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happens by I know not what infelicity, that the present time obliges me, contrary to my hope and opinion, to that which of all things in the world I least desired : and though hitherto I have been troublesome to nobody, I am now, contrary to my inclination, constrained to be importunate, even with my princess : not in any matter or course of my own, but through the calamity brought upon others. And by how much the more sharp and lamentable that is, by so much the more I am spurred on to deprecate it.
« I understand there are some here in England, though not English, but come hither from Holland, I suppose both men and women, who having been tried according to law, publicly declared their repentance, and are happily reclaimed. Many others are condemned to exile--a light sentence, in my opinion. But I hear there are one or two of these, who are appointed to the most severe of punishments, namely, burning, unless your clemency prevent it. Now in this one affair, I consider there are two things to be considered; the one is, the wickedness of their errors; the other, the severity of their punishment. As to their errors, indeed, no man of sense can deny that they are most absurd : and I wonder that such monstrous opinions could come into the mind of any Christian; but such is the state of human weakness, if we are left never so little a while destitute of the divine light, whither is it that we do not fall? And we have great reason to give God thanks on this account, that I hear not of any Englishman that is inclined to this madness. As to these fanatical sects, therefore, it is certain, they are by no means to be countenanced in a commonwealth, but in my opinion ought to be suppressed by proper correction. But to roast alive the bodies of poor wretches, that offend rather through blindness of judgment than perverseness of will, in fire and flames raging with pitch and brimstone, is a hard-hearted thing, and more agreeable to the practice of the Romanists than to the custom of the Gospellers: yea, it is evidently of the same kind as if it bad flowed from the Romish priests, from the first author of such cruelty, Innocent III. O, that none had ever brought such a Phalarian bull into the meek church of Christ ! I do not speak these things, because I am pleased with their wickedness, or favour the errors of any men; but seeing I am myself a man, I must therefore favour the life of man--not that he should err, but that he should repent. Nay, my pity extends not only to the life of man, but even to the beasts.
· For, it is perhaps folly in me; but I speak the truth, that I can hardly pass by a slaughter-house where cattle are killing, but my mind revolts with a secret sense of their pains. And truly I greatly admire the clemency of God in this, who had such regard to the mean brute creatures, formerly prepared for sacrifices, that they must not be committed to the flames, before their blood had been poured out at the foot of the altar. Whence we may gather, that in inflicting punishments, however just, we must uot be over
rigorous, but temper the sharpness of rigour with clemency. Wherefore, if I may be so bold with the majesty of so great a princess, I humbly beg of your royal highness, for the sake of Christ, who was consecrated to suffer for the lives of many, this favour at my request, which even the divine clemency would engage you to, that if it may be, and what cannot your authority do in such cases? these miserable wretches may be spared; at least that a stop may be put to the horror, by changing their punishment into some other kind. There are excommunications, and close imprisonment; there are bonds; there is perpetual banishment, burning of the hand, and whipping, or even slavery itself. This one thing I most earnestly beg, that the piles and fames in Smithfield, so long ago extinguished by your happy government, may not now be again revived. That if I may not obtain this, I pray with the greatest earnestness, that out of your great pity you would grant us a month or two, in which we may try whether the Lord will give them grace to turn from their dangerous errors ; lest, with the destruction of their bodies, their souls be in danger of eternal ruin*.”
