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were given to court gambols, sensuality, and drunkenness; while around him were minds teeming with principles of the most solemn import, and with feelings of the purest and loftiest aspiration. The king who hated the name of freedom, and who strained his feeble and tremulous nerves to curb the genius of a people determined to be free. The least manly of all the sovereigns of Europe, claiming to be honoured as a demi-god by a nation animated with the stern thought, and full-grown feeling of manhood, beyond any other nation in Christendom, and perhaps beyond all the nations of Christendom collectively in
In all this we see a large amount of the unnatural, and the source of much inevitable mischief. But this mischief fell with its greatest weight on religion, and on the consciences of devout men. Many of the restless spirits of the time—the gallants as they were called—manifested their inquietude beneath this uncongenial control; and no scene of action being open to them, either as soldiers abroad, or as inviting them to do some fine thing at home, they many of them turned their attention to the newly-discovered regions of the earth, and to plans of colonization. But your gallants are not good at colonization. That sort of enterprise demands something more rare than courage, and something more valuable than ordinary worldly sagacity. Social virtue is nowhere tested as in infant settlements. Men who go upon such experiments need rooted principle, no less than stoutness of heart, and a spirit of patient endurance.
In England, at the time to which we refer, it was on minds of this better order that the pressure in favour of emigration came with its greatest force. Elizabeth was the sovereign of a double empire. She claimed dominion over the soul as truly as over the body.
By her ecclesiastical supremacy, she took under her jurisdiction, not only the things which belonged to Cæsar, but the things which belonged to God. Her prescriptions on the matter of religion, embraced all that her people should believe, and all that they should do. From her pleasure they were to receive every article of their creed, and every direction, even the minutest, in regard to worship. No pontiff had ever exercised a more rigorous domination in this respect, when seated in the midst of his cardinals, than was exercised by Elizabeth, when presiding in her assembly of ecclesiastical commissioners. The men who should deny the right of the pope to assume such powers might be burned before St. Peter's. The men who made the same denial in respect to Elizabeth were hanged at Tyburn. The queen, indeed, was head of the church in a more intimate degree than of the state, her ecclesiastical functionaries being generally much more manageable in relation to the one, than her parliaments were found to be in relation to the other. Her power in this department was greater than in any other; and by her proud Tudor temper it was guarded with proportionate solicitude, and exercised with proportionate freedom. In her view, to deny her right to rule the conscience of her subjects, was to deny her right to rule at all, and therefore treason, and an offence to be punished as treason.
In stating thus much, we are not venturing upon ground open to debate. We merely refer to the unquestionable facts of history-facts deplored, we presume, by the modern churchmen as sincerely as by the modern dissenter. The quarrel between Elizabeth and the puritans did not involve any direct impeachment of the ecclesiastical supremacy of the crown. The complaint of the puritan was, not that the queen had presumed to meddle with church affairs, but that she had not exercised her authority in such matters after the puritan fashion. It was deemed just that the sovereign, as such, should uphold sound theology, and scriptural discipline and worship; but the puritan claimed to be the judge as to the doctrine, regimen, or ritual, which should be so regarded. Hence conflict ensued between the royal-conscience and the subject-conscience. Opinions which the crown had ruled as being scriptural, the puritan denounced as erroneous; and regulations enjoined as seemly and devout by the one, were described as superstitious or profane by the other.
In the ecclesiastical history of England, the genius of presbyterianism has never proceeded beyond this point. In Scotland, of late years, it has been otherwise. But in our own earlier history, the adherents of that system, while they claimed exemption in some things from the interference of the civil power, in other, and in greater things, they have clung to the aids of that power with a marked tenacity. The history of English presbyterianism, accordingly, has been too much a struggle for ascendancy, and too little a struggle for freedom. But ascendancy, not based on right, must not be expected to work rightly. It is the rule of the strongest, and it must be sustained by mere strength, more than by principle, virtue, or goodness.
Even in the age of Elizabeth, however, there were men who had passed beyond the point adverted to—men who could draw the line, not with an infallible, but certainly with a vigorous hand between the secular and the spiritual-men who maintained that membership in a Christian church should be restricted to persons of Christian character; that the ministers of churches so constituted should be Christian men, approved as such by the persons to whom they minister; and that the worship and discipline of those voluntary assemblies should be determined wholly by themselves, and not at all by the secular power. In the reign of Mary, an act of state had set forth the whole people of England as constituting a popish church. On the accession of Elizabeth, an act of state had set forth the same nation as constituting a protestant church. In both cases the people were the same, and the priesthood for the most part remained the same. The bold men to whom we refer demurred to this manner of proceeding. The mixed multitude of people so spoken of, no doubt included many enlightened and sincere Christians, but could not, it was alleged, be described in any sober sense as being truly a church. In like manner, the ministry of such a church might include many devout men; but the validity of a ministry so appointed must rest on moral grounds, and not in any degree on the state sanctions which might be urged in its favour.
