« PreviousContinue »
and the right of courts of office-bearers from many congregations to review and control what passes within each : now, as you, being undoubtedly in the majority, are about to establish Presbytery in England, but as we cannot in conscience abandon our Congregationalism, could you not manage at least to allow in the new national system such a toleration of Congregationalist practices as would satisfy us, the minority, and prevent us from going again into exile ?" Such was the Independency of the Dissenting Five in the Westminster Assembly. But, as we know, from our previous survey of the history of Independency in England, in Holland, and in America, the word “Independency had come to have a much larger meaning than that in which it had originated.
It had come
to mean not merely the principle of Congregationalism, or the Independency of Congregations, but also all that had in fact arisen from the action of that principle, in England, Holland, or America, in the shape of miscellaneous dissent and heterodoxy. It had come to mean the Congregationalist principle plus all its known or conceivable consequences. From policy it was in this wide sense that the Presbyterians had begun to use the term Independency. “You are certainly Independents,” the Presbyterians of the Assembly virtually said to Messrs Goodwin, Burroughs, and the rest of the Five; " but you are the best specimens of a class of which the varieties are legion: were all Independency such as yours, and were Independency to end with you, we might see our way to such a toleration as you demand—which, on personal grounds, we should like to do : but the principle of Congregationalism has already generated on the earth-in England, in Holland, and in America - opinions beyond yours, and some heresies at which even you stand aghast; and it is of these, as well as of you, that we are bound to think when we are asked to tolerate Independency.” Now it was of this larger and more terrible Independency that the Presbyterians had begun to see signs in the Parliamentary Army and through England generally. In other words, sects and sectaries of all sorts and sizes had begun to be heard of
some only transmissions or re-manifestations of oddities of old English Puritanism, others importations from Holland and New England, and others products of the new ferment of the English mind caused by the Civil War itself. In especial, it was believed, Anabaptists and Antinomians had begun to abound. Now, though, in politeness, the Presbyterians were willing occasionally to distinguish between the orthodox Independents and the miscellaneous Sectaries, yet, as the Congregationalist principle, which was the essence of Independency, was credited with the mischief of having generated all the sects, and as it was for this Congregationalist principle that toleration was demanded, it was quite as common to huddle all the Sects and the orthodox Congregationalists together under the one name of Independents. Nor could the Congregationalists of the Assembly very well object to this. True, they might disown the errors and extravagancies of the sects, and declare that they themselves were as little in sympathy with them as the Presbyterians. They might also argue, as indeed they anxiously did, that due uniformity in the essentials of Christian belief and practice would be as easily maintained in a community organized ecclesiastically on the Congregationalist principle as in one organized in the Presbyterian manner. Still, in arguing so, they must have had some latitude of view as to the amount of uniformity desirable. If every congregation were to be independent within itself, and if moreover congregations might be formed on the principle of elective affinities, or the concourse of like-minded atoms, it was difficult to see why Congregationalism should not be expected to evolve sects, and why therefore this progressive evolution of sects should not be accepted as a law of religious life. Had not the Five Independents of the Assembly avowed it as one of their principles that they would not be too sure that the opinions they now held would remain always unchanged ? Reserving this liberty of going farther for themselves, how could they refuse toleration for those who had already gone farther ? Claiming for themselves a toleration in all such differences as did not affect their character as good subjects, they could not but extend the benefit of the same plea to at least a proportion of the Sectaries. But to what proportion? Where was toleration to stop? At what point, in the course of religious dissent, did a man become a bad subject ? To these questions no definite answers were given by the Five Dissentients of the Assembly; but they could not but entertain the questions. Hence their Independency, though mild and moderate so far as they were themselves concerned, was really in organic connexion with the larger Independency that had begun to manifest itself in the Army and elsewhere. “ The Congregationalist principle and Liberty of Religious Difference to a certain extent,” said the Independents of the Assembly. “Yes, Liberty of Religious Difference !” said the Army Independents, simplifying the formula.
