« VorigeDoorgaan »
even some Protestant antiquaries and sentimentalists express themselves in a very dubious manner on the subject; as if they could forgive what is evil in virtue of its being picturesque, and forget the soul-condemning doctrines of Popery in the magnificence of its spectacles and the imposing splendour of its ritual. Now I do to my heart love antiquity, after my humble manner of appreciating it; and more miles would I walk to muse over an ancient arch or groining, than furlongs to dazzle my eyes with the jewels and feathers of a royal drawing-room; but not one sigh do I heave when I think of all these dilapidations: I am Vandal enough to rejoice at them with my whole soul, though I will not undertake to justify every circumstance that attended them, or the appropriation that was, in many instances, made of the confiscated revenues. But these nests of corruption needed to be utterly exterminated; for they were the strong holds of a debased system of religion, and were too often nurseries for hypocrisy and licentiousness; and, while they remained, no hope was there that England would ever be spiritually reformed. As to the boasted benefits which monasteries, nunneries, and kindred foundations conferred upon the poor, I altogether doubt the fact they tended, indeed, to generate a mass of pauperism, and to train up the poor to those depraved habits of squalid filth and unblushing mendicancy which still disgrace many Roman - Catholic countries; but any thing like an honourable provision for the virtuous and industrious poor, to the exclusion of the vicious and indolent, they did not, and could not afford. doles, alms, and viatorial bounties, in fact, did far more harm than good; and it was not the least of their evil results that on account of the poor having been accustomed to them, the councillors of queen Elizabeth were obliged to devise that bane of England, our poor laws, to prevent the obloquy that would otherwise have attached to the Reformation.
Queen Elizabeth visited Winchester, but did not reside long in it; but her sister Mary did, and celebrated her marriage there, and was much attached to the place, as well she might be, for, like many other of our ecclesiastical towns, it continued a favoured lurking-hole of Papal prejudice long after Protestantism had enlightened more secular places, and was in all its bad eminence of honour during her reign, from the presidency of that execrable man who occupied its episcopal throne, Bishop and Chancellor Gardiner. I have no authorities at hand to which I can turn for accurate information of the scenes which passed in this city during the Marian persecution. Milner, the Roman-Catholic historian and antiquary of Winchester, says little enough, as might be expected, on the subject: and throughout his elaborate work every apology is offered for the evil deeds of his own church, and every aggravation brought forward of those in the Protestant communion; and such a colour is given to his whole publication as might lead an unwary person to think that Popery was the most enlightened, lovely, and Christian system possible-the quintessence of all that was for the glory of God and the good of man,-and Protestantism one mass of error and absurdity, destitute of piety, taste, common sense, and charity. Books of this kind are more dangerous from their negatives than even from their assertions; and, by the way, I do not think it to the credit of the Protestantism of the literary caterers of such a place as Winchester, that the popular" Stranger's Guide," should be merely a superficial compilation from this Roman-Catholic oracle, without any attempt to correct those overstatements and understatements, those deficiencies and transgressions, which might be expected in a zealous partizan of the Papal Church. I will just quote a short passage from this manual on the subject in hand, as an illustration of the insidiously false views which are often conveyed in popular works,
in which their compilers neither intended nor suspected any mischief. "In the religious persecutions," says the Winchester Guide, "which Mary carried on against the Protestants, one person, Thomas Benbridge suffered death in Winchester, and another person connected with it, Archdeacon Philpot, was executed in London. In that [persecution] which Elizabeth raised against the Catholics, about a dozen individuals, inhabitants of the city, or persons otherwise connected with it, were put to death, either in Winchester itself or the metropolis." Now without going into details, this passage conveys under a specious front, the most palpable misrepresentation. Under Mary we are told, two persons suffer, and under Elizabeth about a dozen, in consequence of "religious persecution." The inference which an unwary reader would draw, is, that Protestants and Papists both did wrong, but the former in six times the ratio of the latter. I am far from defending the sanguinary severities of Elizabeth's reign; but to call them "religious persecutions," in the same sense as the religious persecutions of her sister, is a palpable and monstrous misrepresentation. Mary's atrocities were strictly religious persecutions; Elizabeth's "executions" were in general for offences against the state, for plots, sedition, and treason, to which the name of religion was only an adjunct. I say "in general," because there were some unhappy exceptions, which I should as little justify as the murder of Servetus. But these exceptions were not in the case of Papists, but of heretics or sectaries unconnected with Rome; for never can I consent to view such sufferers as Campian and his companions as men persecuted for religion. True, they viewed themselves as religious martyrs, and religious martyrs the Church of Rome still considers them; and their avowed object was the restoration of Popery: but it was as men who were plotting against the state, that they were
regarded by Elizabeth and her ministers. They endeavoured to expel the lawful sovereign from the throne, and to place on it a person of their own persuasion; and for this political crime they suffered, though doubtless it was their religious opinions that prompted them to it. But to compare these executions, right or wrong, severe or necessary, with the flames of Smithfield, or the blazing market-place of Winchester and other cathedral towns in the days of Mary, is an utter falsification of truth and history. It must never be forgotten that Popery necessarily involved politics by its adherence to a foreign potentate; but Mary had no such cause for persecuting Protestants.
