Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

serve the cause of Quietism, before the cruel talons of the Inquisition had pounced upon him with their deadly violence.

§ 7. The writings of these mystics had been widely spread in England in the commencement of the seventeenth century. They had been industriously circulated in small tracts and pamphlets: they had been made accessible to the poorest cottager: they had sown the seed of mysticism in the hearts of great multitudes, and it was preparing to shoot up in every irregular form, under the first favourable opportunity.

The Protestant church rendered every facility to this; and the question has been invidiously put--" Whence came it that she has originated this fanaticism?"

It is very evident that these sects, mentioned above, did exist in their most obnoxious forms within the pale of the Romish church. But it is frankly admitted that they "appeared neither so numerous, nor so daring, as at the Reformation, and among the the Protestant churches. The fact is this: they lost all their credit with the Romish church at that trying period; they had not the ability nor the disposition to defend that church in her pompous external rites; they were driven out of her pale. They turned their eyes on that liberty, and perfect freedom of sentiment hat was permitted in the Protestant church. They saw that sentiments and practices which would have brought them under the maternal care of the Catholic church, to the stake, were, in general, tolerated, or at least attacked only by the argument of the learned, which brought no bodily pains. They, therefore, eagerly pressed into the liberty of the Protestant church; and being intoxicated by their prophetic fury, and the spirit of their newly acquired liberty, they were prepared to rush into every extravagance; and in proportion as a nation and a church become agitated by civil and religious broils, the fury of fanaticism rages long and fiercely; for in these gloomy periods the human mind becomes more easily a prey to superstition. In such times, also, it frequently happens that the ministry, the guardians of truth and good order, have their attention distracted by other objects, or are wholly thrown off their guard; or they have been actu

* Stillingfleet's Idol, and Superst. of the Church of Rome, ut supra.

ally hurried into prisons or into exile. Then the wolves enter in and devour the unguarded flock.

All these causes were in full operation in the middle of the seventeenth century, when the Society of Friends arose. The infatuation and cruelty of James I. and the fanatical *tyranny of Charles I. had spread a wide desolation in the church. The minds of the people had, in the meantime, received a powerful impulse, from the haughty encroachments made on their liberties. Bold and daring, and fond of liberty, the English rose indignant against the folly and wickedness of their princes. Their vengeance fell on the head of Charles I, who died, literally, a "royal martyr:" but a martyr in the holy cause of the absolute supremacy of kings by divine right; and in the more holy cause of the divine right of a bloody and persecuting hierarchy. The interregnum of Cromwell succeeded. There lived in that age some of England's greatest divines and civilians; but all the influence of these persons, their sensible and rational piety, their love of good order, their zeal for the purity of truth, and the best interests of the church and kingdom, could not stem, nor even turm out of its course, that torrent of religious phrenzy which desolated England. Episcopalians, and Independents, and› Presbyterians rose, and triumphed, and fell in succession. The mighty combat too frequently raged about outward forms and customs, and priests' dresses! They persecuted, and they were persecuted in their turn! Whilst these three great bodies, united and led on by the best men in the land, were struggling for existence and liberty, the church beheld, arising before her astonished eyes, a new sect, and unheard of before in England.

The dreadful blow given to the faithful ministry, in the reigns of Elizabeth, James, and Charles, by crushing their influence, prepared the way for this sect. Such was the degree of oppres sion by the high court of commissions, under Elizabeth, that no honest man could safely come forward into the sacred office. Hence the deplorable state of the ministry in that period. Of one hundred and forty ministers in Cornwall, not one could preach a sermon. Many of them were non-residenters: many of

[ocr errors]

* He believed and acted on the principle of the divine right of kings! † See Hume's account of his trial, vol. v. and Neal Hist. part iii. ch..7

them were immoral: some of them branded felons: and some Papists in disguise.* Faithful ministers were not permitted to preach, nor even to teach, without submitting to terms at which their consciences revolted. Hence it was no uncommon thing to see learned and pious ministers actually reduced to beg their daily bread. By the tyranny of the court, seconded by that of the archbishop, many thousand parishes were deprived of their pastors, and the people were left a prey to ignorance and fanaticism. The court clergy were in the habit of declaring baptism to be regeneration. Midwives were formally licensed by bishops to baptize infants. This had a tendency to bring this holy institution into contempt with many.

The creatures of Elizabeth, who filled the highest places in the church, to roll off themselves the public odium, had transferred the prosecution of the non-conforming clergy to the civil courts. Hence ministers in the church were tried at the common assizes; and being thus compelled to mingle at the bar with rogues and felons, neither venerable years, nor learning, nor piety, could protect them from insults. Though called to answer merely to the charge of not conforming to certain customs and dresses, not even pretended to be essential, nor even necessary to the religion of Christ, the vulgar, who judge often from appearances, heaped on these venerable men reproaches and insults, which ought to be spared even against the vilest criminals. This gave a deep wound to the character of the ministry.

Another cause of their depression is to be sought for in the circumstances attending the progress of the tenets of Brownism. So early as the close of the reign of queen Elizabeth, that sect could count twenty thousand adherents scattered over the kingdom. They were in the habit of declaiming against the Episcopal church as not a true church; against her ministry as not a Christian ministry; against her form of administering the holy sacraments as unscriptural. Without intending it, or at least without anticipating all the consequences, their loose declamation led the people, insensibly, to despise the church, the ministry, and the holy sa

craments.

* See the Remonstrance of the Lords of the Council. Neal i. ch. 6.
See the case of the learned Mr. Paget. Neal i. ch. 7.
Neal i. ch. 8.

Neal ii. ch. i.

The peculiar tenets of this sect operated another way: it was their sentiment that every "gifted brother" should be at liberty to speak freely in the church. The Society seemed to leave the proof of their gifts to every one who laid claims to them; and as the mass of mankind are not unwilling to admit their gifts, the world was soon filled and overwhelmed with exhorters. In market places, and in churches after the ministers had closed the services, the "gifted brothers" would seize every opportunity to pour forth their indigested effusions. These exhibitions increased with the increasing liberty of that age. They received a fresh impulse from the fanaticism of Cromwell and his dependants: they carried them to the summit of extravagance. In his new model of the army, Cromwell had appointed no chaplains; and after the battle of Naseby, the chaplains, who had till this time retained their stations, returned to their cures. From this time enthusiasm spread through the army with a sweeping desolation.* The officers acted as chaplains. Wherever they came they seized on the pulpits and preached. They poured out in rapturous style their crude and extravagant opinions. They mistook the passion of speaking for inspirations. Even the common soldiers were carried away by the same spirit. They spent their leisure hours in preaching to the people. Mechanics, and, at last, the women could no longer restrain the spirit: they assembled their audiences, and preached and prayed with marvellous fluency. The voice of reason, and of the scriptures, and of the ministry, was lost in the general tumult.

Among the sectarians who figured at that time, we find the Seekers, the Familists and the Behmenites, particularly specified.‡ They had propagated their tenets by means of humble pamphlets, industriously scattered among the people. They were in the habit of entering churches, and interrupting the ministry during divine service. They taught by word and by signs. They walked the streets in sackcloth, denouncing woes. Six soldiers entered a parish church one of them had five candles; he declared that five things were now abolished; and he proceeded to extinguish a candle as he named the different articles. Of these five things

* A. D. 1645. See Hume, vol. v. ch. 57. Neal iii. ch. 7.
Warner's Eccl. Hist. ii. p. 569.
Edward's Gangrena.

abolished, three were the Sabbath, the ministry, and the holy Bible.*

§ 8. In this general confusion of things in church and state, and when the harvest of fanaticism was ready for an enterprising reaper, George Fox appeared in his public character: this was about the year 1644.

As in every other case, where the founder of a new sect is brought into view, the most opposite characters are given of this man. His converts have canonized him. Eccles styled him "the friend of God, and the great apostle of Christ." And Penn, who professed never to give vain titles; who would not lift his hat to his father, nor even to his king; honours him with the title of 66 a man of God, a true prophet, and a true apostle."‡ Elwood,§ after having tacked together, in his character, almost all the adjectives of the English language, seems to deplore the barrenness of its epithets. The Society did an honour to his Journal which they have not yet vouchsafed to the holiest volume: they introduced it into their meeting in the Savoy, London, and deposited it in a box, there to be at hand, as their text book; and in their famous school at Bansworth, select passages were enjoined to be read every day by the pupils. Some of his converts have gone greater lengths: Audland addressed him in the style of prayer. Cole called him the "father of many nations." "Fox's power," he said, "had reached through his children to the isles afar off."-" His being and habitation was in the power of the highest, by whose power he ruled and reigned; his kingdom was established in peace, and the increase thereof is without end." Nor was this the language of obscurity and ignorance: Penn actually justifies and applauds this homage paid to Fox.** It was from this testimony of loyalty that the wits of that age styled him "King George Fox:" his attending ministers were court:" his dogmatical epistles were "royal edicts."

"his

Hume's History, vol. v. and note pp, † Bugg. p. 177. Vol. ii. 211.

§ Pref. to Fox. Jour.

Leslie "Snake," &c. p. 147, 148. ed. of 1696.

See his letter, in its orig. form, in the "Snake," p. 369. third ed. and Bugg Pict. p. 67, A. D. 1714.

**See Bugg's New Rome, p. 33, 34, and these words of Cole defended by Penn, vol. ii. 215, 216, and 443.

tt "Spirit of the Hat," p, 11, and Penn, ii, 204.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »