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XXI. The Independents, who have been just mentioned among the promoters of civil discord in England, The are generally represented by the British writers in dents. a much worse light than the Presbyterians or Calvinists. They are commonly accused of various enormities, and are even charged with the crime of parricide, as having borne a principal part in the death of the king. But whoever will be at the pains of examining, with impartiality and attention, the writings of that sect, and their confession of faith, must soon perceive, that many crimes have been imputed to them' without foundation, and will probably be induced to think, that the bold attempts of the civil Independents, i. e. of those warm republicans who were the declared enemies of monarchy, and wanted to extend the liberty of the people beyond all bounds of wisdom and prudence, have been unjustly laid to the charge of those Independents, whose principles were merely of a religious kind. The religious Independents derive their denomina
p The sect of the Independents is of recent date, and still subsists in England: there is, nevertheless, not one either of the ancient or modern sects of Christians, that is less known, or has been more loaded with groundless aspersions and reproaches. The most eminent English writers, not only among the patrons of Episcopacy, but even among those very Presbyterians with whom they are now united, have thrown out against them the bitterest accusations, and the severest invectives that the warmest indignation could invent. They have not only been represented as delirious, mad, fanatical, illiterate, factious, and ignorant both of natural and revealed religion, but also as abandoned to all kinds of wickedness and sedition, and as the only authors of the odious parricide committed on the person of Charles I.* And as the authors who have given these representations are considered by foreigners as the best and most authentic relaters of the transactions that have passed in their own country, and are therefore followed as the surest guides, the Independents appear, almost every where, under the most unfavourable aspect. It must indeed be candidly acknowledged, that as every class and order of men consists of persons of very different characters and qualities, so also the sect of Independents has been dishonoured by several turbulent, factious, profligate, and flagitious members. But, if it is a constant maxim with the wise and prudent, not to judge of the spirit and principles of a sect from the actions or expressions of a handful of its members, but from the manners, customs, opinions, and behaviour of the generality of those who compose it, from the writings and discourses of its learned men, and from its public and avowed forms of doctrine and confessions of faith ; then, I make no doubt, but that, by this rule of estimating matters, the Independents will appear to have been unjustly loaded with so many accusations and reproaches.
We shall take no notice of the invidious and severe animadversions that have been made upon this religious community by Clarendon, Echard, Parker, and so many other . writers. To set this whole matter in the clearest and most impartial light; we shall confine ourselves to the account of the Independents given by a writer, justly celebrated by the English themselves, and who, though a foreigner, is generally supposed to have had an accurate knowledge of the British nation, its history, its parties, its sects, and revolutions. This writer is Rapin Thoyras, who, in the twenty-first book of his History of England, vol. ii. p. 514, edit. folio, represents the Independents under such borrid
* Durell, whom, nevertheless, Lewis de Moulin, the most zealous defender of the Independents, commends on account of his ingenuity and candour, in his Historia Rituum Sanctæ Ecclesia Anglicanæ, cap. i. p. 4. expresses himself thus : “Fateor, si atrocis illius Tragediæ tot actus fuerint, quot ludicrarum esse solent postremum fere Independentium fuisse. Adeo ut non acute magis quam vere, dixerit L'Estrangius Noster; Regem primo a Presbyterianis interemtuin, Carolum deinde ab Independentibus interfectum."