The exceptions to which I alluded were those of the Anabaptists, who certainly did suffer for their theological notions; notions abundantly wild and absurd, but which, as the venerable martyrologist Fox pathetically pleaded with Elizabeth, ought not to have subjected them to the penalty of death. The age, however, was not prepared for religious toleration; nor did Fox think of asking it: but he did ask that they might only be subjected to moderate correction, and not have their living bodies destroyed by fire and flame raging with pitch and sulphur; more after the cruelty, said he, of the Papists, than the mercies of the Gospel. "There is imprisonment," expostulated the tender-hearted old man, "there is perpetual exile, there are branding and stripes, and even the gibbet; this I earnestly deprecate that you would not suffer the fires of Smithfield, which under your most happy auspices have slept so long, to be rekindled." But he pleaded in vain; the spirit of religious intolerance, which Popery had introduced and cherished, was not yet exorcised; and these poor men suffered a cruel death. But the Roman-Catholic sufferers were rebels: therefore judge of the fairness of such a passage as that which I have quoted above from a popular
Guide Book. But the passage is not only unfair in calling both cases equally, "religious persecutions," but in making up "about a dozen' against two, without a particle of information as to the particular facts. But take it at the worst, that among the persons who, during Elizabeth's long reign of nearly half a century, were executed in London and the country, for offences arising out of the perilous state of the times, there were as many as twelve who could be traced up directly or indirectly to a connexion with Winchester, even this is not an overwhelming proof of extreme barbarity, when we consider the peculiar circumstances of the case, and that Winchester was one of the strongest fortresses of Popery, and a prolific seed-bed of Anti-Protestant sedition and treason. I do not indeed justify even one case of unnecessary political severity, much less religious persecution; but to compare the two reigns with a view to give the preference to the clemency of Mary, is too absurd to need further argument to prove it so. I will only add, what Popery would have us forget, that the number of persons who perished during the Marian persecution at the stake was small, compared with those who suffered imprisonment, loss of goods, expatriation, cruel mental inflictions, bodily tortures, and ultimate loss of life in the depths of dungeons, or by the wastings of insidious persecution. In the days when the secrets of the prisonhouse shall be disclosed, what a fearful account will there be to be rendered of what passed in these abodes of darkness and misery in those atrocious days of anti-Christian barbarity! I by no means except from my execration the cruelties of racking and other tortures inflicted under Elizabeth, as well as under Mary, and in succeeding reigns also. One's blood curdles in reading the horrible barbarities inflicted upon Campian and others. I can only say, in explanation, not extenuation, that they were the customs of the age.
Winchester had the high honour of giving to the noble army of martyrs one of its most illustrious ornaments, in the person of her archdeacon, John Philpot; a man "of a worshipful house in Hampshire," educated, if I recollect rightly, at Winchester College, and greatly respected for his talents and learning, but still more for his unshaken constancy for the cause of Christ against the corruptions of Popery, and for that memorable spirit of faith, love, and godly zeal with which he bore his testimony to those blessed doctrines of Scripture which were his support in life, his consolation during his protracted imprisonment, and his crown of rejoicing in death. I have no words to express the admiration which I feel for this illustrious martyr; or rather, would I say, for the grace of God in him: for I do not believe that it is in human nature to have borne up as he did, during nearly twenty trying examinations, when he was a prisoner in Bishop Bonner's coal-house, and suffered that protracted moral torture which is far more difficult to sustain than a few sharp hours of bodily agony. When I read his own account of thirteen of these examinations, which he contrived to pen and secrete notwithstanding the vigilance of his jailors, God having doubtless designed it to survive, in order to strengthen the faith, and to put to shame the cowardice, of his servants in after ages, I stand humbled and overwhelmed at the manifest inferiority of most of us who call ourselves Christians in these latter days; and I can only resolve it into this, that God is pleased to adapt his heavenly manifestations to the peculiar circumstances of his servants, and that if we were equally tried, and were led equally to depend upon Him for assistance, His strength would be made perfect in our weakness, as it was in theirs. But, as it is, where is our faith? where our courage? where our resignation? where our holy boldness? where our willingness to bear every thing, and to give up every thing
for Christ? Nay, not only eminent divines and stout-hearted men did this, but delicate women and tender children. "I can tell," to use the words of Mr. Irving, "of those who fought with savage beasts, yea of maidens who durst enter into the ring to take their chance with infuriated beasts of prey; and I can tell of those who drank of the molten lead, and handled the red fire, and played with the bickering flames." And thus has it been, not in one age only, or another, but in all places and at all times where persecution has been permitted to assail the church of Christ, either before or since his advent. The eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews brings down the narrative to the Christian era; our early churchhistorians continue it during the ten great persecutions; detached records depict various local instances; the venerable martyrologist Fox was raised up to record with much pious care the Marian barbarities; and Waldenses, Hugonots, and other despised servants of Christ, have not been without similar memorials. I depreciate none of them; I love and venerate them all; and among our English martyrs I should be utterly at a loss which to place first, as most renowned for wisdom, strength, courage, zeal, and all the exalted graces of one who is accounted worthy to suffer for Christ. They did not, however, seek these distinctions among themselves, nor will I dishonour their memories by unworthy comparisons; more especially as what they had was not their own, but the especial gift of God. Still very high on the list must I, and will I, place John Philpot, Archdeacon of Winchester. You can refresh your memory with the account of his examinations in Fox*; and well worthy are they of re
The Religious Tract Society has just reprinted them in one of its cheap volumes of the lives and works of the Reformers. These cheap editions of valuable works are a great public blessing; more so, perhaps, than even the society's tracts for the poorer classes of the community.
