a synod or presbytery: and though the decision of that assembly went forth in the name of the apostles, elders, and members of the Jerusalem church, and the others joined with them in the conference, it was made by apostolic and inspired men, and does not affect the question of church government.

The independence of the first churches of Christians has been conceded by both Episcopalians and Presbyterians. The learned Dr. Barrow, an Episcopalian, in his Treatise on the Pope's Supremacy, speaking of the primitive state of the Church, says, “ Each church separately did order its own affairs, without recourse to others, except for charitable advice, or relief in cases of extraordinary difficulty or urgent need."

“Each church was endowed with perfect liberty and a full authority, without dependence or subordination to others, to govern its own members, manage its own affairs, to decide controversies and causes incident among themselves without allowing appeals or rendering accounts to others. This appeareth in the apostolical writings of St. Paul and St. John to single churches, wherein they are supposed able to exercise spiritual power for establishing decency, removing disorders, correcting offences, deciding causes, &c." Unity of the Church.

Lord Chancellor King, in his learned “ Inquiry into the Constitution and Discipline of the Primitive Church,” affirms, “That every church was independent, that is, without the concurrence and authority of any other church.”

Bingham, in his "Antiquities of the Christian Church," says, “There is one thing more must be taken notice of whilst we are considering the proper office of bishops, which is the absolute power of every bishop in his own church, independent of others." This refers to a post apostolical age, when the bishop had to a considerable extent grasped church power into his own hands, but it still proves the independency of the churches upon each other.

Dr. Campbell, a Presbyterian, says, “The different congregations, with their ministers, seem to have been in a great measure independent of each other. Every thing regarding their own procedure in worship, as well as discipline, was settled among themselves.” Lect. ix.

Traces of independency, in an undeveloped form, are to be found in various ages and different sections of the Christian church, through the whole range of ecclesiastical history. But it was never advocated in this country, in a systematic form, till the time of Elizabeth.

We have already introduced Robert Brown to the reader's attention, who, whatever was his character, was the first that propounded in form the principles of Indepency, after whom this denomination were called Brownists. Brown's opinions, in consequence of his popularity as a preacher, spread fast and widely, for Sir Walter Raleigh, in his speech in Parliament, in 1580, when speaking of the severe measures then in contemplation against the Brownists, 'I am afraid there are near twenty thousand of them in England.” Among those who embraced these opinions were a Mr. Barrow, a gentleman of “a good house,” according to the testimony of his great contemporary, Lord Bacon; and a Mr. Greenwood, a graduate of Cambridge. These were too active by their writings and their conduct to escape the notice of the Church party, and were soon arrested and thrown into prison. After lingering in jail for six years, they were brought to trial, and sentenced to death, and commanded to prepare for immediate execu


tion. The next day they were brought out of prison, their irons were struck off, and they were about to be bound to a cart which was to carry them to Tyburn, when a reprieve arrived, obviously for the purpose of allowing them an opportunity to recant. The respite was of short duration, for in eight days after they were conveyed to Tyburn, and exposed under the gallows with the fatal rope round their necks. They were permitted to address the people with a dying speech, and had scarcely finished their supposed last words, when a reprieve again arrived. They returned to prison amidst the greetings of the people, elated with the hope that their lives were really now about to be spared. Vain expectation. In another week the dreadful mock execution was turned into a real one, and they died as felons or traitors for their zeal in the cause of Independency. Such was the manner in which the persecutors of those days sported with their victims in the presence of death. Who can help thinking of the manner in which the cat plays fast and loose with her little, defenceless, palpitating victim, as if the destructive grip were postponed to protract the torture. If there were room, and it were necessary, I might here introduce the life, labours, writings, and martyrdom of John Penry, a Welch Independent, and present one of the most touching narratives to be found in the pages of English martyrology; in reference to whom, Hallam, in his Constitutional History, remarks, “Penry's protestation at his death is in a style of the most affecting and simple eloquence.”

As a further proof and example of the sufferings of the Independents, during the reign of Elizabeth, I may mention that there was a congregation which had been accustomed to assemble in various places about the city and its suburbs, of which Mr. Greenwood, just alluded to, was teacher. In summer they used to meet in the fields, where, sitting upon a bank, they expounded the Bible to each other. During the winter they assembled at four o'clock in the morning, in some house, and continued in prayer and exposition all day, They dined together, after which they made a collection to pay for their diet, and to supply the wants of their brethren in prison. They were at length discovered at Islington, in the very apartment which had been occupied by a Protestant congregation during the reign of Mary, and upwards of fifty of them were apprehended and committed to prison. In a petition they presented to the Privy Council, they bitterly complained of the treatment which they received from the bishops; and they presented another to the Lord Treasurer, which is one of the most affecting appeals ever made by the oppressed to the oppressor, and which was signed by fifty-nine prisoners, and had appended to it the names of ten others already deceased in consequence of their confinement. Among those who died in prison was Roger Rippon, on whose coffin the following inscription was written by his fellow-sufferers :-“This is the coffin of Roger Rippon, a servant of Christ, and her Majesty's faithful subject; who is the last of sixteen or seventeen which that great enemy of God, the Archbishop of Canterbury, with his high commissioners, have murdered in Newgate, within the last five years, manifestly for the testimony of Jesus Christ. His soul is now with the Lord; and his blood crieth for speedy vengeance against that great enemy of the saints, Mr. Richard Young (a justice of peace in London), who, in this and many like points, hath abused his power for the upholding of the Romish antichrist, prelacy, and priesthood.” Many copies of this inscription were dispersed, and tended to awaken sympathy with the sufferers and indignation against the clergy as the cause of their

wrongs. Surely when such cruelties were inflicted upon men for no other crime but forming and expressing their own opinions on the meaning of the word of God, we cannot be surprised that they should sometimes be goaded into the use of language in their writings which not only violated the law of Christian meekness, but increased the ferocity of their persecutors. It is impossible to justify the bitter irony, the angry vituperation, and the somewhat coarse and vulgar abuse contained in the MarPrelate Tracts, which, from their obscure and concealed batteries, assailed at this time, with such effect, the bishops and their supporters. Such were not the weapons most likely either to defend the oppressed, or to conquer

their oppressors; nor was the use of them sanctioned by the direction of our Lord in his sermon upon the mount.

Among the most distinguished of the Independents of the time of Elizabeth, was Henry Ainsworth, one of the most eminent scholars of his day. A rather whimsical anecdote

may be here introduced of this great man's reputation, and the mistakes sometimes committed by the compilers of dictionaries. "A higher testimony," says the editor of the Biographia Britannica, “ of the reputation Ainsworth had acquired by his writings, cannot well be expected than that which occurs in all the late editions of Moreri's Dictionary, and even in the last, wherein with great pains they distinguish between Henry Ainsworth the able commentator on the scriptures, and Henry Ainsworth the heresiarch, who was one of the chief of the Brownists in the reign of Queen Elizabeth,' and very gravely tell us that we must have

« VorigeDoorgaan »