Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

"The sufficiency of Scripture is the fundamental postulate of Puritanism; the authority of the Church, the ground practically taken by the Anglican hierarchy: and these incompatible assumptions have been the cause of the unintermitted strife between them, through the last four or five centuries of our history. Scripture – the record and depository of the free and popular spirit of the primitive Gospel — the Magna Charta of religious liberty — is a standing witness and protest against the

breathes, we find a reason of the ardent attachment to it ever manifested by those, who at different periods have struggled against episcopal tyranny and called aloud for ecclesiastical reform - from the African sectaries who resisted Cyprian and were persecuted by Augustine, down to the Waldenses, the Hussites and the Lollards of the Middle Ages; and in the same spirit we detect a inotive for the efforts of the priesthood to keep the dispensation of the Word of life in their own hands, and prevent its free circulation among the laity. The conflict pervades the whole of Christian history, and goes back to the first ages of the Church. If mere antiquity could decide the question at issue, Puritanism, through its authentic representatives from the earliest times, might at least make out as venerable a pedigree, and establish as clear a line of apostolical descent, as Episcopacy. Taking the word Puritanism in the large sense which has been explained, we may trace the identity of the principle, in all its most striking manifestations, through every period of its history, whether oppressed by a Catholic, or in collision with a Protestant, hierarchy. Under all outward changes, we shall find, that Scripturalism, a severe morality, popular sympathies and warm attachment to civil freedom, have constituted the sign and peculiar distinction of Puritanism.” — pp. 133, 134.

The writer passes in rapid review “Lollardism ” and Wycliffe, the “ Incipient Puritanic Movements” under Henry VIII., “ High Presbyterianism under Elizabeth,” the « Qualified Presbyterianism at the close of the sixteenth, and in the first half of the seventeenth, century,” and comes to “ Independency, and the more Extreme Forms of Puritanism."

The origin and progress of these are exhibited in a lucid style, with a happy selection of incidents and illustrations, so far as the object of the work requires or admits. In the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution, the “ character of the Puritanic movement underwent a change." The “influence of distinguished teachers on the historical

development of Puritanism” during this period is illustrated by some very well drawn sketches and portraits.

“The men of this period form the transition-class between the old Puritan of the time of the wars, and the Protestant Dissenter recognised by the Toleration Act of the Revolution. With them we are immediately connected, through the foundation of our religious societies, and the possession at this day of many principles and tendencies which they have transmitted to us. The memory of our great-grandfathers reaches back to the time when their personal influence was strong and active in the world. They are our spiritual ancestors — the fathers of English Protestant Dissent. This was the period that witnessed the painful ministry, the prolific tongue and pen, the severe and saintlike virtue, sweetened with a holy meekness - of Baxter, Owen, Bates, and Howe in the metropolis — of Heywood, Fairfax, Newcome, Henry, and Flavel in the provinces - men, who lived on their convictions, and giving themselves up, like true prophets of God, to the inspirations of faith and duty, fulfilled amidst all the disquietudes of a troubled and persecuted life, with court and priests and magistrates against them, the solemn vow they had laid on their souls, to preach, at whaterer cost, the truths of eternal life to sinful and dying men.” – pp. 222, 223.

Of Baxter, Mr. Tayler thus speaks:

“Of the great Presbyterian party, Baxter stands forth as the most conspicuous representative. I have already explained, that the term Presbyterian - as the name of a party — had ceased to denote exclusive attachment to that form of Church government, but embraced all who were not from principle Separatists, and who desired a national settlement of religion, on the broad basis of purification and reform. In this aim, Baxter heartily concurred; to promote it was the governing principle of his ecclesiastical and doctrinal system. He shunned extremes, and sought a common centre; and, in this respect, his mind was essentially eclectic. His chief ground of difference with the Independents was, in his own phrase, 'their separating strictness.' Under the guidance of this principle, Baxter's mind became more tolerant, enlarged, and catholic, the longer he lived. Its distinguishing attributes were uncommon vigor and acuteness, delighting almost to excess in the exercise of dialectic subtlety, great fervor of spirit, simplicity of purpose, and inflexible honesty. Though he had not the advantage of an University education, he was deeply read on the subjects that were then conceived to belong to divinity, and would have had a higher reputation for learning, had he written less. But the pen was scarcely ever out of his hand, and of his voluminous productions,

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

the far greater part were occasional, and thrown off at a heat for some immediate practical object. In the noble earnestness of his character, he thought less of literary fame, than the interests of the human soul.” – pp. 223, 224.

Baxter began as a strong Calvinist, but his opinions afterwards became much softened, and he “fixed his attention chiefly, the older he grew, on rectitude of heart and practical goodness ;” he believed that “the points at issue between Calvinists and Arminians did not so involve fundamental truths, as to be necessary grounds of separation;" his views of the Trinity were charged with “ deficiency in clearness and precision," and his "own later exposition of them took the form of Sabellianism.” “Sometimes in the silence of his study, yearning after reality and usefulness, he longed for the adventurous life of a missionary, that he might be no more wearied with words, but grappling with facts, go forth and preach the Gospel to the savage and the heathen.” His spirit and example exerted a deep influence on the next generation of Nonconformists.

“Belonging to the same party, but with a character less ardent and earnest, and of manners more gentle, complying and polished — were Bates and Howe.”