66 I pay my
perusal. When you next look at the stall which he occupied in your cathedral, think of what he underwent from the memorable day when he passed the Rubicon, by protesting against the heresies of Popery in his place in the Convocation House, to the joyful hour-for to him, after his severe toils and sufferings, such was it-when he exclaimed, vows in thee, O Smithfield." The recollection will be salutary, if only it lead us to feel more intensely our privileges as Christians, as Britons, and as Protestants; and to bind to our hearts with greater affection that blessed book, and those celestial truths, which holy men like Philpot died at the stake to rescue from the paralysing grasp of Popery, and to bequeath as their best legacy to their children's children. I am not inclined to cherish desponding views of passing scenes: but the day is dark; and I cannot but think that an hour of trial may await many of us for which we are ill prepared; not, indeed, imprisonment, bodily torture, or death; but other trials, privations, and reproaches, which the slothful and self-indulgent feelings of modern Christians would dread to encounter, though they are as nothing to the stripes and agonies of former ages of persecution. Our modern sinews are relaxed; the sun-shine of spiritual ease has enervated our firmness; even the book of God is not to us what it was to holy men of old time, who knew scarcely any thing, or cared to know any thing, beyond it; nor is our communion with God so close and intimate and soul-strengthening as was theirs who had nothing else to support them along the weary pilgrimage of life. Even in an afterage, the standard was higher than it is now; for we fall, I fear, as short of many of those whom reproach called Puritans, as they perhaps fell short of their predecessors, the first reformers and martyrs. But they too, the Puritans I mean, lived in stern times, and the thought of a better world was often their only comfort in this. I cannot resist
quoting what has been said of them in a work where eulogy on such a subject was little to be expectedthe Edinburgh Review. The paper was at the time currently ascribed to a young senator, the splendour of whose talents may well call forth an earnest prayer to the infinite Donor of all good gifts, that they may never be misappropriated. The passage is so replete with interest and eloquence, that though you must have read it before I shall not stint you with a meagre extract.—
"The Puritans were men whose minds had derived a peculiar character from the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests. Not content with acknow. ledging, in general terms, an overruling Providence, they habitually ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being for whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection nothing was too minute. To know Him, to serve Him, to enjoy Him, was with them the great end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonious homage which other sects substituted for the pure worship of the soul. Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on the intolerable brightness, and to commune with him face to face. Hence originated their contempt for terrestrial distinctions. The difference between the greatest and the meanest of mankind seemed to vanish, when compared with the boundless interval which separated the whole race from Him on whom their own eyes were constantly fixed. They recognized no title to superiority but His favour; and, confident of that favour, they despised all the accomplishments and all the dignities of the world. If they were unacquainted with the works of philo sophers and poets, they were deeply read in the oracles of God. If their names were not found in the registers of heralds, they felt assured that they were recorded in the book of life. If their steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of menials, legions of
ministering angels had charge over them. Their palaces were houses not made with hands; their diadems crowns of glory which should never fade away! On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests, they looked down with contempt; for they esteemed themselves rich in a more precious treasure, and eloquent in a more sublime language, nobles by the right of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier Hand. The very meanest of them was a being to whose fate a mysterious and terrible importance belonged; on whose slightest action the spirits of light and darkness looked with anxious interest, who had been destined, before heaven and earth were created, to enjoy a felicity which should continue when heaven and earth should have passed away. Events, which short-sighted politicians ascribed to earthly causes, had been ordained on his account. his sake empires had risen and flourished and decayed. For his sake the Almighty had proclaimed his will by the pen of the Evangelist, and the harp of the Prophet. He had been wrested by no common deliverer from the grasp of no common foe. He had been ransomed by the sweat of no vulgar agony, by the blood of no earthly sacrifice. It was for him that the sun had been darkened, that the rocks had been rent, that the dead had arisen, that all nature had shuddered at the sufferings of her expiring God.
"Thus the Puritan was made up of two different men;-the one all self-abasement, penitence, gratitude, passion; the other proud, calm, inflexible, sagacious. He prostrated himself in the dust before his Maker; but he set his foot on the neck of his king. In his devotional retirement he prayed with convulsions, and groans, and tears. He was half maddened by glorious or terrible illusions. He heard the lyres of angels, or the tempting whispers of fiends. He caught a gleam of the beatific vision, or woke screaming from dreams of everlasting fire. Like