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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 19 — Restoration of Charles II, and St. Bartholomew day, 1662

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The Struggle to be Renewed — The Commonwealth — Cromwell's Rule — Charles II Restored — His Welcome — Enthusiasm of Scotland — Character of Charles II — Attempted Union between the Anglican and Presbyterian Parties — Presbyterian Proposals — Things to be Rectified — Conference at the Savoy — Act of Uniformity — The 24th of August, 1662 — A Second St. Bartholomew — Secession of 2,000 Ministers from the Church of England — Grandeur of their Sacrifice — It Saves the Reformation in England

This long cycle, which had seen so many flourishing Protestant Churches exterminated, so many martyrs lay down their lives, and so many fair lands covered with ruins, had ended, as we have seen, in the overthrow of the Popish projects, and the elevation of Protestantism to a higher platform than it had ever before attained. Nevertheless, the end was not yet: the victory was not assured and complete, and the defeat of the Popish Powers was not a final one. The struggle was to be renewed once more, and another crisis had to be passed through before Protestantism should be able to surround itself with such political bulwarks as would assure it against a repetition of those armed attacks to which it had been perpetually subject from the Vatican and its vassal kings, and be left in peace to pursue its evangelical labors.

The fall of the Monarchy in England was succeeded by a Commonwealth. The Commonwealth soon passed into a military Dictatorship. The nation felt that the constitutional liberty for which it had contended on the battle-field had escaped it, and that it had again fallen under that arbitrary government which many hoped had received its mortal wound when the head of Charles rolled on the scaffold. Both England and Scotland felt the heavy weight of that strong hand which, putting away the crown, had so firmly grasped the scepter. Perhaps England, swarming with Royalists and Republicans, with factions and sectaries, was not yet fit for freedom, and had to return for a little while longer into bonds. But if the forms of the rule under which she was now placed were despotic, the spirit of liberty was there; her air had been purified from the stifling fog of a foreign slavery; and her people could more freely breathe. If Cromwell was a tyrant, he was so after a very different pattern from that of Charles I; it was to evildoers at home and despots abroad that he was a terror. England, under his government, suddenly bounded up out of the gulf of contempt and weakness into which the reigns of the two Stuarts had sunk her.

Rapidly mounted upward the prestige of England's arms, and brightly blazed forth the splendor of her intellect. She again became a power in Christendom, and was feared by all who had evil designs on hand. The Duke of Savoy at the bidding of the Lord Protector stayed his massacres in the Waldensian Valleys, Cardinal Mazarin is said to have changed countenance when he heard his name mentioned, and even the Pope trembled in the Vatican when Oliver threatened to make his fleet visit the Eternal City. He said he should make "the name of an Englishman as great as ever that of a Roman had been." At home his severe countenance scared the persecutor back into his cell, and the streets of the capital were cleansed from the horrible sights, but too common in the days of Charles and Laud, of men standing in the pillory to have their noses slit, their ears cropped off, and their cheeks branded with red-hot irons, for no offense save that of being unable to practice the ceremonies that formed the king's and the archbishop's religion. His death in 1658 was followed by the Protectorate of his son Richard, who finding the burden, which even the Atlantean shoulders of his father had borne uneasily, insupportable to him, speedily resigned it, and retired into private life. [1]

Weary of the confusions and alarms that prevailed under the "Committee of Safety" that was now formed to guide the State, the nation as one man turned their eyes to the son of their former sovereign. They sent a deputation to him at Breda, inviting him to take possession of the throne of his ancestors. The Scottish Presbyterians were among the most forward in this matter; indeed they had proclaimed Charles as king upon first receiving tidings of his father's execution, and had crowned him at Scone on the 1st January, 1651. We reflect with astonishment on the fact that, despite all the blood which the two nations had shed in resistance of arbitrary power, Charles II was now received back without conditions, unless a vague declaration issued from Breda should be considered as such. The nation was stupefied by an excess of joy at the thought that the king was returning.

From Dover, where Charles II landed on the 26th May, 1660, all the way to London his progress was like that of a conqueror returning from a campaign in which his victorious arms had saved his country. Gay pageantries lined the way, while the ringing of bells, the thunder of cannon, the shouts of frantic people, and at night the blaze of bonfires, proclaimed the ecstasy into which the nation had been thrown. [2] A like enthusiasm was displayed in Scotland on occasion of the return of the royal exile. The 19th of June was appointed to be observed as a thanksgiving for the king's restoration, and after sermon on that day the magistrates assembled at the Cross of Edinburgh, where was set a table with wine and sweetmeats. Glasses were broken, trumpets were sounded, drums were beat; the church-bells sent forth their merriest peals, and in the evening a great fire, in which was burned the effigy of Cromwell, blazed on the Castle-hill. [3]

Charles was crowned at London on the 29th of May, a truly fatal day,

which was followed by a flood of profanity and vice in England, and a torrent of righteous blood in Scotland. This had been foreseen by some whose feelings were not so perturbed as to be incapable of observing the true character of Charles. Mr. John Livingstone, one of the Scottish ministers sent to accompany the king from Holland, is said to have remarked, when stepping on board the ship with Charles, "that they were bringing God's heavy wrath to Britain." [4]

For all who approached him Charles II had a smiling face, and a profusion of pleasant words. He was as yet only thirty years of age, but he was already a veteran in vice. He was a consummate dissembler. The school of adversity, which strengthens the virtues of other men, had only perfected Charles Stuart in the arts of hypocrisy and falsehood. The English Presbyterians sent over some of their number — among others Reynolds, Manton, and Calamy — to wait on him in Holland; and he so regaled them with pious discourse, after the manner of his grandfather, that they thought they were getting for their king an experienced and matured Christian. "He knew how to bewail the sins of his father's house, and could talk of the power of godliness as fluently as if he had been pupil all his days to a Puritan." [5] When seated on the throne he took several of the Presbyterian ministers into the number of his chaplains, and even heard Richard Baxter preach. Charles II had returned to England with his mind made up touching the form of Church government which was to be established in the kingdom, but the time was not yet ripe for carrying his project into execution. There were two things that Charles lacked notwithstanding his merry countenance and his pious talk; the one was conscience, and the other was a heart. He was the coldest of mankind. He was a tyrant, not from ambition, and certainly not from that sort of ambition which is "the last infirmity of noble minds," but from the cold, cruel selfishness of the voluptuary; and he prized his throne for no object of glory or honor, the stirrings of which he never felt, but because it enabled him to wallow in low, bestial pleasures. From that throne, as from an overspreading Upas, distilled the poison of moral death all over the kingdom. He restored to England in the seventeenth century one of those royal sties which had disgraced pagan Rome in the first. His minister was Clarendon, on whom, as Asiatic Sultan on vizier, Charles devolved all the care and toil of government, that he might pass his hours less interruptedly in his seraglio.

The first measure after Charles's restoration was an attempted union between the Anglican and the Presbyterian parties, the latter being the chief promoters of the project. Having as yet free access to the king, the Presbyterians brought in their proposals. The things of which they complained were mainly these — the great extent of the dioceses, the performance of the bishop's duty by deputy, his assuming the whole power of ordination and jurisdiction, the imposition of new ceremonies, and the arbitrary suspension of ministers. For reforming these evils they proposed that "Bishop Usher's reduction of episcopacy to the form of synodical government, received in the ancient Church, should be the ground-work of an accommodation." They proposed that suffragans should be chosen by the respective synods; that the ministers should be under no oaths or promises of obedience to their bishops; and that the bishops should govern according to the canons and constitutions to be ratified and established by Parliament. As to ceremonies, they humbly represented that the worship of God was perfect without them: that they had been fruitful in disputes, schisms, and the silencing of pious pastors in the past; and being, on the confession of their advocates, in themselves matters of indifference, they prayed to be released from kneeling at the Sacrament, wearing of sacerdotal vestments, making the sign of the cross in baptism, and bowing at the name of Jesus. They also craved a slight revision of the Liturgy.

The answer returned by those with whom they were negotiating, and whom they had not yet been permitted to meet in conference, though desirous of doing so, was not such as to inspire them with sanguine hopes.

Some little while after, the king put forth a declaration, containing some concessions which came nearer what the Presbyterians thought might form a basis of union. [6] But neither did this please the Royalist and prelatic party. All it led to was a conference between a certain number of ministers of both parties, who met at the Savoy. The Presbyterian ministers were invited to conference, and encouraged to unbosom themselves, in the way of revealing all their difficulties and scruples. But for what end?That their scruples might be removed, said the prelates; though in truth the real object of the opposite party was that, being masters of the sentiments of the Presbyterians, they might the more easily overreach them. It was a foregone conclusion that no union should be formed; but that, on the contrary, the Puritan element should once for all be purged out of the Church of England.

The king and prelates now knew how far the Puritans would yield, and on what points they would make no compromise, and so they were able to frame their contemplated Act of Uniformity, so as to place the Puritan ministers between the alternative, as they phrased it, of proving knaves or becoming martyrs. On the 19th May, 1662, was passed the following famous Act — "That all who had not received Episcopal ordination should be re-ordained by bishops: that every minister should, on or before the 24th of August following, being the feast of St. Bartholomew, declare his unfeigned assent and consent to everything contained in the Book of Common Prayer, on pain of being

ipso facto deprived of his benefice; that he should also abjure the Solemn League and Covenant as an unlawful oath, and swear the oath of supremacy and allegiance; and declare it to be unlawful, under any pretext whatsoever, to take up arms against the sovereign." [7]

Under this Act, equally remarkable for what it tolerated as well as for what it stringently prohibited, it was lawful to preach another gospel than that which Paul preached, but it was a crime to preach at all without a surplice. Under this Act it was lawful to believe in baptismal regeneration, but a crime to administer baptism without the sign of the cross. Under this Act it was lawful to profane God's name every hour of the day, but it was a crime to mention the name of Jesus without lifting one's hat. Some have distinguished between principles and points; in this controversy all the principles were on one side, and all the points on the other; for the men enforcing the latter admitted that for these rites there was no foundation in the Word of God, and that they were matters of indifference.

A space for deliberation was allowed. The 24th of August was fixed upon as the term when they must express their submission to the Act, or abide the consequences. That day had already been marked by a horror unspeakably great, for on the 24th of August, 1572, had been enacted one of the most terrible crimes of all history — the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.

With very different feelings was that day waited for in the halls of the voluptuous court of Charles II, in the conclave of a tyrannical hierarchy, and in the parsonages and homes of the godly ministers and people of England. Issues of tremendous magnitude hung on the part which the Puritan party should act on that day. If they should succumb, farewell to the Reformation in England: it would be laid in its grave, and a great stone rolled to the mouth of its sepulcher. The day arrived, and the sacrifice it witnessed saved the realm of England, by preserving the Protestant element in the nation, which, had the Puritans conformed, would have utterly perished. On the 24th of August, two thousand ministers, rather than submit to the Act of Uniformity, surrendered their livings, and left their sanctuaries and parsonages. They went out each man alone. The England of their day was no free country in which they were at liberty to organize and carry on their Church in a state of secession. They had no great leader to march before them in their exodus; they had no generous press to proclaim their wrongs, and challenge the admiration of their country for their sacrifice; they went forth as Abraham did, at the call of God, "not knowing whither they went," not knowing where they should find the next meal, or where they should lay their head at night. They were ordered to remove to a distance of twenty miles from their own parish. It was farther enjoined on the ejected ministers to fix their residence not nearer than six miles to a cathedral town, nor nearer than three miles to a royal burgh; and it was made unlawful for any two of them to live in the same place. What a glory this army of confessors shed on England! What a victory for Protestantism! The world thought they were defeated. No, it was the king whom this spectacle startled amid his revels; it was the prelates whom this noble sacrifice at the shrine of conscience rebuked and terrified; it was a godless generation, whom this sight for a moment roused from its indifference, that was conquered.

These men were the strength and glory of the Church of England. The author of The Reformed Pastor, surely a fair judge of ministerial qualifications, says of them: "I do not believe that ever England had as faithful and able a ministry, since it was a nation, as it hath at this day; and I fear few nations on earth, if any, have the like." "It raised a grievous cry over the nation," writes Bishop Burner; "for here were many men much valued, and distinguished by their abilities and zeal, cast out ignominiously, reduced to great poverty, and provoked by spiteful usage."

"Worthy, learned, pious, orthodox divines," says the philosophic Locke, "who did not throw themselves out of service, but were forcibly ejected." St. Bartholomew's Day, 1662, is one of the great outstanding epochs in the long combat of conscience against power. But it is well to bear in mind that the victories of conscience must always, from the very nature of the case, as indeed the St. Bartholomew and all similar days teach us, bear outwardly the guise of defeat, and the checks and discomfitures of power must come in the garb of victory; and thus it is through seeming triumph that error marches to ruin. and thus it is, too, through apparent defeat that truth advances to dominion.


Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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