Throughout the first half of 1644, therefore, we are to think of the Presbyterian majority in the Westminster Assembly as not only fighting against the Independency or Congregationalism proper which was represented within the walls of the Assembly by men whom they could not but respect, though complaining of their obstinacy, but also bent on saving England from that more lax or general Independency, nameable as Army-Independency, which they saw rife through the land, and which included toleration not merely of Congregationalism, but also of Anabaptism, Antinomianism, and other nondescript heresies. Baillie's groanings in spirit over the multiplication of the sectaries, and the growth of the Toleration notion, are positively affecting. “Sundry officers and soldiers in the army,” he writes, April 2, " has fallen from their way [i.e. from Independency proper] to Antinomianism and Anabaptism.” Again, later in the same month, “The number and evil humour of the Antinomians and Anabaptists doth increase;" and more fully, on the 19th, “They [the Independents) over all the land are making up a faction to their own way, the far most part whereof is fallen off to Anabaptism and Antinomianism : sundry also to worse, if worse needs be—the mortality of the soul, the denial of angels and devils; and cast off all sacraments; and many blasphemous things. All these are from New England.” By May 9 le
had begun to despair of the English altogether : “ The humour of this people is very various and inclinable to singularities, to differ from all the world, and one from another, and shortly from themselves : no people had so much need of a Presbytery.” According to Baillie, it was precisely owing to the absence of a well-organized Presbyterian system in England that all those wild growths of opinion had been possible; and, while they increased the difficulty of establishing Presbyterianism in England, they were the best demonstration of its necessity. Therefore, he would not despair. There was yet a faint hope that the Independent Divines in the Assembly might be made ashamed of the tag-rag of Anabaptists, Antinomians, and what not, that hung to their skirts, and so might be brought to an accommodation with the Presbyterians. But, failing that, the Presbyterians must stand firm, must face Independency and all its belongings both in Parliament and in the Army, and try at length to beat them down.--Of course, Baillie and his Scottish brethren were doing their best to assist the English Presbyterians in this labour. Anti-Toleration pamphlets had appeared, and more were in preparation. But help was particularly desired from the Reformed Churches abroad, and most particularly from Holland. Had not Holland nursed this very Independency which was troubling England, and was not the example of Holland the greatest argument with the Independents and others for a toleration of sects ? Representing all this to his correspondent, William Spang, Scottish preacher at Campvere, Baillie urges him again and again to do what he can to get any eminent Dutch divines of his acquaintance to write treatises against Independency, Heresy, and Toleration. He names several such, as likely to do this great service if duly importuned. There could be no more helpful service to England—except one! Oh if there could yet be a great Scottish victory on English soil! That would be worth all the pamphlets in the world ! 1
1 Baillie, II. 146, 157, 168, 177, 179, 181, 183-4, 191-2, 197, &c.-Several manifestoes against Independency, such as Baillie wanted, did come, in due time, from Divines in Holland and
elsewhere on the Continent, and were much made of by the Presbyterians of the Assembly, and put in circulation through England,
VISITATION OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE: BATTLE OF
Notwithstanding all this anarchy of ecclesiastical opinion, the practical or political mastery of affairs remained in the hands of Parliament, and was firmly exercised by Parliament in a direction satisfactory to the Westminster Assembly as a whole. For, whatever might be the ultimate settlement between Independency and Presbyterianism, there was a certain general course of “ Reformation ” to which meanwhile all were pledged, Independents and Sectaries no less than Presbyterians; and on this course all could advance unanimously, even while battling with each other on the ecclesiastical questions which the Independents desired to keep open. For example, during those very months of 1644 in which Independency had been taking such increased dimensions, there had been fully executed that great Visitation and purgation of the University of Cambridge which had been entrusted to the Earl of Manchester by Parliamentary Ordinance in January (see antè, pp. 32, 33).
The Earl, going to Cambridge in person in February 1643-4, with his two chaplains, Messrs. Ashe and Good, had been engaged in the work through the months of March and April, summoning refractory Heads of Colleges and Fellows before him, examining complaints against them, and putting them in most cases to the test of the Covenant. The result, when complete (which it was not till 1645), was the ejection, on one ground or another, of about one half of the Fellows of the various Colleges of Cambridge collectively, and of eleven out of the sixteen Heads of Houses, and the appointment of persons of Parliamentarian principles to the places thus made vacant. -Of the crowd of those who were turned out of Cambridge Fellowships, and the crowd of those who were put in to succeed them, we can take no account in this History. Yet a process which presents us with the vision of about 150 rueful outgoers from comfortable livelihoods in one University, met at the doors by as many radiant comers-in, can have been no unimportant incident, even in a national revolution. What