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THE ACT OF UNIFORMITY: 1662. We can readily imagine that some of our readers will question the propriety of introducing into these pages what is, and will be, a party question. To this we should answer, that it is not our intention to make of it a party question, nor in any way to depart from that neutrality to which we have been pledged, and have adhered from the beginning. This Act of Uniformity, moreover, involves some interesting historical problems and researches in ecclesiastical literature, which is in our province. It may also be added that our treatment of this matter will be exceptional, and will not lead us into conflict with any of those who are or may be discussing it. To this end we shall not have much recourse to well known authorities, nor shall we attempt to give a detailed history of the affair, but we shall throw together a few quotations and facts, with which we shall intermingle such observations as may seem not out of place. Our friends may range us on which side they choose. So far as we speak we shall endeavour to be strictly impartial, and shall only speak of the facts as they appear to us.
The civil war involved a struggle respecting royal prerogatives and episcopal supremacy. Its result was the abolition of both. The republic was followed by the return of monarchy in 1660, when Charles II. promised toleration and indulgence. An outbreak of the fifth monarchy men, under the leadership of Venner, was unfavourable to the dissenters generally, although they were
NEW SERIES.--VOL. I., NO. I.
almost unanimous in rebuking and condemning it. This was in January, 1661; and was immediately followed by a proclamation prohibiting all meetings for public worship except in the parish churches. It is a document which cannot be justified. We copy a portion of it as we find it in a manuscript of the period.
The latter part of the Proclamation against Conventicles.
"In our late declaration, we have thought fit by these presents to publish and declare our royal will and pleasure, that no meeting whatsoever of the persons aforesaid, under pretence of worshipping God, shall at any time hereafter be permitted, or allowed, unless it be in some parochial church or chapel in this realm, or in private houses by the persons there inhabiting, and that all meetings and assemblies whatsoever, in order to any spiritual exercise or serving of God by the persons aforesaid, shall be esteemed, and are hereby declared to be unlawful assemblies, and shall be prosecuted accordingly, and the persons therein assembled shall be proceeded against as persons riotously and unlawfully assembled ; and for the better execution of this proclamation, and the prevention of all illegal and seditious meetings and Conventicles, we do hereby straightly charge and command, all mayors, sheriffs and justices of peace, constables, headboroughs, commanders, and other officers and ministers whom it may concern, that they cause diligent search to be made from time to time, in all and every the places where any such meetings or conventicles as aforesaid shall or may be suspected, and that they cause all and every the persons therein assembled to be apprehended and brought before one or more justices of the peace, to be bound over to appear at the next sessions within their respective precincts, and in the meantime to find sureties for good behaviour, or in default thereof to be committed to the next gaol: and further, we do will and command the justices of peace, that they cause the oath of allegiance to be tendered to every person so brought before them, and upon his or their refusal, to proceed according to the statute made in the seventh year of the reign of our royal grandfather of ever blessed memory: they are directed and commanded. ...
Given January 10, 1660.”
The Independent ministers at once took the alarm, and issued “a Renuntiation and declaration of the ministers of Congregational Churches and public preachers of the same judgment, living in and about the city of London, against the late Horrid Insurrection and Rebellion acted in the said city." This pamphlet is dated in January 1660 (1661), and besides repudiating all sympathy with rebellion, sets forth the principles of the Congregationalists, shewing that they enforce loyalty and obedience to the civil power, and by way of confirmation, quoting the twenty-fourth chapter of the Savoy confession agreed to in 1658.
That everything was then in a state of inextricable confusion will appear by reference to any history of the time. Kennet records among others the following circumstances, which we throw together here. Dr. Manton was episcopally instituted to the living of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, in January, 1661, whereupon the inhabitants petitioned the Bishop of London for the exercise of religion as by law established, so Dr. Manton admitted the use of the Book of Common Prayer. A bishopric was offered to Baxter, who declined it. Gauden published his counsels to priests and deacons ordained by him, urging the defence of the Prayer Book, and thus concludes: “Nor is it to be doubted but we shall at length, by God's help, get a sure and complete victory over all these Amalekites, that so, after various hazards and adventures, we may arrive at heaven, and bring many spiritual sons with us to the high and holy inheritance of eternal glory purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ." We know who the Amalekites were. In some places many children were found unbaptized, as at Dover, where the font had not been used for twenty years. The Quakers presented a petition to Charles II., in which they say that above four hundred men and women were in prison in and about London, and above a thousand more in the country. They ask for a fair trial. The Baptists presented an address to the king about the same time as the Independents. At Edinburgh a proclamation was issued, January 22, 1661, against the Quakers, Anabaptists, and Fifth Monarchy men. A few days later the king ordered the release of the Quakers in prison in London, if not ringleaders, preachers, or particular offenders. The Scotch parliament issued a declaration for annulling the solemn League and Covenant. In Ireland
declaration was sent out against assemblies of Papists, Presbyterians, Independents, Quakers, and other fanatical persons. Vast numbers of Quakers were imprisoned. A proclamation went forth against killing, dressing, and eating flesh in Lent and on fast days, etc.; but licenses were allowed. There had been much arbitrary government in the Church, says Kennet, and many bishops and ministers had been ejected, whose places were filled in some cases by itinerant preachers; in others they had been left vacant. A service was appointed for the 30th January. Many pamphlets, tracts, and sermons were published, and controversy and discussion prevailed in all forms. The public mind was very
unsettled. The Quakers could obtain no release except
by taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, which of course they could not do. Some persons were prosecuted for not reading the Book of Common Prayer. The advocates of the League and Covenant were sent to prison. Sir Roger L'Estrange and others were urgent in their demands for severity. The Quakers published an account of their persecutions.
Thus we might go on, filling pages with the bare enumeration of facts which shew that a deadly struggle had commenced, and that whatever provocation the sects had formerly given, or whatever rashness some among them might display, they were now the sufferers. It is beyond question that the dominant party contained many wise and good men, who could not approve of severe, arbitrary, and violent measures. It is equally certain, that there were those who, smarting under the remembrance of what they had borne during the Commonwealth, or anxious to reduce the existing chaos to something like order, or resolved to bring about uniformity of religion, cared little what measures were adopted, provided they were suited to the attainment of cherished objects. No one can read the annals of the time without perceiving that this was the case. But we cannot condemn all alike.
Sundry negociations were entered into with the Preshyterians and others, for amicably settling the discipline and ceremonies of the Church of England. On March 25, 1661, the King issued a commission by which he appointed an equal number of divines and learned men on both sides, to consider and revise the Liturgy, and to consider all other matters of dispute, and to report upon them. On the episcopal side were eleven bishops, and the Archbishop of York, and eleven Dissenters on the other. To these were added nine episcopal divines and nine dissenters as substitutes for such of the first class as were unable to attend. So far, all seemed fair and equal, except that the president was an archbishop. Probably it was intended that all should proceed on just and honourable principles, but the reports shew that, from the first, there was no prospect of impartiality from men like Sheldon and others. Submission was required, and not agreement. Consequently, shame and defeat were the portion of the Dissenters, who could not cope with this violent spirit, and the determination to retaliate, which was opposed to them. Regarded by the light of authentic records, the whole affair looks like a farce, a solemn mockery. Apart from the wretched manner in which this business was conducted, there are features which we approve. It was right and proper to attempt to restore harmony to a distracted church. It was right and proper to introduce something like agreement and uniformity by the common consent of those in possession of the pulpits. This agreement did not exist, but it was none the less desirable; and if men of different opinions could have been brought to make mutual concessions, and to follow one uniform practice, there would have been consolidated a peaceful and powerful ecclesiastical community. Elements in both parties forbade this, but posterity has cast upon the episcopal commissioners the obloquy of refusing concession, and of demanding obedience. At this time there was abroad a spirit of vindictiveness, which can easily be accounted for, but which we can well afford to blame. The high churchmen had, some of them, suffered much within the preceding nine or ten years.
Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy is not altogether a fictitious book ; it is partial, it is violent, it is in many points very inexact, but it still represents real sufferings and indignities. This was the canker which fretted some men's hearts, and nothing could atone for the violence of the republican party but reprisals; they must be humbled and crushed. The day of power had now dawned upon the men who had been wronged and outraged, and with the accession of power appeared the resolution to have revenge. Of course some may have been moved by better motives, but those we describe were predominant in the councils of the time. We repeat our approval of the desire for general agreement and of uniformity, so far as was possible, because a church cannot truly prosper in which all forms of doctrine and ecclesiastical custom prevail. At that time, there were men in parish pulpits who had never been ordained at all. Of John Wesley, of Whitchurch, for example, Adam Clarke says, “That he was a laypreacher,” and “that he was an itinerant evangelist.” He adds, “That he was not ordained, either by bishop or presbyters, by the imposition of hands, is fully evident." And again, that although called by the people, appointed by the trustees, and approved by the triers," he had not instituted any code of discipline for their (his people’s) regulation; and probably did not administer the sacraments among them, especially the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.” This John Wesley was ejected by the Act of Uniformity. His case speaks for itself, and it is not for a moment to be imagined that it stands alone. In a few of the pulpits, ministers holding congregational views of church polity officiated; in many, those who followed the Presbyterian order; and in others, those who were Episcopalians. To call this confusion is to use a mild word, and to say that it was an inconsistency, will probably not be questioned. If parish churches are national property, they were yet never intended for indiscriminate use. The Government always claimed the power to