Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Puritans Seek Liberty



            Queen Elizabeth I succeeded in reigning in the Puritan party and in keeping herself strongly positioned as the governor of the Church of England. But Elizabeth could not reign forever, and when King James I came to the throne in 1603, those of Puritan beliefs hoped for another opportunity for further reform. James was from Scotland, where reformed and presbyterian ideas were much further advanced than they were in England. Perhaps now the king would favor their cause.

The Millenary Petition

            In this hope some Puritan delegates met the new king on his way to from Scotland to London to present to him the Millenary Petition, so named because it was supposed to have been signed by one thousand clergymen. The substance of the petition is as follows.

Our humble suit, then, unto your majesty is that these offences following, some may be removed, some amended, some qualified:

(1) In the Church service: that the cross in baptism, interrogatories ministered to infants, confirmation, as superfluous, may be taken away; baptism not to be ministered by women, and so explained; the cap and surplice not urged; that examination may go before the communion; that it be ministered with a sermon; that divers terms of priests, and absolution, and some other used, with the ring in marriage, and other such like in the book, may be corrected; the longsomeness of service abridged, Church songs and music moderated to better edification; that the Lord's Day be not profaned; the rest upon holy days not so strictly urged; that there may be a uniformity of doctrine prescribed; no popish opinion to be any more taught or defended; no ministers charged to teach their people to bow at the name of Jesus; that the canonical Scriptures only be read in the Church.

(2) Concerning Church ministers: that none hereafter be admitted into the ministry but able and sufficient men, and those to preach diligently and especially upon the Lord's day; that such as be already entered and cannot preach, [Page 510] may either be removed, and some charitable course taken with them for their relief, or else be forced, according to the value of their livings, to maintain preachers; that non-residency be not permitted; that King Edward's statute for the lawfulness of ministers' marriages be revived; that ministers be not urged to subscribe, but according to the law, to the Articles of Religion, and the king's supremacy only.

(3) For Church livings and maintenance: that bishops leave their commendams, some holding parsonages, some prebends, some vicarages, with their bishoprics; that double-beneficed men be not suffered to hold some two, some three benefices with cure, and some two, three, or four dignities besides; that impropriations annexed to bishoprics and colleges be demised only to the preachers incumbents, for the old rent; that the impropriations of laymen's fees be charged, with a sixth or seventh part of their worth, to the maintenance of the preaching minister.

(4) For Church discipline: that the discipline and excommunication may be administered according to Christ's own institution, or, at the least, that enormities may be redressed, as namely, that excommunication come not forth under the name of lay persons, chancellors, officials, &c.; that men be not excommunicated for trifles and twelve-penny matters; that none be excommunicated without consent of his pastor; that the officers be not suffered to extort unreasonable fees; that none having jurisdiction or registers' places, put out the same to farm; that divers popish canons (as for restraint of marriage at certain times) be reversed; that the longsomeness of suits in ecclesiastical courts (which hang sometimes two, three, four, five, six, or seven years) may be restrained; that the oath Ex Officio, whereby men are forced to accuse themselves, be more sparingly used; that licences for marriages without banns asked, be more cautiously granted:

These, with such other abuses yet remaining and practised in the Church of England, we are able to show not to be agreeable to the Scriptures, if it shall please your highness further to hear us….[1]

James agreed to a conference, and the meeting at Hampton Court was arranged. However, James wasted no time in dashing the Puritan hopes. He bluntly rejected their proposals and decidedly upheld the status quo. His decisions, enforced by Archbishop Bancroft, resulted in about 300 ministers being forced from the ministry and, in some cases, from the country.
From this petition you can see that the Puritan concerns and agenda had not changed. J. I. Packer’s memorable characterization that the Puritans wanted to eliminate popery from church worship, prelacy from church government, and pagan irreligion from church membership was still true.

Parliament Rises to the Occasion

            However, important changes were taking place in the balance of power in England. James claimed a theory of the divine right of kings which was absolutist. He stated to the House of Lord in 1603, “I am the Husband, and all the whole Isle is my lawfull Wife; I am the Head, and it is my Body; I am the Shepherd, and it is my Flocke.” Yet when James summoned a new Parliament to raise supplies, they refused to grant him his requests unless certain changes were made. As the representatives of the people, Parliament began to claim that their privileges were not the prerogative of the crown. When James appeared before Parliament on May 30, 1604 to rebuke them, the Parliament refused to back down. With regard to religion, they expressly denied that the king had any right to alter the laws of religion without Parliamentary consent. Two great parties began a struggle which would eventually take England all the way to civil war – the king and the Anglicans striving for supremacy of the crown, the Parliament and the Puritans fighting for a constitutional government. Unfortunately, James refused to change course and began to resort to unconstitutional means of raising money to finance his wars.