A man of a different stamp, - more profoundly learned in theology, of an intellect more severely consequential and rigidly dogmatic, but less open, genial, and comprehensive, — was Dr. Owen, the celebrated leader of the Independents. The Congregational system had been supported by some great names before his time, but his numerous writings, high reputation, and great personal influence, gave it form and character, and impressed upon it the peculiar features of his mind, as Baxter left his on Presbyterianism.” — p. 232.

Owen received repeated marks of favor and confidence from Cromwell, whom he accompanied into Ireland and Scotland, and in 1651 was appointed “Dean of Christ Church and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford.” He was once a member of Parliament, was zealous in defence of the Commonwealth, and “himself raised a troop of horse at Oxford.” He declared against Cromwell's assumption of the title of King, after which a “coolness grew up between: them.”

After the Restoration, Owen, of course, shared in the general disgrace and discouragement of the Puritan party; but having a considerable private estate, he lived in comparative ease VOL. XL. -4TH. S. VOL. V. NO. II.

26

and comfort, exposed only to occasional annoyances, and enjoyed the protection and countenance of many persons of rank and influence. Clarendon himself was in the number of his friends. His church in Berry Street was attended by some of the old Commonwealth officers, Fleetwood and Colonel Desborough. Dissatisfied with the state of things in the old country, he was at one time preparing to emigrate to New England, where he had been invited to undertake the presidency of Harvard College; but he was prevented by an order from the Council. A similar invitation he had received from Academic bodies in Holland. He died in 1683, on the anniversary of the ejectment under the Act of Uniformity.” — p. 234.

“ The character and principles of Owen present in several respects a marked contrast to those of Baxter. Each had his own decided view of the great questions of religious truth and liberty in which they were both, with equal piety and earnestness, engaged; and when the grave had closed over Owen's remains, Baxter paid a hearty and generous tribute to the distinguished worth and endowments of one who had been his frequent opponent in life. Owen's Congregational principles, though involving by necessary consequence a toleration of different forms of worship and Church government — at least among Christians - rather tended to encourage narrow and rigid terms of communion within the limits of each particular Church. None,' says he, “but those who give evidence of being regenerated, or holy persons, ought to be received or counted fit members of visible Churches; where this is wanting, the very essence of a Church is lost.' Baxter, on the other hand, abhorring separation, and aiming at nationality, would have taken in all quiet and visible Christians, that did not break in on the established Church order, from the Papist on one side, to the Socinian on the other. Spiritual purity — freedom from all heretical mixtures - was the essence of a true Church in the view of Owen ; comprehensiveness was its outward sign and recommendation, in that of Baxter. Owen disapproved of worshipping in the national churches; Baxter never withdrew from their communion, and only recurred occasionally to the use of separate assemblies, as a necessity that was forced upon him against his will. Baxter, as he advanced in life, approached nearer in his views to Arminianism; Owen retained his Calvinism to the last. Baxter shrank from a very decided assertion of the Trinity; Owen stood forth in his “Vindiciæ Evangelicæ' to confute the Unitarianism of Biddle. Baxter was for amalgamating all parties; Owen, on the contrary, was a great promoter of the Savoy Confession, which coming after the labors of the Westminster divines, could only have the effect of marking off the Independents as a distinct body from the Presbyterians. Baxter

1846.]

Puritanism and Literature.

295

interpreted the Bible with a breadth and freedom of view, and a continued reference to the priority and supremacy of the Spirit, which bordered on the theology of Fox and Barclay. Owen was rigidly Scriptural; so that, when Brian Walton published his Polyglott, he was alarmed at the bold views put forth in the prolegomena and appendix, respecting the original text, and vindicated its purity and integrity in a treatise, ‘Of the divine original and authority of the Scriptures.' Owen was profoundly skilled in the theology of his age and school, and had communed much with his own heart, and narrowly watched the manifestations of the religious life in close spiritual intercourse with various members of his own Church; Baxter had warmer sympathies with general humanity, and read its indications with a more open and excursive eye. Baxter had great simplicity of character and directness of purpose ; while Owen combined with remarkable spirituality of mind, a larger share of shrewd caution, knowledge of affairs, and worldly depth and penetration, than usually falls to the lot of a student and divine." — pp. 235-237.

“We trace the different principles of the two men, in the divergent tendencies of the Presbyterian and Independent sections of the old Puritan body, of which they were respectively the heads. The Presbyterians were always hoping for comprehension; the Independents were satisfied with a tolerated separation. The former always associated the cause of civil, with that of religious, liberty; the latter were led by their principles to keep the ideas of Church and State more distinct, and to overlook sometimes, in a tendency towards extreme spirituality, their reciprocal action and dependence. Among the Presbyterians, the constant movement of opinion was towards Arminianism and its related doctrines; among the Independents, we witness an effort in the contrary direction, to uphold the primitive Calvinism. We may look on Owen as the founder of rigid, and Baxter of moderate, Dissent.” – p. 238.

Turning over some pages relating to the Anabaptists and Quakers, and the “ Rise of permanent Nonconformist Societies," we come to the chapter on the “Church and Puritanism contrasted.” We wish we could afford some extracts on this subject, which is treated with discrimination and thoroughness. We offer no apology for the length of the following passage on the influence of Puritanism on literature.

“The influence of Puritanism is often represented as hostile to elegant literature. Its short-lived ascendancy, beset with danger and consumed in strife, had indeed little leisure for the soft dalliance of the Muses. But the sublime incarnation of its

« PreviousContinue »