These principles, simple and harmless as they may now seem, struck at the root of the ecclesiastical supremacy then claimed by the crown. Elizabeth saw that if such doctrines became prevalent, the one half of her empire, and the half which she especially valued, must pass to other hands. Opinions of this nature, accordingly, were in her view treasonable—treasonable in the worst sense. They embraced that very principle of divided allegiance which had caused Romanism to become so obnoxious. The catholic gave his conscience in religious matters to his particular church. This new sect of protestants gave their conscience immediately to God. In either case, the body and the outward only were reserved in allegiance to the throne, the soul and the inward were given to another. In the judgment of Elizabeth, the man holding such a doctrine could be only half a subject, and its natural tendency was to reduce every crowned head to the condition of being only half a sovereign.
Robert Brown, a clergyman by education and office, and a kinsman to the great Lord Treasurer Burleigh, distinguished himself, about the middle of the reign of Elizabeth, as the promulgator of such opinions. This divine was a personage of ready, earnest, and impassioned utterance, and in his pulpit exhibitions was eminently popular. Crowds assembled to hear him at Cambridge, and subsequently at Norwich where he was beneficed. As a preacher he was well known through great part of England, and with his itinerant and irregular services in that capacity, he connected the publication of his opinions from the press. One seal of an apostle was not wanting in his instance. In prosecuting bis vocation, he found that bonds and imprisonment commonly awaited him. These he bore through
many years with the most dogged obstinacy, if not with the most exemplary patience. It was his boast that he had been committed to more than thirty prisons, in some of which his hand could not be seen at noonday. To escape from this inconvenient
and from some more severe treatment with which he was threatened, Brown fled to Middleburgh in Zealand, and instituted a church in that city after his own model. But the pastor soon found occasion of disagreement with his new charge, and returning to England, he submitted to the authorities to which he had been so much opposed, and again became a beneficed clergyman. Brown lived to an extreme old age, but the last forty years of his life were the years
sorry worldling, and his death is said to have been brought on by one of those fits of passion and self-will to which he was liable.
The story of this unhappy man is instructive. He was one of a class-a zealot in religion, without being religious. His hatred of some real or supposed Christian abuses, was presumed to be evidence of his own Christian character; but while doing so much to mend the religion of other men, it was ere long to be manifest that he had no religion of his own. Passionate opposition to error is not the surest way to truth. Piety is self-government in its highest form. It is the Christian temper which must regenerate Christian institutions.
It was natural that the men who embraced the principles once avowed by this apostate should be solicitous not to be called by his name. But their enemies were no less solicitous to fasten that reproach upon them. To call them Brownists, was to identify them with the extravagant, the fickle, and the base in the career of Robert Brown. What theologian, or what philososopher even, could be expected to forego so felicitous an occasion of using a nickname. The principles of the said Brown were one thing, and the character of the man another. But how much was to be gained by not seeming to perceive that distinction? The learned and the vulgar—philosophy and Billingsgate
care found, on such occasions, to possess much more in common than is commonly supposed.
But whatever may have been the case with their persecutors, the conscientious men holding the principles which Brown had abandoned, were philosophers enough not to allow themselves to be scared from great truths by the accident of an infelicitous association. They held their secret assemblies. They possessed a private printing-press, and issued tracts and treatises, sometimes grave and sometimes satirical, impugning the order of things in the established church, and inculcating their own widely different views on such subjects. In some of these pieces the language employed was not always the softest which might have been chosen. But men perishing under the weight of hard blows, may be excused if they sometimes use hard words. Proclamations were issued to suppress these irregular proceedings, and many of the alleged delinquents were made to feel that these intimations of the royal pleasure were not so much empty threatening.
Two Brownist ministers, named John Copping and Elias Thacker, were imprisoned in Bury St. Edmund's, on the charge of dispersing books opposed to the ecclesiastical supremacy of the crown, and acknowledging the authority of the queen in civil matters only. Within our own memory, confinement in a jail, especially in some provincial districts, has been connected with enough of the loathsome and the horrible. But of the miseries of such a durance in the age of Elizabeth, we have little conception, except as suggested by some of those painful descriptions which have reached us from the cells of such sufferers. Copping and Thacker might have obtained their liberty on renouncing their errors, and promising conformity. During five long winters their wants and wretchedness were made to plead on the side of submission, but though examined once and again, they wavered not. At length they were apprised that their life would be the cost of their further contumacy. On the 4th of June, 1583, Thacker was led to the place of execution. The books which he had been convicted of dispersing were burned in his presence, and the injured man gave noble proof that his religious principles were stronger than his fear of death. Two days afterwards, Copping was conducted to the same spot, and having witnessed the same proceedings, died with the same martyr firmness. It is something to meet death as the soldier meets it, when multitudes share in the common peril; it is more to submit to it in the comparative solitariness of martyrdom, when nothing can come from man except the influence of distant sympathy or admiration; but these sufferers bade adieu to earth amidst circumstances which left them no sustaining power, beside their simple hope of heaven. The scattered and bleeding remnant who would honour their memory, were a people despised as much as they were wronged. The heart is formed to crave a sympathetic power from other hearts, and can be strong without it only as strength shall come to it from a much higher source. Man becomes superior to the terrors of this world, in such circumstances, only as he can take firm hold on a better.
The houses of persons suspected of embracing the opinions professed by these men were often rigorously searched. The officers employed on those occasions frequently ill-treated even the women and the children of such families, and, under various