James Versus the Puritans

            To cite one intringuing example of the conflict which continued between the crown and the Puritans, we put forward “The Declaration of Sports,” promulgated by James in 1618. The Puritans had been trying to restrain the entertainments taking place on Sundays, since, as they believed, this was the Christian Sabbath. Much to the vexation of many serious Puritans, James explicitly endorsed some Sunday amusements in “The Declaration.”

“. . . Whereas we did justly in our progress through Lancashire rebuke some Puritans and precise people and took order that the like unlawful carriage should not be used by any of them hereafter, in the prohibiting and unlawful punishing of our good people for using their lawful recreations and honest exercises upon Sunday and other holy days, after the afternoon sermon or service, we now find that two sorts of people wherewith that country is much infected - we mean papists and Puritans - have maliciously traduced and calumniated those our just and honorable proceedings. . . . We have therefore thought good hereby to clear and make our pleasure to be manifested to all our good people in those parts. . . .

“Our pleasure likewise is, that the bishop of that diocese take the like strait order with all the Puritans and precisians within the same, either constraining them to conform themselves or to leave the county, according to the laws of our kingdom and canons of our Church, and so to strike equally on both hands against the contemners of our authority and adversaries of our Church; and as for our good people's lawful recreation, our pleasure likewise is, that after the end of divine service our good people be not disturbed, letted, or discouraged from any lawful recreation, such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation, nor from having of May-games, Whitsun-ales, and Morris-dances, and the setting up of Maypoles and other sports therewith used, so as the same be had in due and convenient time, without impediment or neglect of divine service; and that women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the decorating of it, according to their old custom; but withal we do here account still as prohibited all unlawful games to be used upon Sundays only, as bear and bull baitings, interludes, and at all times in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited, bowling.”[2]

Charles Ups the Ante

When James’ son Charles became king in 1625, he continued and furthered his father’s policies. Simply put, Charles virtually guaranteed a civil war by his arrogant actions. He alienated many people, for example, by his marriage to a Roman Catholic and his secret agreement in the marriage contract to allow Roman Catholics to absent themselves from the Church of England without penalty. In 1629 he dissolved the fourth parliament of his reign and began to simply operate without one for eleven years, deciding that he could do without its advice and that he could raise money on his own.
Charles was supported in his religious opinions by Archbishop William Laud, a terrible opponent of Puritanism both theologically and ecclesiastically. Laud was a stickler for enforcing every detail of church life in the way he thought best, and this was widely viewed as tending toward Roman Catholicism. Theologically, Laud was more Arminian, or “Anglo-Catholic,” than the Puritans could tolerate. Ecclesiastically, Laud would not tolerate any Puritan sentiments. Under pressure from Laud, many Puritans decided to emigrate to the American colonies. John Brown wrote,
“Between 1629 and 1640 about ninety university men, three-fourths of them from Cambridge, had emigrated. Of these Cambridge men, while nine were of Trinity and nine from St John's, no fewer than twenty-two were of Emmanuel College, the puritan foundation of Sir Walter Mildmay. In this list of twenty-two are found the great names of John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, R. Saltonstall, Thomas Shepard and John Harvard. It has been estimated upon what seem fairly reliable data that as the result of Laud's administration some 4000 puritan families, or an aggregate of over 20,000 persons went over to New England. With the exception of the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed in the Mayflower in 1620, these were not Separatists. Francis Higginson, vicar of one of the five parishes of Leicester, who sailed with the first party in 1629, may be taken as representative of all the rest. As the ship was off the Land's End, he and his companions stood on deck to take the last farewell look of the land they were leaving and which they loved so well. Standing there and looking eastward till the coastline faded out of sight, he said: 'We will not say as the Separatists were wont to say at their leaving of England, "Farewell, Babylon, farewell, Rome," but we will say, "Farewell, dear England, farewell, the Church of God in England, and all the Christian friends there." We do not go to New England as Separatists from the Church of England, though we cannot but separate from the corruptions in it.'”

            Thus Puritanism as a spiritual movement became a co-belligerent of the political movement for freedom from monarchs who overstepped their God-given bounds. We should not think of the Puritans as holding to the kinds of freedom of religion that later became the norm in America. That was not what they wanted. Many Puritans, in fact, remained committed royalists. Nevertheless, they strongly believed that the monarch was not the head of the church, and they felt the sting of worldly men who governed the church according to political expediency.
            This takes us to a parallel development in England which shared much in common with the Puritans – the rise of the Separatists.


[1] http://history.hanover.edu/texts/engref/er88.html
[2] You can read the Declaration as reissued by Charles I in 1633 at http://www.constitution.org/eng/ conpur017.htm.

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