So far the venerable John Fox: but what a train of reflection does this letter give rise to, were this the place to indulge in it! One natural inference is, that, in his judgment, the power of the civil magistrates may very properly be exercised in coercing opinions in matters of religion, and in punishing those who dare to think differently from the national standard, provided the punishment be not excessive! These “ fanatical sects are by no means to be countenanced in a commonwealth—but ought to be suppressed with proper correction :- there are excommunications, and close imprisonment; "exile is a light sentence” in his opinion; "there are bonds, perpetual banishment, burning in the hand, and whipping, or even slavery itself.” To any of these the venerable martyrologist could give his consent; but the roasting alive of human beings is a “ hard-hearted thing," from which his compassionate heart revolted. Her Majesty's heart, however, it appears, was not quite so soft: for though she had a high respect for the writer, and constantly called him her “ father Fox,” she was not his dutiful daughter, but met his request with a flat denial, “ unless, after a month's reprieve and conference with divines, they would recant their errors.” 66 She declared their impieties to be damnable, and that she was necessitated to this severity, because having formerly punished some traitors, were she now to spare these blasphemers, the world would condemn her as being more earnest in asserting her own safety, than the honour of her God.” All the difference then between her majesty and the learned martyrologist, in this instance, merely regarded the quantum of punishment to be inflicted; for on the principle, they were fully agreed! And certainly where the point in dispute was
The original of this letter is given in the Appendix to this Volume, No. III.
so trivial, it was very proper that the queen should follow her own judgment. Accordingly, the writ De heretico comburendo, that is, for burning heretics, which for seventeen years had only hung up in terrorem, was now taken down and put in execution, and the two Anabaptists, John Wielmaker and Henry Torwoort, were committed to the flames in Smithfield, July 22, 1575.
I have dwelt the more largely upon this affair, because it presents us with a fair specimen of the state of the public mind in regard to toleration during the boasted reign of queen Elizabeth, And now, before we dismiss the matter wholly, let us pause and examine a little coolly “these monstrous opinions,” which Fox wonders should ever enter the mind of any Christian,-“ this madness," which endangered the eternal ruin of their souls," according to his notion of the matter, and which her majesty considered to be “ damnable impieties,” implying blasphemy against God, not to be expiated but by the extremest tortures.
The first article in this dreadful catalogue of crimes, respected the human nature of the Son of God; a speculation indulged by Joan of Kent, and many other truly pious persons in that day. They had read, in the writings of the holy Evangelist, that Christ's human nature was miraculously formed in the womb of a virgin, by the power of the Most High coming upon her; that the body of the Saviour was not produced according to the ordinary laws of generation ; and that consequently “ that holy thing which was born of her," was not subject to the original taint which descended from Adam to his posterity. Even admitting that it was improper to indulge speculation on this sublime mystery, which we ought to receive as it is delivered to us, without curiously prying into things quite beyond our reach, it is not easy to find the monstrous impiety, the damnable heresy, in it which should entitle its abetiors to such condign punishment. For aught we can see, it was a barmless speculation, which no way affected either the faith or the obedience of the gospel. And as to the other articles of their impeachment, it would be trifling with the reader's time here to enlarge upon them. That infants ought not to be baptized, must be allowed by all who admit that either precept or example is necessary to authorize us in whatever we practise as a branch of worship. The unlawfulness of taking an oath, and of Christians filling the offices of civil magistracy, though to me they both appear unfounded objections, originating in a misapplication of certain texts of Scripture, were nevertheless opinions that had been current among the Waldenses, Albigenses, and Wickliffites, and indeed have been prevalent in every age of the church since the days of the apostles. Now, to say nothing of the infernal cruelty of roasting alive these individuals, there is something monstrously wicked even in compelling them to abjure these harmless opinions as “ most damnable and detestable heresies ;" to abjure them from the bottom of their heart, protesting that they certainly believed the contrary." Alas, humanity. sickens at such an outrage on the prerogative of the Most High, and the rights of mankind !
From this period to the end of queen Elizabeth's reign, the whole body of the Puritans appear to bave been treated with great severity, of which the Baptists certainly came in for their due share. Many of them quitted the kingdom, and those who remained in it were perpetually harassed and tormented by fine and imprisonment. In the county of Norfolk (Mr. Neal says Suffolk, see vol. 1. p. 253), an application was made to the justices of peace, in behalf of some of the Brownists who had been long and illegally imprisoned by the bishop of Norwich, entreating that their worships would be pleased to move that prelate in their favour. His lordship was so displeased with them for their interference in what he considered to be his own prerogative, that he drew up twelve articles of impeachment against the justices themselves, and caused them to be summoned before the queen and council to answer for their conduct. The particulars are given by Mr. Neal, vol. 1. p. 254; and we only refer to it here for the purpose of remarking, that in the supplication to the justices, the terms Anabaptists and Brownists are used as synonymous, and also that they were allowed no quarter in that district.
