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The life of Richard Baxter extends over a little more than three quarters of a century. And perhaps in all the history of England, no period of the same length can be selected more abundant in memorable events, or more critical in its bearings on the cause of true liberty and of pure christianity, than the seventysix years between the birth of Baxter and his death.
The Reformation of the English Church had been begun about the middle of the preceding century, by a wayward and arbitrary monarch, to gratify his own passions. Henry VIII. renounced the supremacy of the pope, only that he might be pope himself within the limits of his own dominions. He dissolved the monasteries, because their immense possessions made them worth plundering. He made the hierarchy independent of Rome, and dependent on himself, because he would admit no power co-ordinate with that of the crown. And though in effecting these changes he was under the necessity of employing the agency of some true reformers, who shared in the spirit of Wickliffe and Luther and Calvin, nothing was farther from his design than the intellectual or moral renovation of the people.
On his death in 1547, an amiable prince, a boy in his tenth year, became nominally king of England and head of the English Vol. 1.
church. During the short reign of Edward VI. the reformation was carried on with a hearty good will, by the good Cranmer and his associates in the regency. The bible in the English language, which, having been published by authority in the preceding reign, had been soon afterwards, by the same authority, suppressed, was now again placed by royal proclamation in the parish churches, Worship was performed in a language “understanded of the people.” The liturgy, first translated and established in the second year of this reign, was revised and purged from some of its imperfections three years afterwards, and then assumed nearly the form under which it is now used in the churches of the English Establishment and in the Episcopal churches of America. The design of the leading reformers in this reign was to carry the work of reformation as far as the circumstances in which they were placed would permit. They had their eye on the more perfect reformation of foreign churches; they were in the full confidence of foreign reformers; and their aim was to bring back the Church of England not only to the purity of scriptural doctrine, but to the simplicity of scriptural worship, and the strictness of scriptural discipline. In pursuance of this aim, foreign divines of eminence, hearty disciples of the Swiss reformers, in discipline as well as in doctrine, were made professors of theology in both the universities, and were placed in other stations of honor and influence. The progress of the work was hindered by the influence of a powerful popish party, including the heir apparent to the throne, many of the bishops, the mass of the clergy, and perhaps the numerical majority of the people; and its consummation was defeated by the premature death of the king in the sixth year of his reign.
The crown and the ecclesiastical supremacy then devolved upon the “ bloody Mary," in the year 1553. This princess inherited a gloomy temper; and the circumstances of her early life, while they inspired her with a bigotted attachment to the religion of Rome, co-operated with that religion to aggravate all that was unfortunate in her native disposition. Under her government, a few months was time enough to undo all that had been done towards a reformation in the two preceding reigns. It was found that the king's supremacy was as able to bring back the old doctrines and the old worship, as it had been to bring in the new. All king Edward's laws about religion were repealed by a single act of an obsequious parliament. A solemn reconciliation was effected with the See of Rome, and was ratified in the blood of an army of martyrs. Many of the active friends of the reformation, forseeing the tempest, saved their lives by a timely flight to foreign countries. But God made the wrath of man to praise him; for the six years of this reign contributed more perhaps than all the labors of Cranmer and his associates during the six years of Edward, to open the eyes and quicken the sluggish minds of the people, and to inspire them at once with a warm affection for the protestant faith, and with a hearty detestation of popery.
The commencement of the reign of Elizabeth, in 1558, is the era of the establishment of the reformation in England. This queen, of all the children of Henry VIII. inherited most largely the spirit of her father. She was against the pope, because the pope's supremacy was at variance with her own. She was against the spirit of protestantism, because she saw that its tendency was to make the people think for themselves. It soon appeared that, under her auspices, the reformation which during the reign of Edward had been progressive, and had been represented by its patrons as only begun, was to be progressive no longer. Those who had hoped that the new government would take up the work of reform where Cranmer and his associates had left it, and would bring the ecclesiastical affairs of the kingdom still nearer to a primitive simplicity in doctrine and in order, found that the queen's march of improvement was retrograde, and that the church, under her supremacy, was to be carried back towards the stately and ceremonious superstition of Romanism. But the popular mind had begun to take an interest in these matters. So many religious revolutions treading on each other's heels, had wakened thought and inquiry, even among those who were generally regarded as having only to obey the dictation of their superiors. To have suffered under Queen Mary for dissenting from the established faith and order, was extolled under Queen Elizabeth as meritorious; and the people began to apprehend that religious truth and duty might be something independent of the throne and the parliament, something which law could not fix, nor revolution overturn. Those who had seen so many burnt, and so many banished, for particular religious opinions, and who understood that the opinions then proscribed were now triumphant; were led to inquire what those opinions were, and on what basis they rested. Thus the public mind was ripening for a real reformation.
In these circumstances there sprung up a new party, the party of the PURITANS. Under King Edward, there had been dissension among the reformers, some wishing to go faster and farther than others. The question related chiefly to certain vestments of the popish priesthood, and the controversy was whether they should be retained or disused. By some it was deemed important to continue the use of those garments in the administration of public worship, at least for a while, lest by too sudden and violent a departure from all old usages and forms, the people might become unnecessarily and inveterately prejudiced against the reformation. By others those vestments were disapproved as relics of popish idolatry; and the disuse of them was insisted on, inasmuch as the people had been taught to regard them with a superstitious feeling, and to believe that they were essential to the validity of all religious administrations. What was at first little else than a question of expediency, soon became a question of conscience. Dr. Hooper, one of the most zealous and efficient leaders of the reformation, was imprisoned several months by his brethren, for refusing to accept the bishopric of Gloucester unless he might be consecrated without putting on the popish habits. That difficulty was at last compromised by the mediation of the Swiss reformers with Hooper on the one hand, and of the king and council with the ruling prelates on the other; and Ridley and Hooper afterwards labored with the same zeal for the truth, and at last suffered with the same patience the pains of martyrdom. During the persecution in Queen Mary's time, the controversy was revived in another form of the exiles who fled to the protestant countries on the continent, many admired, and were disposed to copy, the discipline and worship of the reformed churches; while others insisted on adhering to the letter of