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both in good and evil; great piety and great wickedness; great freedom and great tyranny and oppression.
Under Cromwell there was great liberty and prosperity ; under the Charleses there was great oppression and disgrace. Bunyan's life, continuing from 1628 to 1688, embraces the most revolutionary and stirring period in English history. There pass before the mind within this period the oppressive reign of Charles First; the characters of Laud and Strafford; the star chamber, and the king's tyrannical men, courts, and measures; the noble defence of liberty in the house of Commons; Hampden and Pym; the war between the King and Parliament; the king's defeat, and death upon the scaffold ; the glorious protectorate of Cromwell, few years, but grand and prosperous, a freedom and prosperity united, such as England had never known; then comes the hasty, unconditional restoration of a Prince who cared for nothing but his own pleasure, the dissolute, tyrannical reign of Charles Second, one of the most promising, lying, unprincipled, worthless, selfish, corrupted and corrupting kings that ever sat upon the throne of England; in the terribly severe language of the Edinburgh Review, a king, “who superseded the reign of the saints by the reign of strumpets; who was crowned in his youth with the Covenant in his hand, and died with the Host sticking in his throat, after a life spent in dawdling suspense between Hobbism and Popery”; a king and a reign, of which one of the grand climacterics in wickedness embraced the royal murders of the noble patriots Russell and Algernon Sydney; immortal be their names, and honored ever be
their memories; a reign the very beginning of of which, threw John Bunyan into prison, and produced a Bartholomew's day to thousands of the conscientious ministers of the Church of England.
The king's reign from the time of the restoration, began in contempt of all religion, and continued in debauchery and drunkenness. Even those persons who may have taken their views of the history of this period simply from the pages of Hume, may, if they will look narrowly, gather so much as this. “Agreeable to the present prosperity of public affairs,” says Hume, "was the universal joy and festivity diffused throughout the nation. The melancholy austerity of the fanatics fell into discredit, together with their principles. The royalists, who had ever affected a contrary disposition, found in their recent success new motives for mirth and
gayety; and it now belonged to them to give repute and fashion to their manners. From past experience it had sufficiently appeared that gravity was very distinct from wisdom, formality from virtue, and hypocrisy from religion. The king himself, who bore a strong propensity to pleasure, served, by his powerful and engaging example, to banish those sour and malignant humors, which had hitherto engendered such confusion. And though the just bounds were undoubtedly passed, when once returned from their former extreme, yet was the public happy in exchanging vices, pernicious to society, for disorders, hurtful chiefly to the individuals themselves who were guilty of them.”
This means simply that the nation, under the example of the king and the royalists, having thrown
off the vices and vicious restraints of gravity, formality and hypocrisy, so generally pernicious to society, became almost entirely abandoned to the more individual “disorders” of profligacy and sensual licentiousness. They were happy in exchanging "those sour and malignant humors" for the more luscious and generous qualities of sin. The restoration, says Bishop Burnet, brought with it the throwing off the very professions of virtue and piety; and all ended in entertainments and drunkenness, which overran the three kingdoms.
As the reign began so it continued; and it was a period, when just such men, as God had been preparing in the case of Bunyan, were most needed; just such men also, as he had ready in Baxter, Owen, Howe, and a multitude of others, perhaps quite equal in piety, though not so distinguished as these. So was fulfilled the great principle, that when the Enemy cometh in like a flood, then the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.
As to the measures of this reign for the destruction of religious liberty, with which more especially we are now concerned, it opened with what is called the Corporation Act, by which, in defiance of all the king's previous stipulations, all persons, whose religious principles constrained them conscientiously to refuse conformity to the established Episcopal Church, were at once expelled and excluded from every branch of the magistracy, and rendered incapable of serving their country in the meanest civil offices.
Next followed the memorable statute against the Society of Friends, by which upwards of four thou
sand persons were cast into prison for their religious scruples, and treated with the utmost cruelty, with even a savage barbarity.
In the second year of this reign, 1662, came the Act of Uniformity, suppressing by force, all diversity of religious opinions, imposing the book of Common Prayer, and reviving for this purpose
the whole terrific penal laws of preceding reigns. This was to take effect from the feast day of St. Bartholomew, in 1662; the day of a former well-known dreadful massacre of Protestants in Paris, and other French cities, the 24th of August, 1572, nearly a hundred years previous; and a day, on which more than two thousand conscientious ministers were silenced, ejected from their pulpits, and thrown into persecution and poverty. For these men to preach, or conduct public worship, was made a penal offence against the state; and among these men are such names as those of Owen, Bates, Manton, Goodwin, Baxter and Howe; towards whom that very cruelty was enacted by the Established Church of England, which in the case of the Jewish Church, is said to have filled up the measure of its crimes, and prepared the Jewish people for the Divine vengeance; “ forbidding the apostles to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved.” No matter how holy, nor how eminently useful the body of the non-conforming clergy might be; the act would have passed, it has truly been said, though the measure had involved the eternal misery of half the nation.
Of this act Hume himself says; (and I like to take authorities, of which it may be said, our enemies themselves being judges ;) Hume himself says
that in it the Church party gladly laid hold of the prejudices (the conscientious scruples) which prevailed among the Presbyterians, “in order to eject them from their livings. By the Bill of Uniformity it was required that every clergyman should be reordained, if he had not before received Episcopal ordination; should declare his assent to every thing contained in the Book of Common Prayer; should take the oath of canonical obedience; should abjure the solemn league and covenant; and should re nounce the principle of taking arms, on any pre tence whatsoever, against the king. This bill reinstated the Church in the same condition in which it stood before the commencement of the civil wars, and as the old persecuting laws of Elizabeth still subsisted in their full vigor, and new clauses of a like nature were now enacted, all the king's promises of toleration and of indulgence to tender consciences, were thereby eluded and broken." The same historian observes that the ecclesiastical form of government, according to the Presbyterian discipline, is “more favorable to liberty than to royal power;" and hence the readiness of Charles to break all promises of tolerance which he had made for the gaining of the throne, and to produce an iron uniformity of ecclesiastical subjection, in which he might break down all the defences raised against regal encroachments. The spirit of religious liberty always has been, and ever must be, the world's greatest safeguard against the oppression of political tyranny.
Two years after this statute came the memorable Conventicle Act, in 1664. It was found that these holy clergymen, though banished from their own