In the year 1589, when the reign of this queen drew towards a close, a treatise appeared against the Puritans from the pen of a clergy man of the name of Some, in which he undertook to shew the coincidence that existed between the Anabaptists and some of the leading men among the former. The sentiments which be charged the Baptists of that day with holding are, that the ministers of the gospel ought to be maintained by the voluntary contributions of the people: that the civil magistrate has no right to make and impose laws on the consciences of men; that the people ought to have the right of choosing their own ministers; that the high commission court was an antichristian usurpation; that such as are qualified to preach, ought not to be hindered by the civil magistrate from doing so; that no forms of prayer should be imposed upon the church; that the baptisms administered in the church of Rome were invalid; and that a true constitution and discipline are essential to a true church. Such were the heterodox" principles maintained by the Anabaptists of queen Elizabeth's times, according to the testimony of this learned doctor ; principles well supported by the word of God, and which, therefore, every intelligent and consistent Baptist of the present day is proud to avow. The doctor touches also on their opinions of baptizing none but professed believers; that they hold the worship of God as conducted in the church of England to be in many respects defective; and brings up the rear of their crimes, by adding, that they count it blasphemy for any man to arrogate to himself the title of Doctor in Divinity, or as he explains it, to be called Rabbi ; that is, lord and master of other men's faith! He acknowledges, that there were several Anabaptistical conventicles, both in the metropolis and other parts of the kingdom, in his day; a fact which we shall find abundantly confirmed in the following chapter.
HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS DURING THE REIGNS OF JAMES I.
AND CHARLES I. A. D. 1602–1650.
HITHERTO we have been engaged rather in tracing out obscure notices of the Antipædobaptists, as of individuals scattered throughout the country, maintaining their discriminating sentiment, yet mingling with their Pædobaptist brethren in churchcommunion, than as forming a distinct body, or denomination contending for the divine authority of the baptismal institute, and its indispensable obligation as a term of communion: but we shall presently find them separating themselves to the law of their Lord, avowing their convictions and advocating their principles through the medium of the press.
. In the year 1608 there was a small piece published, by Enoch Clapham, representing, in a way of dialogue, the opinions of the different sects of Protestants at that period. He speaks of some of them as leaving the kingdom to form churches amongst people of another language: and others, who remained in England, he censures for withdrawing from the national worship, and assembling in woods, stables, and barns, for religious service. He particularly distinguishes from Puritans and Brownists, on the one hand, and from Arians and Socinians, on the other, those who by way of reproach were called Anabaptists * ; and who separated both from the church and other dissenters. Whatever may be thought concerning the truth and justness of their views on the question relative to baptism, their great seriousness of
• In the dialogue of Enoch Clapham, above mentioned, the Anabaptist is asked, what religion he is of, and is made to answer, “ Of the true religion, commonly termed Anabaptism, from our baptizing.” When he is interrogated concerning the church or congregation he was connected with in Holland, he answers, “ There be certain English people of us that came out from the Brownists." When the Arian says, “ I am of the mind that there is no true baptism upon earth," he replies, “ I pray thee, say not so; the congregation I am of, can and doth administer true baptism.” When an inquirer after truth offers, on his proving what he has said, to leave his old religion, the Anabaptist answers, “ You should say, if God will give you grace to leave it ; for it is a particular favour to leave Sodom and Egypt, spiritually so called.” When the same person offers to unite with them, the Anabaptist replies, “ The dew of heaven come upon you : to-morrow I will bring you into our sacred congregation, that so you may come to be informed of the faith, and after that be purely baptized.” This representation of the Baptists in the year 1608, though furnished by one who wrote against them, deserves regard, especially as he assures his readers that the characters which he has drawn of each sect had not been done without several years' experience and study of them. Ivimey’s English Baptists, vol. 1. p. 122.