and helps, what God has revealed, and to hold it fast-what God's law is, and to obey it. Perhaps the reformers themselves might not have been able to enunciate distinctly their own great principle in its legitimate relation to all liberty, intellectual, civil, and religious, perhaps they might even have disowned it, had it been declared to them in its fullness; but on that principle they started, and by it they wrought their work.

Yet the Reformation was only an imperfect restoration of

the primitive Christianity. It was the rising up of princes and nations against the oppressive and all-absorbing ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome. Great political interests and powers allied themselves with the religious movement, and wherever the Papacy was vanquished, the new ecclesiastical order was a matter of political regulation. Thus the Reformation, instead of restoring the primitive institution of the church as a free association of believers in Christ agreeing to govern their lives by his law, came to a very different result. Wherever it displaced the old system of an organized and centralized catholic unity, governed by the bishop of Rome as Christ's vicar, it originated and established a new theory, that of national churches. Each Christian state or kingdom was assumed to be a church, an independent and self-governed unity, owing allegiance to Christ, and having therefore the right of reforming itself according to Christ's law. The old idea of catholic unity and uniformity was displaced in Protestant countries by the new idea of national unity and uniformity; and religious faith and worship were everywhere subjected in one degree or another to the authority of law and of the civil magistrate. The church being identified with the state, a confusion of ideas in regard to the relations of church and state, and the proper sphere of each, became inevitable.

In the origin and progress of Puritanism we find another and more distinct assertion of the principle on which the Reformation was begun, and on which the primitive churches were instituted,—namely, the supremacy of God's word in the Bible over all human authority, and of God's law over all human enactments and ordinances. The English Reformation was unique in its process and in its results. As commenced under Henry VIII, and as accomplished and established under Queen Elizabeth, it was wrought by two very dissimilar forces brought into a temporary coalition. On the one hand, it was a reformation among the people, a change in their religious beliefs and practices. On the other hand, it was a change in the constitution and government of the realm, a subversion of the relations formerly existing between the crown and the mitre. On the one hand, it was the entrance of God's word that giveth

light, the diffusion and reception of a long forgotten doctrine about the way to be saved. On the other hand, it was the expulsion of a foreign jurisdiction exercised in ecclesiastical courts administering the canon law, and the subjugation of a hierarchy dependent on a foreign potentate. On the one hand, it was a religious reformation struggling for the revival of true and pure Christianity. On the other hand, it was a political reformation transferring to the monarch all the power which Roman Catholic principle and usage had given to the Pope. Considered as a religious movement, it began long before Luther in Germany published his theses against the doctrine of Rome. From the days of Wycliffe, a hundred and fifty years before the reign of Henry VIII, there had been in England an outlawed body of Christian believers looking for the purity and simplicity of the gospel, and disowning the established priesthood. When Luther in Germany, and Zuingle in Switzerland, began to agitate Europe by the publication of a reformed Christianity, deduced directly from the Scriptures, their doctrine found in England many who were already prepared to receive it. And when at last another

reformation was set on foot in England for political endswhen the King renounced the ecclesiastical dependence of his kingdom on the See of Rome, subdued the hierarchy, abolished the monasteries, seized their vast possessions, and placed himself among the Protestant powers-the religious reformation and the political moved for a while in one direction. Under the reign of the boy-King, Edward VI, the government rested for support upon the Protestant interest; and the reformation of the national church was carried forward steadily and resolutely, in the name of the sovereign, and by acts of legislation, as well as by the free course which was given to the preaching of the Protestant gospel. But even in that reign, tolerant as it was of Protestant deviations from the ecclesiastical uniformity required by law, there were some indications of a possible conflict between the two reformations-the religious and the political-that were moving forward in so prosperous a coalition. In the reign of Elizabeth, after five years of terror and suffering under the bloody Mary had stimulated the religious

antipathy against Romanism into a chronic horror, the two distinct forces of the new era began to be developed each in its own way. The Queen valued her ecclesiastical supremacy as the brightest jewel in her crown. Her policy, and that of her wise statesmen, was to make the ritual and ceremonial system of the established worship, and the priestly vestments of the clergy, attractive to those unthinking masses of her subjects whose minds were still infected with the ancient superstition. The reformation, as ordained and established by law, instead of being carried forward to a full agreement with the Reformed churches on the continent, was carried backward some degrees from the mark which it had reached before the reign of Mary. But, meanwhile, the reformation as a religious movement had gone forward. Devout and earnest men began to be scrupulous about complying with the policy of compromise with idolatry; and in those scruples was the origin of Puritanism as a power in the history of England and of civil and religious liberty.

Puritanism asserted the supreme and exclusive authority of the Holy Scriptures in the government of a national church. It rested on the principle that what was wrong when measured by the standard of God's word in the Bible, could not be made right by any human power. To the Puritan, the national Church of England, being identical with the Christianized English nation, was a divine fact. He was a member of that church by virtue of his birth and christening, and if he was a minister of Christ, he was by virtue of his calling a minister in the Church of England. He entertained no conception of any other church within the realm, than the one, indivisible, national church distributed into parishes. Secession from the national church, if it had been a practicable thing, was not a thing which he could think of. All that he could do was simply to act on the principle that whatever rubric or canon, whatever act of Parliament, whatever rescript from the Queen, was contrary to Christ's law, had no force as a rule of duty. In the church, the supremacy of the Queen, whatever it might be, was limited by the supremacy of Christ; the ecclesiastical law, whether in the form of canons or of

statutes, was limited by the higher law of Christ. His allegiance to Christ, as "head over all things to the church," and to the Bible as the supreme and immutable law in the church, and his courageous determination to obey God rather than men, put him upon an earnest inquiry into the limits which God has set to all human government, and especially into the limitations which the Providence of God, establishing the English constitution and the hereditary liberties of the English people, had set to the power of the English monarch. Thus he became, in his native country, the champion of law and liberty against prerogative, and the unconscious asserter of principles which involved religious and therefore civil liberty for the world.

But the mere Puritan knew not the reach of his own great principle, and would have repudiated with horror its legiti mate application to points beyond the scope of his own controversies about "idolatrous gear," and the anti-Christian hierarchy. His theory of a national church, and therefore his method and programme of church-reformation, were, in reality, inconsistent with liberty. On his theory there could be no separation from the national church-none, therefore, from the church which, for the time then being, was misgoverned by prelates and High Commission. Therefore he could only testify, argue, agitate, suffer for nonconformity, and wait for the time when the realm of England, considered as a church, should be governed according to his views. But Puritanism, by its continual protest, in word and deed, against ecclesiastical observances and institutions that had no warrant from the Scriptures, gave origin, at last, to a new conception of ecclesiastical reformation and a new method of attaining it. That constant demand for a farther reformation in the Church of England, together with the constant appeal to the Scriptures as the standard and rule of reformation, roused men's minds at last to the inquiry whether the very idea of a Church of England, reformed or unreformed, governed in one way or governed in another way, was not itself without a warrant from the Scriptures. Learned men, on the one hand, and men of plain common sense, on the other hand, as they grew

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »