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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Nonconformists

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dissenters from the church of England; but the term applies more particularly to those ministers who were ejected from their livings by the Act of Uniformity in 1662; the number of whom, according to Dr. Calamy, was nearly two thousand; and to the laity who adhered to them. The celebrated Mr. Locke says, "Bartholomew-day (the day fixed by the Act of Uniformity) was fatal to our church and religion, by throwing out a very great number of worthy, learned, pious, and orthodox divines, who could not come up to this and other things in that act. And it is worth your knowledge, that so great was the zeal in carrying on this church affair, and so blind was the obedience required, that if you compare the time of passing the act with the time allowed for the clergy to subscribe the book of Common Prayer thereby established, you shall plainly find, it could not be printed and distributed, so as one man in forty could have seen and read the book before they did so perfectly assent and consent thereto."

By this act, the clergy were required to subscribe, ex animo, [sincerely,] their "assent and consent to all and every thing contained in the book of Common Prayer," which had never before been insisted on, so rigidly as to deprive them of their livings and livelihood. Several other acts were passed about this time, very oppressive both to the clergy and laity. In the preceding year 1661, the Corporation Act incapacitated all persons from offices of trust and honour in a corporation, who did not receive the sacrament in the established church. The Conventicle Act, in 1663 and 1670, forbade the attendance at conventicles; that is, at places of worship other than the establishment, where more than five adults were present beside the resident family; and that under penalties of fine and imprisonment by the sentence of magistrates without a jury. The Oxford Act of 1665 banished nonconforming ministers five miles from any corporate town sending members to parliament, and prohibited them from keeping or teaching schools. The Test Act of the same year required all persons, accepting any office under government, to receive the sacrament in the established church.

Such were the dreadful consequences of this intolerant spirit, that it is supposed that near eight thousand died in prison in the reign of Charles II. It is said that Mr. Jeremiah White had carefully collected a list of those who had suffered between Charles II and the revolution, which amounted to sixty thousand. The same persecutions were carried on in Scotland; and there, as well as in England, numbers, to avoid the persecution, left their country. But, notwithstanding all these dreadful and furious attacks upon the dissenters, they were not extirpated. Their very persecution was in their favour. The infamous character of their informers and persecutors; their piety, zeal, and fortitude, no doubt, had influence on considerate minds; and, indeed, they had additions from the established church, which several clergymen in this reign deserted as a persecuting church, and took their lot among them. King William coming to the throne, the famous Toleration Act passed, by which they were exempted from suffering the penalties above mentioned, and permission was given them to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. In the reign of George III, the Act for the Protection of Religious Worship superseded the Act of Toleration, by still more liberal provisions in favour of religious liberty; and in the last reign the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Nonconformists'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/n/nonconformists.html. 1831-2.

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