Изображения страниц

the first attempt to institute an independent church. Probably it was in that prison that he grasped the idea of separation, and of voluntary churches after the New Testament pattern. Robert Browne was, in some respects, the most conspicuous of the three. He was a young man of impetuous and reckless zeal, and eloquent in popular discourse, but withal of an imperious, passionate, and unstable disposition. More than once he had been called to account for his non-conformity, and once, at least, he had been imprisoned; but being a near kinsman of the Queen's most powerful and most trusted counselor, (Lord Burleigh), he had a measure of impunity, from which he seems to have taken courage. In the year 1581, he was constrained to flee from England, as many had done before; and at Middleburgh, in the Dutch republic, he gathered a church of English exiles, chiefly friends of his who had accompanied him. In the year 1582, he printed at that placewhat he could not have done in England, but by stealth-two books or pamphlets, setting forth distinctly the new idea of church reformation, which was nothing else than to restore the voluntary Christianity of the New Testament. The first of those pamphlets was entitled, "A book which showeth the Life and Manners of all true Christians; and how unlike they are unto Turks, and Papists, and Heathen folk: also the points and parts of all true divinity, that is, of the revealed will and word of God, are declared by their several definitions and divisions, in order as followeth." The other was entitled, "Of Reformation, without tarrying for any, and of the Wickedness of those preachers who will not reform themselves and their charge, because they will tarry till the magistrate command and compel them."

These two books, printed out of the reach of English laws and English officers, were sent into England for distribution. Copping had been, at that time, seven years a prisoner. Yet in his prison he had some opportunities of communication with his friends; and in some way he took part in the arrangements which were made at Bury, for putting the books into circulation. Thacker was also a partner in the arrangements. It seems not unreasonable to presume-though positive evi

dence is wanting—that the relation of these men, and of others whose names have not come down to us, to Browne's attempt, was not that of mere accessories after the fact; in other words, that the books themselves were written and printed in conformity with a plan agreed upon before Browne's removal to Middleburgh, and were the result of consultation among thoughtful and resolute men, who had already accepted the theory of separation. Be that as it may, the agitation thus inaugurated was regarded as a high crime against the government. For the offense of putting the two pamphlets into circulation, Copping and Thacker were brought to trial, in June, 1583, on a charge of sedition. The alleged sedition was that in the books which they distributed, the Queen's supremacy over the church was denied. That they incited the Queen's subjects to any rebellion or tumult, or to any breach of the peace; that they denied in any wise her civil supremacy over all persons and all estates within the realm,-was not pretended. But only for holding the simple Congregationalism of the New Testament, namely, the inalienable right and duty of Christian men to associate themselves, voluntarily, for worship and communion, in separate and self-governed churches-only for putting into circulation certain tracts for the times, in which that theory was set forth and vindicated-those two clergymen were found guilty of sedition, under the ruling of the Lord Chief Justice of England.

One of the Archbishop's chaplains, as in duty bound, labored with his two brethren thus condemned to die; but he could not bring them to the desired repentance. Nor is it likely that the success of his spiritual counsel would have been greater, had the time been extended. It was only a "short shrift." Thacker on the fourth of June, and Copping two days afterward, died, not indeed as heretics, amid "the glories of the burning stake," like the martyrs of Queen Mary's reign, but only as felons, on the gallows-their sole felony being that they were devout and conscientious Congregationalists. In England, under Queen Elizabeth, Congregationalism was punished as sedition.

The queen and her counselors judged rightly that the principles of those two books were dangerous to the notion of the

royal supremacy in matters of religion, and to the system built upon that notion; for instead of proposing to amend the system here and there, in the Puritan fashion, and to bring the ecclesiastical government of the realm into a better shape, those new principles put the axe to the root of the tree. If such principles were to prevail-if a church was nothing else than a society of Christian disciples, separated from the world, drawn together by their common faith in their Redeemer, and voluntarily consenting to govern themselves by the law of Christ, as given in the Holy Scriptures-if churches were to be instituted at Bury St. Edmund's, at Norwich, and at London, by the same right by which churches were first instituted at Antioch, at Corinth, and at Rome-if England, with its hierarchy, was not a church at all, but only a kingdom in which Elizabeth was Queen-the entire fabric of the national church was in peril. The Queen's right to determine by her sovereign will what religious belief every Englishman should hold, and what worship every Englishman should offer to God-a right which she valued as the brightest jewel in her crown-was utterly denied and brought into contempt by this new theory of the church. For that reason it was that John Copping and Elias Thacker were so sternly dealt with. The purpose was to make an example which should deter all men from any thought of separation and of independent churches.

[ocr errors]

Robert Browne was not a martyr. He was not of the stuff that martyrs are made of. He belonged rather to the same class with Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot. The passion that impelled him was not the love of truth and duty, but the love of agitation. When that passion had partly spent itself, he did what mere agitators often do as they grow older;-he turned conservative, and in mere cowardice betrayed the cause for which he had contended. He passed over from Holland into Scotland in 1584, his flock at Middleburgh having been broken up, as might have been expected in view of his imperious and impulsive temper. A pastor of such a temper may be a much better man than Browne was, and yet bring ruin upon a much stronger church than that little society of

English exiles could have been. In Scotland his principles were as obnoxious to the Presbyterian establishment, as they had been to Bishops in England. The next year we find him in England again, presuming on the comparative immunity which he had by virtue of his high connection, and soon afterwards renewing his work of agitation. Five years after the martyrdom of Copping and Thacker, he was vanquished by the civil disabilities attendant on a sentence of excommunication pronounced against him in a Bishop's court for the contempt of not appearing in answer to a citation. Thereupon he "submitted himself to the order and government established in the Church" of England, and was restored to good standing, not only in the church but in its ministry. By the influence of Lord Burleigh, he obtained "means and help for some ecclesiastical preferment;" and, in 1591, he received a benefice. All this does not imply that he recanted his opinions or made any profession of repentance for what he had done;-it was enough that he submitted. He had not even the desperate self-respect which prompted Judas to hang himself; but, like Arnold, he took care not to lose the poor reward of his baseness. He was the rector of a parish, and received his tithes, but never preached. By his idle and dissolute life he disgraced his ministry and the establishment which had restored him to its priesthood, but he retained his living. The quarrelsome temper which had broken up his little church at Middleburgh, vented itself upon his wife in acts of cruelty; and they could not live together. In a quarrel with the constable of the parish, he took the reponsibility of beating that officer. Arraigned before a justice for the unclerical offense, he used such violence of speech that he was sent to prison for contempt; and there he died at the age of eighty, a miserable and despised old man, but a beneficed minister of the church of England and in regular standing. He died in 1630, when the Separation which he deserted, and for which Thacker and Copping suffered an ignominious death, had already founded Christian commonwealths in New England. They died in their early manhood; he lived on, and "the days of his years, by reason of strength were fourscore

years;" yet, how much better and more blessed was it to die as they died, than to live as he lived.

It was not so easy as Elizabeth and her prelates had supposed, to suppress the new idea of freedom in the church. Congregationalism, having survived the hanging of its first confessors, survived also the treachery of their unworthy associate. Only ten years after that hanging, there was a bill in Parliament for some new law against "the Brownists," (as they were called, though Browne was no longer one of them); because some new securities seemed necessary against a party that was growing formidable. On that occasion Sir Walter Raleigh said, "In my conceit, the Brownists are worthy to be rooted out of the Commonwealth." He had no word to say in behalf of men who asserted the right of instituting voluntary churches. Yet he could see that the proposed law was, in some of its provisions, dangerous to English liberty; and for that reason he argued against it. "What danger may grow to ourselves if this law pass, were fit to be considered. For it is to be feared that men not guilty will be included in it. And this law is hard that taketh life and sendeth into banishment, where men's intentions shall be judged by a jury, and they shall be judges of what another means." But he was willing that those who committed the overt act of instituting a voluntary church, or of meeting in a voluntary assembly for worship, should, on conviction, be banished from the realm. "That law that is against a fact is just; and punish the fact as severely as you will." Yet a law to banish all the adherents of the new principle, would be attended with some inconveniences. "If two or three thousand Brownists meet at the sea, at whose charge shall they be transported, or whither will you send them? I am sorry for it, I am afraid there are near twenty thousand of them in England, and when they be gone, who shall maintain their wives and children?" Twenty thousand of them in England only ten years after the martyrdom of Copping and Thacker!

Already the Separation was beginning to be popularly designated by another name than Browne's. Henry Barrowe, "a gentleman of a good house" in Norfolk, a graduate of the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »