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One day, when I was there, the conversation turned upon this question, by what means God first visited their souls, and began a work of grace upon them. It was your great-grandfather's turn to speak, and his account struck me so, I never forgot it.' He told the company as follows: "When I was a young man, I was addicted to foot-ball playing; and as the custom was, in our parish and many others, the young men, as soon as church was over, took a foot-ball and went to play. Our minister often remonstrated against our breaking the Sabbath, which however had little effect, only my conscience checked me at times, and I would sometimes steal away, and hide myself from my companions. But, being dexterous at the game, they would find me out, and get me again among them. This would bring on me more guilt and horror of conscience. Thus I went on, sinning and repenting, a long time, but had no resolution to break off from the practice; till one Sabbath morning our good minister acquainted his hearers, that he was very sorry to tell them, that by order of the king (James I.) and council, he must read them the following paper, or turn out of his living. This was The Book of Sports, forbidding the minister, or churchwardens, or any other, to molest or discourage the youth in their manly sports and recreations on the Lord's-day, &c. While our minister was reading it, I was seized with a chill and horror not to be described. Now, thought I, iniquity is established by a law, and sinners are hardened in their sinful ways! what sore judgments are to be expected upon so wicked and guilty a nation ! what must I do? whither shall I fly? how shall I escape the wrath to come? and God set in so with it, that I thought it was high time to be in earnest about salvation; and from that time I never had the least inclination to take a foot-ball in hand, or to join my vain companions any more; so that I date my conversion from that time, and adore the grace of God, in making that to be an ordinance for my salvation, which the devil and wicked governors laid as a trap for my destruction.'
** This,' said the good man, 'I heard him tell; and I hope with some serious benefit to my own soul.'”
The religious oppressions of the first two sovereigns of the House of Stuart were followed up after the Restoration of that house by the Act of Uniformity, in 1662, and by numerous imprisonments for conscience' sake. Our list records the apprehension and imprisonment of Joseph Alleine, the author of the “Alarm to the Unconverted,” and several other valuable works. The narrative of these events is given in his life, in a chapter written, after his death, by his widow, Mrs. Theodosia Alleine, and which, with his letters, written in prison, is singularly interesting and edifying. Our limits afford no room for extract, but those of our readers who can obtain the Life of Alleine, and his "Remains," either in the old edition, or as republished by Nichols at Leeds,--the former in 1815, in twelves, the latter in 1816, in eighteens, —will possess two volumes worth their weight in gold.
But our present list is not confined to bloodless restrictions of the liberty of conscience. It contains five notices of the sacrifice of human life to the sanguinary spirit of persecution. We shall first notice three instances perpetrated in our own country, and afterwards the deaths of two distinguished Reformers of Bohemia and Italy.
The executions of Joan Bocher and Von Paris are thus related by Sir James Mackintosh, in his History of England, vol. ii. pp. 273-4:
" Joan Bocher, commonly called Joan of Kent, a zealous Protestant, who had privately imported Lutheran books for the ladies of the court in Henry's reign, had now adopted a doctrine, or a set of words, which brought her to be tried before the commissioners for heresy. As her assertions are utterly unintelligible, the only mode of fully displaying the unspeakable injustice of her sentence is to quote the very words in which she vainly struggled to convey a meaning: she denied that Christ was truly incarnate of the virgin, whose flesh being sinful he could take none of it; but the Word, by the consent of the inward man in the virgin, took flesh of her.' The execution was delayed for a year by the compassionate scruples of Edward, who refused to sign it. It must be owned with regret, that his conscientious hesitation was borne down by the authority and importunity of Cranmer, though the reasons of that prelate rather silenced than satisfied the boy, who, as he set his hand to the warrant, said, with tears in his eyes, to the archbishop, 'If I do wrong, since it was in submission to your authority, you must answer for it to God. It was not till the 2nd of May, 1550, that this unfortunate woman was burnt to death. On the 24th of May, 1551, Von Paris, an eminent surgeon in London, of Dutch extraction, having refused to purchase life by recanting his heresy, which consisted in denying the Divine nature of Christ, was burnt to death."
