committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER VII.

Declaration of Indulgence—Confession of Faith—Fierce Persecution—Thomas Delaune—The Duke of Monmouth's Rebellion—Account of the Hewlings—Mrs. Gaunt—The Dark time—Another Declaration of Indulgence—William Kiffin—The Glorious Revolution

 

There were some intervals of rest during this period. King Charles was bent on removing the restrictions imposed on Roman Catholics, and on several occasions the severity of the persecution was relaxed, in the hope that some general measure would be introduced in Parliament embracing all parties. In 1672, he issued a “Declaration of Indulgence,” by which in the exercise of the prerogative the operation of the penal enactment was suspended during the royal pleasure. Many Nonconformist ministers availed themselves of it, and took out licenses to preach.

But the Dissenters generally refused to receive the “Declaration,” declaring it an unlawful exercise of the prerogative, and fearing the consequences that might follow the admission of Roman Catholics to power. They did more. They submitted without a murmur to the Test Act, which was passed in 1673, and by which all persons who accepted office of any kind under Government were required to take the Lord’s Supper according to the rites of the Church of England, and to subscribe a declaration against transubstantiation. The primary object of that Act was the exclusion of Roman Catholics from power, and that being accomplished, it was expected that the door would be opened to Protestant Dissenters, by a repeal of the test so far as they were concerned. But bigotry kept the door shut till the year 1828, and the Lord’s Supper was all that time “an office key, a picklock to a place.”

In the midst of the uncertainties and perils of the times, a meeting of ministers and delegates was summoned in 1675, to consider the propriety of taking steps for the education of candidates for the ministry. Whether the meeting was held or not, we are unable to say; but the proposal itself, under those circumstances, indicates moral courage as well as enlightened views.

Two years after, a Confession of Faith was published, under the following title:—“A Confession of Faith, put forth by the elders and brethren of many congregations of Christians (baptized upon profession of their faith) in London and the country. With an Appendix concerning baptism.”

In doctrinal points the language of the Assembly’s Confession is for the most part adopted, while on baptism and Church government the views of our denomination are very clearly and fully expressed. The alleged grounds of infant-baptism are critically examined in the Appendix, and their insufficiency proved. “Let it not therefore be judged of us (because much hath been written on this subject, and yet we continue this our practice different from others) that it is out of obstinacy; but rather, as the truth is, that we do herein, according to the best of our understandings, worship God, out of a pure mind, yielding obedience to His precept, in that method which we take to be most agreeable to the scriptures of truth and primitive practice . . . It would not become us to give any such intimation as should carry a semblance that what we do in the service of God is with a doubting conscience, or with any such temper of mind, that we do thus for the present with a reservation that we will do otherwise hereafter upon more mature deliberation; nor have we any cause so to do, being fully persuaded that what we do is agreeable to the will of God. Yet we do heartily propose this, that if any of the servants of our Lord Jesus Christ shall, in the spirit of meekness, attempt to convince us of any mistake, either in judgment or practice, we shall diligently ponder his arguments, and account him our chiefest friend that shall be an instrument to convert us from any error that is in our ways; for we cannot wittingly do anything against the truth, but all things for the truth.”1

This is thoroughly Baptist language. So we have always held and professed. We are “ready to give an answer to any man that asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us,” and we trust that we shall ever be thankful to any man who will convince us of error or show us “a more excellent way.”

The persecution raged furiously in the latter years of the reign of Charles II. It seemed to be the settled policy of the Court to crush the Nonconformists. Informers fattened on them. Judges and magistrates encouraged the informers, and were in their turn urged to greater diligence and zeal in their infamous career by the clergy, even by bishops. Some of the Nonconformists were cited to the spiritual courts, and excommunicated, which was tantamount to ruin, as an excommunicated person was out of the protection of the law. Others were prosecuted for attending conventicles or for not going to church, and their pro?perty was seized for the payment of fines. So numerous were these cases, that in the small town of Uxbridge and its neighborhood (fifteen miles from London) “two hundred warrants of distress were issued.” The ministers, particu?larly, were hunted down like wild beasts. Many of them were under the necessity of selling their household furni?ture and books in order to provide food for their starving families. It has been estimated that property to the amount of two millions sterling in value was taken from the Non?conformists during the reigns of Charles II. and James II.

The prisons were crowded, and great numbers died in confinement—as really put to death—murdered—as if they had been hanged or shot. We will select one instance.

Thomas Delaune was a native of Ireland. His parents were Roman Catholics. The gentleman on whose estate they lived noticing in young Delaune an aptness for study, sent him to a friary at Kilcrash, about seven miles from Cork, for education. Having remained there nine years, he obtained a situation at Kingsale, as clerk to a Mr. Bampfield, who was largely engaged in the pilchard fishery. Mr. Bampfield’s efforts were blessed to his conversion from Popery and sin. After some years he found it necessary to leave Ireland, his religious zeal having excited persecution. He settled ultimately in London, as a schoolmaster, and was well known as a pious, learned, and exemplary man. He enjoyed the friendship of Benjamin Keach, William Kiffin, and other Baptist ministers, by whom he was much esteemed.

Dr. Benjamin Calamy, one of the royal chaplains, pub?lished a sermon, entitled, “A Scrupulous Conscience.” He challenged the Nonconformists to a discussion of the points at issue between the Church of England and themselves, and invited them to propose their doubts and difficulties, that the truth might be ascertained. Mr. Delaune accepted the challenge, and wrote his “Plea for the Nonconformists,” in which the subject is handled with consummate ability. “The Book,” says Defoe, “is perfect in itself. Never author left behind him a more finished piece; and I be?lieve the dispute is entirely ended. If any man ask what we can say, why the Dissenters differ from the Church of England, and what they can plead for it—I can recom?mend no better reply than this. Let them answer in short, Thomas Delaune, and desire the querist to read the book.” Before the work was finished at press, it was seized by a king’s messenger, and its author lodged in jail. He was first “committed to Wood Street Compter, and lodged among the common-side prisoners, where he had a hard bench for his bed, and two bricks for his pillows.” Thence he was removed to Newgate, and placed among the felons, whose “horrid company,” as he wrote to Dr. Calamy, gave him “a perfect representation of that horrid place which you describe when you mention hell.” He was afterwards allowed to associate with prisoners of a better sort. Before his trial he appealed to Dr. Calamy for friendly interference on his behalf. The doctor, as he reminded him, had invited discussion, and in writing the book he had but responded to his challenge. But instead of the treatment which one scholar ought to expect from another, he was cast into prison. He “would fain be convinced by something more like divinity than Newgate.” “I had some thoughts,” he said, in another communication, “that you would have performed the office of a divine, in visiting me in my place of confinement; either to argue me out of my doubts, which your promised Scripture and reason, not a mittimus or Newgate, could easily do. To the former I can yield. To the latter it seems I must. This is a severe kind of logic, and will probably dispute me out of this world.”—But Dr. Calamy was deaf to his appeal, and ungenerous enough to abstain from exercising any influence in favour of his opponent.

Mr. Delaune was tried at the Old Bailey in January, 1684, for “a certain false, seditious, and scandalous libel against the King and the Book of Common Prayer.” He entreated that the question might be thoroughly and fairly examined. “I desire,” he said, “that the entire paragraphs may be read, from which the crimes charged against me are inferred. If fragments only be produced, from which no perfect sense can be deduced, I shall be unfairly dealt with. The coherence of sense in a continued discourse, not scraps and broken pieces of sentences, can demonstrate the scope of an argument. If what I have written be true, it is no crime, unless truth be made a crime. If false, let Dr. Calamy or any of the guides of your Church confute me (as he promised in his sermon aforesaid), by good Scripture and good reason; then will I submit. If the latter method be not taken, I must repeat it, ‘tis very hard, my lord, ‘tis very hard.”

No doubt it was “hard, very hard.” But Jeffreys was on the bench. A verdict of “guilty” was recorded, and the sentence ran thus:—“Thomas Delaune fined a hundred marks, and to be kept prisoner, &c., and to find good security for his good behavior for one whole year afterwards; and that the said books and seditious libels by him published shall be burnt with fire before the Royal Exchange, London.”

The sentence consigned him to a slow and painful martyrdom. We quote Defoe again, who wrote a recommendatory preface to the seventeenth edition of the “Plea:—”

“The expensive prosecution, depriving him of his livelihood, which was a grammar school, and long imprisonment, had made him not only unable to pay, his fine, but unable to subsist himself and his family.”

“He continued in close confinement in the prison of Newgate about fifteen months, and suffered there great hardships by extreme poverty, being so entirely reduced by this disaster, that he had no subsistence but what was contributed by such friends as came to visit him.”

“His behavior in this distress was like the greatness of mind he discovered at his trial. And the same spirit which appears in his writings appeared in his conversation, and supported him with invincible patience under the greatest extremities. But long confinement and distresses of various kinds at last conquered him. He had a wife and two small children, all with him in the prison, for they had no subsistence elsewhere. The closeness and inconvenience of the place first affected them, and all three, by lingering sorrow and sickness, died in the prison. At last, worn out with trouble, and hopeless of relief, and too much abandoned by those who should have taken some other care of him, this excellent person sank under the burden, and died there also. We cannot refrain saying that such a champion, of such a cause, deserved better usage. And it was very hard that such a man, such a Christian, such a scholar, and on such an occasion, should starve in a dungeon; and that the whole body of Dissenters in England, whose cause he died for defending, should not raise him ?66 13s. 4d. to save his life.”

“Had I been a minister,” said John Sharp, pastor of the Baptist Church at Frome, Somersetshire, soon after the Revolution of 1688, “I would have taken a horse, and rode till my skin was off, but I would have got the money to pay his fine.”2

“I am sorry to say,” Defoe observes, “he is one of near eight thousand Protestant Dissenters that perished in prison in the days of that merciful Prince, King Charles II., and that merely for dissenting from the Church in points which they could give such reasons for as this ‘Plea’ assigns; and for no other cause were stifled, I had almost said murdered, in jails, for their religion.”

Soon after the accession of James II., the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion broke out, and involved great numbers in ruin. Some Baptists were compromised in it. That was not to be wondered at. James II. was a Papist and a tyrant. He was known to be a cold-hearted, blood-thirsty man. It was not believed that the liberties of England would be safe in his keeping. Besides this, some of the insurgents regarded Monmouth as the legitimate son of Charles II., and therefore the rightful heir to the throne; while others deemed it better to overlook the stain of his birth, and thus to secure a Protestant succession, than to expose the kingdom to the misrule of a Popish despot. Had the enterprise succeeded, they would have been applauded as patriots: by its defeat, their names were handed down to posterity as traitors. Numbers of them suffered the vengeance of the law. The brutal judge, Jeffreys, presided at the trials, and hurried off his victims to the gibbet by the shortest process, and with all the glee of a practiced butcher.

The fate of two young men excited unusual commiseration. Benjamin and Thomas Hewling were grandsons of William Kiffin, whose daughter their father had married. The father having died, Mr. Kiffin took charge of the family, and assisted the surviving parent in giving them an excellent education and training. William was at a seminary in Holland when the Duke of Monmouth planned his ill-fated expedition. He accompanied the Duke to England. Benjamin, “conversing with those that were under great dissatisfaction, seeing Popery encouraged, and religion and liberty like to be invaded, did furnish himself with arms, and went to the said Duke.” After the disastrous battle of Sedgemoor, the two brothers attempted to escape by sea, but were driven back by contrary winds, and compelled to land and surrender themselves prisoners. After a short confinement in Exeter jail, they were conveyed to London, where they were lodged in Newgate, and remained there three weeks, when they were sent back to the West for trial.

Their grandfather laboured hard to save them. Everything was venal in those days. “It being given out,” says Mr. Kiffin, “that the King would make only a few who had been taken examples, and would leave the rest to his officers, to compound for their lives, I attempted with my daughter, their mother, to treat with a great man, agreeing to give him three thousand pounds if he would obtain their deliverance. But the face of things was soon altered, so that nothing but severity could be expected. Indeed, we missed the right door, for the Lord Chief Justice [Jeffreys], finding that agreements were made with others, and so little attention paid to himself, was the more provoked to use all manner of cruelty to the poor prisoners, so that few escaped, and amongst the rest those two young men were executed.”3

Their sister was indefatigable in her endeavors on their behalf. When all other means had failed, she determined to present a petition to the King. “For this purpose she was introduced by Lord Churchill, afterwards the celebrated Duke of Marlborough. While they waited in the ante-chamber for admittance, standing near the chimney-piece, Lord Churchill assured her of his most hearty wishes of success to her petition. ‘But, madam,’ said he, ‘I dare not flatter you with any such hopes, for that marble is as capable of feeling compassion as the King’s heart.’”4

So it proved. The King’s heart was hard as adamant. The Hewlings were executed: William, at Lyme, September 12th 1685; Benjamin, at Taunton, on the 30th of the same month. How they spent the last few days of their lives, and how they died, has been admirably told by their sister, from whose narrative I will give a brief abstract.

“At Salisbury, the 30th of August, I had the first opportunity of conversing with them. I found them in a very excellent composure of mind, declaring their experience of the grace and goodness of God to them in all their sufferings, in supporting and strengthening and providing for them, turning the hearts of all in whose hands they had been, both at Exeter and on shipboard, to show pity and to favour them, although since they came to Newgate they were hardly used, and now in their journey loaded with heavy irons and more inhumanly dealt with. They with great cheerfulness professed that they were better, and in a more happy condition, than ever in their lives, from the sense they had of the pardoning love of God in Jesus Christ to their souls, wholly referring themselves to their wise and gracious God to choose for them life or death, expressing themselves thus:—‘Anything what pleaseth God; what He sees best, so be it. We know He is able to deliver, but if not, blessed be His name; death is not terrible now, but desirable.’”

“The sixth of September, Mr. Benjamin Hewling was ordered to Taunton, to be tried there. Taking my leave of him, he said, ‘Oh! blessed be God for afflictions. I would not have been without them for all this world.’”

“I remained still at Dorchester, to wait the issue of Mr. William Hewling, to whom, after trial, I had free access, and whose discourse was much filled with admirings of the grace of God which had been manifested towards him in calling him out of his natural state. He said, God by His Holy Spirit did suddenly seize upon his heart when he thought not of it, in his retired abode in Holland, as it were secretly whispering in his heart, ‘Seek ye My face,’ enabling him to answer His gracious call and to reflect upon his own soul, showing him the evil of sin and the necessity of Christ, from that time carrying him on to a sensible adherence to Christ for justification and eternal life. Hence he found a spring of joy and sweetness beyond the comforts of the whole earth.”

“When I came to him the next morning, when he had received news that he must die the next day, and in order to it was to be carried to Lyme that day, I found him in a more excellent, raised, and spiritual frame than before. He was satisfied, he said, that God had chosen best for him. ‘He knows what the temptations of life might have been. I might have lived and forgotten God; but now I am going where I shall sin no more. Oh, it is a blessed thing to be freed from sin and to be with Christ ! Oh ! how great were the sufferings of Christ for me, beyond all I can undergo! How great is the glory to which I am going It will soon swallow up all our sufferings here !’”

“As they passed through the town of Dorchester to Lyme, multitudes of people beheld them with great lamentations, admiring his deportment at his parting with his sister. Passing on the road, his discourse was exceedingly spiritual, taking occasion from everything to speak of the glory they were going to. Looking at the country as he passed, he said, ‘This is a glorious crea?tion, but what then is the paradise of God to which we are going. It is but a few hours, and we shall be there, and be for ever with the Lord.’”

“At Lyme, just before they went to die, reading John 14:8, he said to one of his fellow-sufferers, ‘Here is a sweet promise for us—‘I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you. Christ will be with us to the last!’ One taking leave of him, he said, ‘Farewell till we meet in heaven. Presently we shall be with Christ. Oh, I would not change conditions with any one in this world. I would not stay behind for ten thousand worlds.’”

“Afterwards he prayed for three-quarters of an hour with the greatest fervency, exceedingly blessing God for Jesus Christ, adoring the riches of His grace in him, in all the glorious fruits of it towards him, praying for the peace of the Church of God, and of these nations in particular; all with such eminent assistance of the Spirit of God as con?vinced, astonished, and melted into pity the hearts of all present, even the most malicious adversaries, forcing tears and expressions from them; some saying, they knew not what would become of them after death, but it was evident he was going to great happiness.”

“When just departing out of the world, with a joyful countenance, he said, ‘Oh, now my joy and comfort is that I have a Christ to go to;’ and so sweetly resigned his spirit to Christ.”

“An officer who had shown so malicious a spirit as to call the prisoners ‘devils,’ when he was guarding them down, was now so convinced that he afterwards told a person of quality that he was never so affected as by his cheerful carriage and fervent prayer, such as he believed was never heard, especially from one so young; and said, ‘I believe, had the Lord Chief justice been here, he would not have let him die.’”

“The sheriff having given his body to be buried, although it was brought from the place of execution without any notice given, yet very many of the town, to the number of two hundred, came to accompany him; and several young women of the best of the town laid him in his grave in Lyme church-yard, September 13th, 1685.”

“When I came to Taunton to Mr. Benjamin Hewling, he expressed himself to this effect:—‘We have no cause to fear death, if the presence of God be with us; there is no evil in it, the sting being taken away. It is nothing but our ignorance of the glory the saints pass into by death which makes it appear dark to ourselves or our relations; if in Christ, what is this world that we should desire an abode in it? It is all vain and unsatisfying, full of sin and misery.’ He also intimated his own cheerful expectations soon to follow (he had just heard of his brother’s death), discovering then and all along great seriousness and sense of spiritual and eternal things, complaining of nothing in his present circumstances but want of a place of retirement to converse more uninterruptedly with God and his own soul; saying that his lonely time in Newgate was the sweetest in his whole life.”

“When there was a general report that no more should die, he said, ‘I do not know what God hath done contrary to our expectations; if He doth prolong my life, I am sure it is all His own, and by His grace I will wholly devote it to Him.’ But on the 29th of September, between ten and eleven at night, we found the deceitfulness of this re?port, they being then told that they must die the next morning, which was very unexpected as to the suddenness of it. But herein God glorified His power, grace, and faithfulness, in giving suitable support and comfort by His blessed presence, which appeared upon my coming to him at that time and finding him greatly composed. He said, ‘Though men design to surprise, God doth and will perform His Word, to be a very present help in trouble.’”

“The next morning, when I saw him again, his cheerful?ness and comfort were much increased, waiting for the sheriff with the greatest sweetness and serenity of mind . . . With a smiling countenance, he discoursed of the glory of heaven . . . His hope and comfort still increasing, with the assurance of an interest in that glorious inheritance to the possession of which he was now going, he said, ‘Death was more desirable than life, and he would rather die than live any longer here.’ . . . Then, reading the Scriptures and musing with himself, he intimated the great comfort which God conveyed to his soul in it; saying, ‘Oh, what an in?valuable treasure is this blessed Word of God! In all con?ditions here is a store of strong consolation.’ One desiring his Bible, he said, ‘No, this shall be my companion to the last moment of my life.’”

“Thus praying together, reading, meditating, and con?versing of heavenly things, they waited for the sheriff, who, when he came, void of all pity and civility, hurried them away, scarcely suffering them to take leave of their friends. Notwithstanding this, and the doleful mourning of all about them, the joyfulness of his countenance was increased. Thus he left the prison, and thus he appeared in the sledge, where they sat about half-an-hour before the officers could force the horses to draw; at which they were greatly enraged, there being no visible obstruction from weight or way. At last the mayor and sheriff haled them forward, themselves, Balaam-like, driving the horses.”

“When they came to the place of execution, which was surrounded with spectators, many that waited their coming said, that when they saw him and them come with such cheerfulness and joy, and evidence of the presence of God with them, it made death appear with another aspect. They first embraced each other with the greatest affection; then, two of the elder persons praying audibly, they joined with great seriousness. Then he [Benjamin] required leave of the sheriff to pray particularly; but he would not grant it, and only asked him whether he would pray for the King. He answered, ‘I pray for all men.’ He then requested that they might sing a hymn. The sheriff told him it must be with the rope round their necks; which they cheerfully accepted, and sung with such heavenly joy and sweetness that many who were present said it both broke and rejoiced their hearts. Thus in the experience of the delightfulness of praising God on earth, he willingly closed his eyes on a vain world, to pass to that eternal enjoyment.”

“All present of all sorts were exceedingly affected and amazed. Some officers who had before insultingly said, ‘Surely these persons have no thoughts of death, but will find themselves surprised by it,’ now acknowledged that they saw he and they had something extraordinary within, which carried them through with so much joy. Others said that they were so convinced of their happiness that they would be glad to change conditions with them. The soldiers in general, and all others, lamented exceedingly, saying, ‘It was so sad a thing to see them so cut off, that they scarcely knew how to bear it.’ Some of the most malicious in the place, from whom nothing but railing was expected, said, as they were carried to their grave in Taunton church, ‘These persons have left sufficient evi?dence that they are now glorified spirits in heaven.’ A great officer also in the King’s army, has often been heard to say, ‘If you would learn to die, go to the young men of Taunton.’”5

The execution of Mrs. Gaunt was another horrible affair. It is one of the blackest in the catalogue of crimes with which James II. stands charged in history.

Elizabeth Gaunt was a Baptist lady, resident in London. Her life was a series of charitable acts. She was constantly engaged in visiting the jails, and administering succour according to her means, to the distressed and unfortunate. On the discovery of the Rye House plot, one Burton, who was deeply implicated in it, and for whose apprehension a reward of ?100 was offered, found shelter in her house. She assisted him to escape to Holland, where he lived some months. He returned to England with the Duke of Monmouth, and was at the battle of Sedgemoor. After wandering about some time, he obtained concealment in the house of John Fernley, a barber, in Whitechapel, London. Fernley was a poor man; but, though he knew of the reward that had been offered for Burton’s apprehen?sion, he would not betray him. Much as he wanted money, his honour was not to be sold. That noble feeling cost him his life. The wretch Burton learnt that the King was peculiarly exasperated against those who harbored traitors. He informed against both his protectors. They were both brought to trial and convicted. Fernley was hanged; Mrs. Gaunt was burned alive, that being then the punishment of females for this offence. The only witnesses against her were the villain Burton and her own maid-servant: but the girl was ignorant of Burton’s character and position, and could only testify to the concealment, so that the law’s demand, requiring two witnesses, was not satisfied. But the judge who presided at the trial over-ruled the exception taken on this account, and a verdict of “guilty” was brought in, in opposition to right. The good woman suffered the terrible punishment in such a manner as to excite strong sympathy in her favour. Bishop Burnet says, “She died with a constancy, even to cheerfulness, that struck all who saw it. She said, charity was a part of her religion as well as faith; this at worst was feeding an enemy. So she hoped she had reward with Him, for whose sake she did this service, how unworthy soever the person was who made so ill a return for it. She rejoiced that God had honored her to be the first that suffered by fire in this reign, and that her suffering was a martyrdom for that religion which was all love. Penn, the Quaker, told me that he saw her die. She laid the straw about her for burning her speedily, and behaved in such a manner that all the spectators melted in tears.”6

This execution took place, October 23rd, 1685. When she left the prison for the place of burning, Mrs. Gaunt gave a paper to the keeper of Newgate, from which we extract the following paragraphs:—

“Let none think hard, or be discouraged at what hath happened unto me; for He doth nothing without cause in all that He hath done unto me, He being holy in all His ways, and righteous in all His works; and it is but my lot, in common with poor desolate Zion at this day. Neither do I find in my heart the least regret for anything I have done in the service of my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, in securing and succoring any of His poor sufferers that have showed favour, as I thought, to His righteous cause; which cause, though it be now fallen and trampled on, yet it may revive, and God may plead it at another time more than ever He hath yet done, with all its opposers and malicious haters. And I desire to bless His holy name that He hath made me useful in my generation, to the comfort and relief of many desolate ones; that the blessing of many who were ready to perish hath come unto me, and I have helped to make the widow’s heart leap for joy. And I bless His holy name that in all this, together with what I was charged with, I can approve my heart to Him, that I have done His will, though it doth cross man’s.”

Having mentioned several persons engaged in the prosecution, whose malice and cruelty had aggravated her sufferings, she proceeds:—“All which, together with the great one of all [James II.], by whose power all these and multitudes more of cruelties are done, I do heartily and freely forgive, as against me: but as it is done in an implacable mind against the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteous cause and followers, I leave it to Him Who is the avenger of all such wrong, and Who will tread upon princes as upon mortar, and be terrible to the kings of the earth.”7

The darkest time in the history of the Dissenters during this period was the interval between the autumn of 1685 and the summer of 1686. Macaulay says:—“Never, not even under the tyranny of Laud, had the condition of the Puritans been so deplorable as at that time. Never had spies been so actively employed in detecting congregations. Never had magistrates, grand juries, rectors, and churchwardens been so much on the alert. Many Dissenters were cited before the ecclesiastical courts. Others found it necessary to purchase the connivance of the agents of the Government by presents of hogsheads of wine, and of gloves stuffed with guineas. It was impossible for the sectaries to pray together without precautions such as are employed by coiners and receivers of stolen goods. The places of meeting were frequently changed. Worship was performed sometimes just before the break of day, and sometimes at dead of night. Round the building where the little flock was gathering together, sentinels were posted, to give the alarm if a stranger drew near. The minister, in disguise, was introduced through the garden and back-yard. In some houses there were trap-doors, through which, in case of danger, he might descend. Where Nonconformists lived next door to each other, the walls were often broken open, and secret passages were made from dwelling to dwelling. No psalm was sung; and many contrivances were used to prevent the voice of the preacher, in his moments of fervor, from being heard beyond the walls. Yet, with all this care, it was often found impossible to elude the vigilance of informers. In the suburbs of Lon?don, especially, the law was enforced with the utmost rigor. Several opulent gentlemen were accused of holding conventicles. Their houses were strictly searched, and distresses were levied to the amount of many thousands of pounds . . . Dissenting ministers, however blameless in life, however eminent for learning and abilities, could not venture to walk the streets for fear of outrages, which were not only not repressed, but encouraged by those whose duty it was to preserve the peace. Some divines of great fame were in prison. Among these was Richard Baxter. Others, who had, during a quarter of a century, borne up against oppression, now lost heart, and quitted the kingdom. Among these was John Howe.”8

Then the King suddenly changed his policy. Assuming power to suspend the laws, by the exercise of the royal pre?rogative, he first caused licenses to be issued, which pro?tected the parties holding them from all persecuting annoy?ances, and permitted them to re-occupy their places of worship; and this was followed, in April, 1687, by the celebrated “Declaration of Indulgence,” removing, during his Majesty’s pleasure, all restraints on Nonconformity, whether Protestant or Popish. The design of these acts was the establishment of Popery, but it was cloaked by a pretended regard for liberty of conscience.

Some few of the Baptists were induced to join in an address to the King, thanking him for this unlooked-for freedom. The majority, however, viewed his proceedings as altogether unconstitutional, and would not compromise themselves by taking any step which might be construed as an admission of their legality. While they availed them?selves of the newly-acquired liberty, they regarded it as the restoration of a right of which they had been unjustly deprived, and not as the bestowment of a boon.

Hoping thereby to gain assistance in carrying into effect his ulterior purposes, James II. courted the Dissenters. Among them was William Kiffin. The King had taken away the charter of the City of London, and had under?taken to remodel the government of the city by arbitrary appointments of his own. “Kiffin,” says Noble, in his Memoirs of the House of Cromwell, “was personally known both to Charles and James; and when the latter of these princes, after having arbitrarily deprived the city of the old charters, determined to put many of the Dissenters into the magistracy, under the rose he sent for Kiffin to attend him at Court. When he went thither, in obedience to the King’s commandment, he found many lords and gentlemen. The King immediately came up to him, and addressed him with all the little grace he was master of. He talked of his favour to the Dissenters, in the court style of this season, and concluded by telling Kiffin that he had put him down as an Alderman in his new charter. ‘Sir,’ replied Kiffin ‘I am a very old man, and have withdrawn myself from all kind of business for some years past, and am incapable o doing any service in such an affair to your Majesty in the city. Besides, sire,’ the old man went on, fixing his eyes steadfastly on the King, while the tears ran down his cheeks, ‘the death of my grandsons gave a wound to my heart, which is still bleeding, and will never close but in the grave.’ The King was deeply struck by the manner, the freedom, and the spirit of this unexpected rebuke. A total silence ensued, while the galled countenance of James seemed to shrink from the horrid remembrance. In a minute or two, however, he recovered himself enough to say, ‘Mr. Kiffin, I shall find a balsam for that sore,’ and he immediately turned about to a lord in waiting.”9

It is known what followed. The English were not to be cajoled. They had no taste for Popery and arbitrary power. The deliverer came. The tyrant fled. The persecution ceased. Thanks be to God for the revolution of 1688.

 

 

1  Confessions of Faith, &c., p. 232.

2  Ivimey, ii. p. 556.

3  Life of Kiffin, p, 63.

4  Ibid, p. 64.

5  Life of Kiffin, pp. 66-78.

6  History of his Own Times, iii. p. 62.

7  Ivimey, i. pp. 456-458.

8  History of England, vol. i. chap. v.

9 Vol. ii. p. 463.

 
 
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