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Puritan Memoirs

The Era of the Puritans (1559-1662, or thereabouts)

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The Lives and Deaths of some of the great Puritans

The grace of God seen in the lives and works of some of the greatest Scottish and English Puritans of all time. This work is called “Memoirs of the Puritans”. I will be taking each section on each puritan and systematically posting them here for your introduction to their life and work.

A Short Introduction to the Lives of the Puritans

THE English nation, under Henry VIII, having renounced the jurisdiction of Rome: The loss of such an important department of his spiritual kingdom exasperated the Roman pontiff almost to madness; but finding his power and influence unequal to the task of recovering his supremacy, he carefully watched every movement of the English government, in hopes that more auspicious circumstances might enable him to reclaim his scattered flock, and once more gather them together under the maternal wings of the Romish church. During the life of Henry he was not altogether without hope; but the piety and protestant principles of Edward his successor, together with the rapid progress of the reformation, almost drove him to despair. The short reign of this amiable prince, however, opened the way for his sister Mary to the throne, a bigoted papist, naturally peevish, and so much soured to resentment for the injustice done to her mother and herself by the reformers, that the pope found her a tool, in every respect fitting for the work he intended to put into her hands. The circumstances were promising, the moment was precious, and the holy father was determined not to let it slip. Accordingly, his paternal admonitions, together with those of her ghostly directors, were so congenial to the narrow and intolerant soul of Mary, that they were, on all occasions, implicitly and cordially embraced, and executed with such a rigor of vengeance, that every consideration of sound policy and humane feeling were swallowed up in the raging propensity to extirpate heresy from her dominions, and restore the glory of ‘holy mother church. Hence, in the short space of three years, two hundred and seventy-seven individuals were brought to the stake, and consumed in the flames, independent of vast numbers who suffered by cruel imprisonments, and a variety of tortures, or were ruined by fines, or the confiscation of their property. Of those who perished in the fire, there were five bishops, twenty-one clergymen, eight gentlemen, eighty-four tradesmen, one hundred husbandmen, servants, and laborers, fifty-five women, and four children.

Aware of the impossibility of burning, or otherwise destroying all the reformers, they endeavored to flatter and cajole them into their measures, and those who continued refractory were hurried to prison, where a string of articles were offered them to subscribe, and whoever had the hardihood to reject the queen’s mercy, thus brought to their very hand, were denounced as obstinate heretics, and sent to the flames. This merciless mode of procedure, they presumed, would soon silence all opposition; but they were too sanguine in their expectations, for notwithstanding of all the victims, thus cruelly sacrificed, the heretics were rapidly increasing in number, resolution, and implacable animosity against the perpetrators of these disgusting atrocities, which were already become odious to the whole nation; as appeared in the opposition of the new parliament.

During this period of intolerant and persecuting severity, those protestant clergymen, who escaped the fangs of this royal tigress and her bloodhounds, were dispersed, and fled for safety to the protestant countries on the continent, where they were received, particularly at Geneva, with the most fraternal hospitality. On the death of Mary, her sister Elizabeth was placed upon the throne, and the persecuted exiles returned with joyful hearts to their native country, and were restored to their flocks, and the exercise of their ministry in the churches from which they had been expelled: But most of them, during their absence, had become strongly attached to the simple ceremonial of Geneva, and other reformed churches on the continent; and finding so much of the Romish superstition still retained in the liturgy of the church of England, had their doubts how far it was lawful for them to conform; anxious, at the same time, to purge the ritual of the church of England down to something like the simplicity of the foreign churches. Here, however, they were opposed by the whole body of the dignified clergy, many of whom had been papists, and conformed to save their livings, and, in hopes of another change, were desirous to keep as near as possible to the establishment they had left. But, above all, the imperious queen, who, together with her crown, inherited also, from her father, a superabundant portion of his tyrannical spirit, held to the very letter of her supremacy with unreasonable tenacity, prohibiting all innovations. Though her interest and inclination seemed to concur with her education in making her a determined protestant, yet she evinced a feminine fondness for the external pomp and gaudy splendor of worship, and inclined rather to extend than diminish the established ceremonial; nor were the rigid manners of these pious exiles at all congenial to her spirit, which greatly betrayed the hypocrisy of her outward profession of the protestant religion.

Her imperious temper, her vanity and duplicity, her profane swearing, and a multitude of other acts, utterly inconsistent with the purity and gentleness of the religion of the Son of God, might perhaps be consistent with the character of a female despot, but altogether incompatible with that of a good Christian. These excellent men were anxious to restore the church of England, as near as possible, to the primitive and apostolic simplicity, and were joined by numbers of others, holding similar opinions; but they were accounted, by their adversaries, as too rigidly righteous, and, in consequence of their nonconformity, their becoming gravity, and Christian like conversation, they we’re stigmatized with the name of puritans; an appellation by which men of similar principles continue still to be distinguished in the church of England.

But in place of conceding any thing to the wishes and conscientious scruples of the puritans, the queen published the act of uniformity, and enforced its intolerant enactments with all the rigor of her sovereign power. The puritans, exasperated by a treatment they so little expected, and conscious that, after their long and arduous sufferings, they so little deserved, could no longer abstain from bitter invectives against their oppressors. The puritans were charged with obstinacy and unnecessary scrupulosity; while they, on the other hand, charged their opponents with insolence and intolerance. The peacemakers, on both sides, could not be heard amid the heated passions and noisy clamors of the contending parties, neither of whom were disposed to yield or compromise the points in dispute, so that the breach widened apace. With regard to the doctrines maintained in the church, both parties were cordially agreed, and equally tenacious; and if any difference, perhaps the puritans were more so than even their adversaries; and though some of them were for a thorough reformation of the church from every remnant of the Roman superstition, yet the more moderate of the party, which perhaps constituted the majority, would have thankfully received a few concessions to remove the most obnoxious grounds of their objections to the established forms; of which, the article of vestments, the sign of the cross in baptism, the ring in marriage, kneeling when receiving the sacrament, and some similar rites, formed the most conspicuous part. But the refusal to grant a liberal toleration, with a determination, at the same time, to silence the murmurs of the people by the strong arm of power, in place of answering the purposes intended, only served to render them more inimical to the government, and more united amongst themselves.

The dignified clergy, who were the principal abettors of these coercive measures under queen Elizabeth, seem to have been, little acquainted with the human character, and to have made still less use of the experience of former ages, when they adopted a plan of policy, which had always proved abortive in the hands of their persecuting predecessors, and which, so long as the mental and corporeal conformation of mankind remains unchanged, must be equally unsuccessful in the hands of their successors; These intolerant ecclesiastics must have known, that the cruelties and insatiable encroachments of the Roman pontiffs had lately lost them the supremacy of nearly one half of the European population; and that the recent persecution under queen Mary, had so disgusted the good people of England at the very name of popery that is holiness had been thereby bereaved of consolation, even of hope, that he should ever regain his pretended supremacy in that kingdom. The inflexible fortitude of the martyrs, who embraced the flames at Smithfield, Oxford, and elsewhere, might also have taught them, that unless they could convince men, they would not believe them; that unless they do them justice; they will neither love nor honor them; and that, without their own good pleasure, no power on earth can make them obey. But an overbearing conceit of their own wisdom and superior policy, together with the bewitching anticipations of power, honor, and emolument, urged them to acts of oppression and uncharitable severity, and introduced into the church animosity and disorder, of which the following generations experienced the terrible consequences; while each predominating party, in their turn, abused the power they had acquired; and, instead of a liberal toleration, smote, with the sword of the civil magistrate, all who refused to conform to their exclusive establishments.

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