We need not, after what was said respecting Legate's execution in our March paper, make any observations as to the light in which the deaths of these two unhappy victims of persecution should be regarded. The doctrinal subtleties of the maid of Kent seem to have proceeded from a sincere desire to obviate a supposed impiety in the view commonly taken of the incarnation. In noticing the fact that no Romanist suffered death in Edward's reign, Sir James Mackintosh has stated very clearly the relative positions of the two great religious parties which then divided the nation, and shown how these relations modified the principles of persecution as maintained by the Protestants, and prepared the way for subsequent advances in the cause of spiritual freedom. We recommend these statements to our younger readers, as equally true and instructive. The same discrimination, unhappily, does not pervade all the author's observations respecting religious subjects and characters. His ignorance of spiritual religion, and want of sympathy with those who were supremely actuated by it, render him not unfrequently far more partial than his conscious uprightness of intention would have knowingly allowed; and occasionally lead him into errors which we are surprised that his singularly discriminating and cultivated intellect did not detect.
The martyrdom of Drowry--a striking confirmation of the doctrine that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church-is thus related by Thornton, in his Piety Exemplified :
"A strong and lively faith produces a tone of heroic energy, combined with exquisite tenderness, which elevates and graces the character of persons in the lowest, as well as in the highest ranks of life. The same day on which the touching interview above related (the interview between Hooper and Sir Antony Kingston, on the day the former was burnt) took place, a poor blind boy earnestly begged the guards to give him admission to Hooper. This child had not long before suffered imprisonment, at Gloucester, for confessing the truth. Hooper, having examined him concerning his faith, and the cause of his confinement, looked stedfastly upon him, and the tears gushing from his eyes, said,—Ah! poor boy; God hath taken from thee thy outward sight for cause he best knoweth; but he hath given thee other sight much more precious : He hath endued thy soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give thee grace continually to pray to him, that thou lose not that sight, for then thou shouldest be blind both in body and soul.' The bishop's prayer was granted; for this
poor blind boy, whose name was Thomas Drowry, was afterwards himself a martyr. He was burnt at Gloucester, May 5, 1556."
Jerome of Prague was the intimate friend and companion of Huss. From his not having been ordained to the ministry, he has been distinguished as the “ Lay Reformer.” After studying in the university of his native city, he spent some time at Cologne, Heidelberg, Paris, and Oxford, in which last university he studied the writings of Wycliffe, some of which he translated, and took with him to Prague. On Huss's detention at Constance, he determined to go thither to his assistance, but on arriving in the city, was obliged, for his own safety, to return to Ueberlingen, from which place he addressed a letter to the emperor for a safe conduct, but in vain. Returning homewards, he was apprehended at Hirschau, and brought back to Constance. This was in May, 1415. At his first appearance before the council he showed great intrepidity, replying to the clamours raised against him, “Since nothing but
my blood can satisfy you, the will of God be done !” Imprisonment and the solicitation of his friends, however, so far prevailed with him afterwards, that in the month of September he began to equivocate, and on the 23rd of that month avowed before the council bis conviction that Huss had been justly condemned; retracted the errors which had been alleged against him ; and declared himself ready to undergo all the penalties prescribed by the canons if he ever relapsed into heresy. From doubts which were entertained of the sincerity of his conversion, he was remanded to prison, and detained there several months. At length, on the 23rd of May, 1516, he was brought again before the council on new charges. On the 26th he defended himself in an oration which extorted the reluctant admiration of the whole council ; but closing it with a retraction of his former submission, in which he firmly declared his agreement with Wycliffe and Huss, and his deep repentance that he had so weakly abjured the doctrine of his “excellent brother,” he spared his enemies the trouble of replying to him, and was remanded for two days, in the hope that he would again recant. All efforts failing, he was brought up again on the 30th to receive his sentence, and immediately afterwards led to the place of execution. His conduct on his trial and at the stake was described by Poggio, of Florence, the pope's secretary, in a letter to his friend Aretin, which has been frequently reprinted. Poggio's eulogies on Jerome's talents and defence before the council we reluctantly omit, but make room for the closing scenes. The letter is given at length in Gilpin's "Lives of the Reformers," and by Mr. Thornton.
“ With a cheerful countenance, and more than stoical constancy, he met his fate; fearing neither death itself, nor the horrible form in which it appeared. When he came to the stake, he pulled off his upper garment, and made a short prayer; and afterwards he was bound with wet cords and an iron chain, and enclosed as high as his breast with faggots. As the wood began to blaze he sang a hymn, which the violence of the flames scarcely interrupted. Thus died this prodigious man. The epithet is not extravagant. I myself was an eye-witness of his whole behaviour. Whatever his life may have been, his death, without doubt, is a lesson of philosophy.”
