a care not to confound them; nevertheless, nothing is more certain than that these two were the same man." This great man rose from the lowest rank, being nothing more at one time than a bookseller's porter, living upon nine pence a week, and some boiled roots. In this situation he studied Hebrew, and at length rose to be one of the greatest proficients in that language of his times. He appears to have first joined himself to the Independent exiles at Amsterdam, in connexion with Mr. Johnson, a learned and able advocate of their principles. Ainsworth was the author of numerous works of great merit, but his fame rests principally on his “Annotations on the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Song of Songs.” Bishop Hall, in his “Apology for the Church of England against the Brownists,” often mentions Ainsworth as the greatest man of his party, their doctor, their chief, their rabbi. And they have no need to be ashamed of him.

Under the reign of James, the Independents were not wanting in authors or preachers to set forth their principles, though they were very few in number or perhaps in weight, compared with the Presbyterians. But one name must be put forward as sustaining a high rank among the few, I mean John Robinson, whose history having been given in the sketch of Nonconformity, need not be repeated here. It was by Robinson, as we have already said, that the principles of Independency were brought more nearly to the systematic form they now bear. The cause of Independency in England, so far as the controversy is concerned, was maintained also by a Mr. Henry Jacob, by whom the designation of INDEPENDENT was first employed. After residing for some time with other exiles in Holland, as minister of a congregation at Leyden, he returned to England, and formed in London, in the year 1616, what was said to


be the first Independent or Congregational church in this country. This, however, was not correct, as there were some societies of this denomination formed even as carly as the time of Elizabeth, though much less known than that of Jacob, whose writings as an author gave to him, and therefore to the church under his care, considerable notoriety. It must not be supposed, however, that the Independents of the time of which we are now speaking, thoroughly understood the great principles of religious liberty, or the distinction between things civil and things sacred. They asserted the independence of the churches of each other, but not of the magistrates' power. They held firmly congregational Independency, but not aggregate Independency. Jacob allowed of the interposition of the secular power for the establishment of truth, and so did many others. Brown was much nearer the truth on this subject than Jacob. Perhaps the Baptists were among the first to assert the unfettered rights of conscience. The earliest work in which this was avowedly advocated was that of Leonard Busher, a citizen of London, and entitled “ Religious Peace, or a Plea for Liberty of Conscience.” 1614.

At the latter end of the reign of James I. the Independents, though still vastly out-numbered by the Presbyterians, were rising into notice, as will appear evident from a remark in a sermon by Bishop Hall before the King, in 1624. “Surely,” he says, “if we grow into that anarchical fashion of Independent congregations, which I see, and lament to see, affected by too many, not without woeful success, we are gone, we are lost in a most miserable confusion.” It must not be supposed, however, that they were all separatists from the Established Church. They were not allowed the liberty of open worship and ecclesiastical organization according

. to their own principles, and could only meet stealthily and in such places as they could obtain, with least danger of being discovered. In London, in Kent, in Norfolk, in Gloucestershire, and Wales, there were many who followed the congregational system more or less perfectly developed, and more or less in a state of separation from the established worship.

In addition to Ainsworth, Robinson, and Jacob, they could boast of, as among their leaders, Dr. Ames, one of the best scholars of the day, and equally eminent as a controversialist, of whom Mr. Hooker, who was his assistant at Amsterdam, when in exile, says, in his preface to Ames' last work, written a little before his death, “With the coming forth of this book into the light, the learned and famous author, Dr. Ames, left the light, or darkness rather, of this world......a pattern of holiness, a burning and shining light, a lamp of learning and arts, a champion of truth.” To Ames must be added Canne, the author of many works, now best known by a publication of the Bible with marginal references, which goes to this day by his name, but which was imperfectly done, and is now to be found only in the libraries of the antiquarian. He subsequently became a Baptist, and a fifth monarchy man. Another individual who, soon after this, signalised himself as an advocate of Independency, both by his writings and by his sufferings, was Mr. Burton, the associate of Mr. Prynne and Dr. Bastwick in the cruelties and indignities heaped upon them by Laud, through the instrumentality of the Court of High Commission and the Star Chamber. These three confessors, for writing against Episcopacy, were sentenced to have their ears cut off, and to stand in the pillory in Palace-yard, to pay a fine of five thousand pounds each to the King, to be perpetually imprisoned, and Prynne, in addition to all this, to be burned by a hot iron in the cheek with the two letters S. L. seditious libeller. This sentence was executed amidst the sympathy, indignation, and so far as regards the courage and noble bearing of the sufferers, the admiration of an immense crowd, who, to shew their opinion of the proceedings, strewed with sweet herbs the path along which the martyrs were brought to the pillory.

During the contest of Charles' with his Parliament the Independents increased in numbers and in influence, till at length, in both houses of Parliament, there sprang up what was called “The Independent Party :" they were few in number, but of great ability and energy. Cromwell was an Independent, and the first that ever sat in the House of Commons: and Hampden probably favoured these opinions, though both of them at that time were members of the Church of England : Sir Harry Vane openly espoused them. In the Upper House were Lord Brooke, and Lord Say and Sele, who made no concealment of their Congregational views. It must not be imagined, however, that it was the Independents who originated the war against Charles. The Long Parliament, as we have already shewn from Clarendon, consisted at its commencement almost exclusively of Episcopalians, and had not one separatist. Independency, as a form of religious opinion, had nothing whatever to do with this rupture, for not only were they who favoured it few in number, but their principles were opposed to the sentiments of the great body of the members, and were even discountenanced by legislative enactments. It was as patriots, and not as Independents, that Cromwell, Hampden, St. John, Vane, Lords Brooke and Say and Şele, entered upon this contest, whatever other senti

ments and objects came up during its progress. Mr. Macaulay, in speaking of them, says, “There had been from the first, in the Parliamentary party, some men whose minds were set on objects, from which the majority of the party would have shrunk with horror.

These men were in religion, Independents. They considered that every Christian congregation had, under Christ, supreme jurisdiction in things spiritual: that appeals to provincial and national synods were scarcely less unscriptural than appeals to the Court of Arches or to the Vatican; and that Popery, Prelacy, and Presbyterianism were merely three forms of one great apostacy. In politics they were, to use the phrase of their time, root-and-branch-men, or to use the kindred term of our own times, radicals. Not content with limiting the power of the monarch, they were desirous to erect a commonwealth on the ruins of the old English polity. At first they had been inconsiderable both in numbers and in might, but before the war had lasted two years, they became, not indeed the largest but the most powerful faction in the country.” It may, however, be fairly questioned whether this party, if we except Sir Harry Vane, at the commencement of the rupture of the King with the Parliament, had any serious thought of setting up a commonwealth, or even wished to do so. These views arose as the struggle progressed, when the duplicity of the King had disgusted them with monarchy altogether. No doubt, as Mr. Macaulay says, after the death and defection of some of the great parliamentary leaders, the Independent party, "ardent, resolute, and uncompromising, began to raise its head both in the camp and in the parliament,” and we may add, it was that party which afterwards directed the course of events that ended in the downfall of the Monarchy and the establishment of the Commonwealth.

« VorigeDoorgaan »