The character of Savonarola has been enveloped in suspicion by some historians, and Mr. Roscoe, in his Life of Lorenzo de' Medici, has disparaged it. But admitting that the share which he had taken in the political disturbances of his time, furnished some motive, as well as pretext, for accusing him, the accusation on which he was condemned had reference principally to religious offences, and those the same as the very noblest of the martyrs have suffered for. He was accused of holding the doctrine of free justification through faith in Christ, and the necessity of administering the communion in both kinds ; of despising papal indulgences and pardons ; of condemning the immoralities of the clergy; of denying the pope's supremacy; and of disparaging auricular confession; as well as of stirring up revolt and sedition, and declaring that Italy must be cleansed by God's scourge for the manifold wickedness of the prince and clergy. Refusing to recant, he was, with his two friends, Dominic and Silvester, who were also Dominicans, cruelly tortured ; and it is said that under the agony he uttered some expressions which were construed into a recantation. But besides that these are not distinctly stated, (Roscoe indeed insinuates that he acknowledged the fallacy of his pretensions to supernatural powers, but he is not unprejudiced on that question,) the improbability that he did recant is powerfully corroborated by his being executed the next day without any measures having been taken to obtain his attestation of the alleged repentance. We are therefore 80 convinced that the account which Dr. Guerike has given of this Reformer and his trial is nearer the truth, that we shall translate that portion of it which bears immediately on the latter subject; only premising that the closing sentence of our extract, in harmony with the historian's strong political opinions, expresses a severer judgment in reference to the Reformer's measures than we can feel at liberty in all respects to adopt or justify.
“Tortured in the cruellest manner at the instigation of Pope Alexander VI., he cried out in anguish, “It is enough, O Lord ! take thou my soul;' but he was still able to pray for his tormentors. That his offences might appear more worthy of death, the public acts* were nefariously altered by the management of a person whose life had formerly been spared at his intercession. Before such judges he would offer no defence. Yet towards the very close of his life, the fulness of his faith and hope expressed itself in deep and earnest expositions of the 31st and 51st Psalms.t • This man,' said Alexander VI., "should die, if he were John the Baptist himself.' Savonarola this decision of the pope heard with tranquillity, administered the Lord's supper to himself, and proceeded with cheerfulness to the place of execution. He was, with two of his friends, first hanged, and then burnt at the foot of the gallows, as a seducer of the people, and a heretic. His half-burnt hand was seen in the midst of the flames, raised up in the act of blessing. Thus he died, in the undisturbed reliance upon Him who had before died for him, at Florence, on the 23rd of May, 1498 ; a Reformer remarkably distinguished for his spiritual gifts and practical energy, but who did not take the pains he should have taken first to subdue that which was contrary to God's will within himself—a forerunner of Luther, (whose work he most certainly anticipated, and with whom he was, in many respects, one as to the essence of their doctrine,) but who was eager to reform, and that not only by preaching, but by prophesying—not only through the word, but through the civil power--not only according to God's plan, but to man's—not the church only, but the state also.”—Guerike, Handbuch der Kirchengeschiche, p. 696.
We have entered our protest against the unfavourable exception here taken to Savonarola’s merit as a Reformer. He was a sagacious interpreter of the political events which transpired under his eye, and however his prophesying may have been magnified by admiring friends or subtle enemies, or perhaps even misunderstood by expressions which dropped from him in moments of excited feelings, or when he lectured on the Apocalypse, they were no more prophetic than several which have been ascribed to Luther, Knox, and other Reformers. Dr. Guerike blames him for not confining his efforts to the reformation of the church. He was a political reformer by necessity. When the Medicean family had been expelled from Florence for their oppression and extortions, and a new government was organised, the people yielding to his advice, established a democracy in preference to an oligarchy. This is the head and front of his offending. But he was no demagogue -no flatterer of the people. Frugal and severe towards himself, he rebuked vice wherever he detected it. The displeasure which he expressed to Lorenzo de Medici when the latter was forming his nefarious connexion with Pope Alexander VI., he also expressed with equal faithfulness to the people, when they failed in their obedience to the obligations of religion. Can it be made a reproach to him that he exposed that monster in human form who then occupied the papal
The original word here is “Acten,” which may signify either the records of the city, or the instruments connected with the legal process against the Reformer; and which are here intended, we have not immediately the means of ascertaining.
† These were published by Luther, under the title, “Mediatio pia et erudita Hieron. Savanarolæ a papa exusti super Psalmos «Miserere mei,' and 'In te, Domine, sperari.'” Vitemb. 1523.