tion from the following principle, which they held in common with the Brownists, that every Christian congrega
colours, that, were his portrait just, they would not deserve to enjoy the light of the sun, or to breathe the free air of Britain, much less to be treated with indulgence and esteem by those who have the cause of virtue at heart. Let us now examine the account which this illustrious historian gives of this sect. He declares, in the first place, that, notwithstanding all the pains he had taken to trace out the true origin of it, his inquiries had been entirely fruitless ; his words are, as translated by Mr. Tindal, “After, all my pains, I have not been able to discover, precisely, the first rise of the Independent sect, or faction.” It is very surprising to hear a man of learning, who had employed seventeen years in composing the history of England, and bad admittance to so many rich and famous libraries, express his ignorance of a matter about which it was so easy to acquire ample information. Had ḥe only looked into the work of the learned Hornbeck, entitled, Summa Controversiarum, lib. x. p. 775, he would have found, in a moment, what he had been so long and so laboriously seeking in vain. Rapin proceeds to the doctrines and opinions of the Independents, and begins here, by a general declaration of their tendency to throw the nation into disorder and combustion ; his words are, “ Thus much is certain, their principles were very proper to put the kingdom in a flame; and this they did effectually." What truth there is in this assertion, will be seen by what follows. Their sentimients concerning government were, if we are to believe this writer, of the most pernicious kind; since, according to him, they wanted to overturn the monarchy, and to establish a democracy in its place; his words are,” With regard to the state, they abhorred monarchy, and approved only a republican government.” I will not pretend to deny, that there were among the Independents several persons that were no friends to a kingly government; persons of this kind were to be found among the Presbyterians, Anabaptists, and all the other religious sects and communities that flourished in England during this tumultuous period; but I want to see it proved in an evident and satisfactory manner, that these republican principles were embraced by all the Independents, and formed one of the distinguishing characteristics of that sect. There is, at least, no such thing to be found in their public writings. They declared, on the contrary, in a public memorial drawn up by them in the year 1647, that, as magistracy in general is the ordinance of God," they do not disapprove of any form of civil -government, but do freely acknowledge, that a kingly government, bounded by just and wholesome laws, is both allowed by God, and also a good accommodation unto men.” I omit the mention of several other circumstances, which unite to prove that the Independents were far from looking with abhorrence on a monarchical government. * Their sentiments of religion, according to Rapin's account, were highly absurd, since he represents their principles as entirely opposite to those of all other religious communities; “ As to religion," says he, “ their principles were contrary to those of all the rest of the world.” With respect to this accusation, it may be proper to observe, that there are extant two Confessions of Faith, one of the English Independents, in Holland, and another drawn up by the principal members of that community in England. The former was composed by John Robinson, the founder of the sect, and was published at Leyden, in 4to. in the year 1619, under the following title ; ' Apologia pro exulibus Anglis, qui Brownistæ vulgo appellantur;' the latter appeared at London, for the first time, in the year 1658, and was thus entitled ; 'A declaration of the faith and order owned and practised in the congregational churches in England, agreed upon, and consented unto, by their elders and messengers, in their meeting at the Savoy, October 12, 1658.? Hornbeck gave, in the year 1659, a Latin translation of this declaration, and subjoined it to bis · Épistolæ ad Duræum de Independentismo.' It appears evidently from these two public and authentic pieces, not to mention other writings of the Independents, that ihey differed from the Presbyterians or Calvinists in no single point of any consequence, . except that of ecclesiastical government. To put this matter beyond all doubt, we have only to attend to the following passage in Robinson's ' Apology for the English Exiles, p. 7, 11, where that founder of the sect of the Independents expresses his own private sentiments, and those of his community, in the plainest manner; “ Profitemur coram Deo et hominibus, adeo nobis convenire cum Ecclesiis Reformatis, Belgicis in re réligionis, ut omnibus et singulis earundem Ecclesiarum fidei articulis, prout habentur in Harmonia confessionum fidei, parati simus subscribere. Ecclesias Reformatas pro veris et genuinis habemus, cum iisdem in sacris Dei communionem profitemur, et, quantum in nobis est, colimus.” It appears evident from this declaration, that, instead of differing totally from all other Christian societies, it may rather be said of the Independents, that they were perfectly agreed with by far the greatest part of the reformed churches. To
tion ought to be governed by its own laws, without depending on the jurisdiction of bishops, or being subject to
show, as he imagines, by a striking example, the absurdity of their religion and worship, our eminent historian tells us, that they not only reject all kind of ecclesiastical government, but moreover allow all their members, promiscuously, and without exception, to perform in public the pastoral functions, i. e. to preach, pray, and expound the Scriptures; his words are, “ They were not only averse to episcopacy and the ecclesiastical hierarchy," this charge is true, but it may equally be brought against the Presbyterians, Brownists, Anabaptists, and all the various sects of non-conformists, “but they would not so much as endure ordinary ministers in the church. They maintained, that every man might pray in public, exhort his brethren, and interpret the Scriptures according to the talents God had endowed him with. So with them every one preached, prayed, admonished, interpreted the holy Scriptures, without any other call than what he himself drew from his zeal and supposed gifts, and without any other authority than the approbation of his auditors." This whole charge is evidently false and groundless. The Independents have, and always have had, fixed and regular ministers approved of by their people ; nor do they allow to teach in public, every person who thinks himself qualified for that important office. The celebrated historian has here confounded the Independents with the Brownists, who, as is well known, permitted all to pray and preach in public without distinction. We shall not enlarge upon the other mistakes he has fallen into on this subject; but only observe, that if so eminent a writer, and onc so well acquainted with the English nation, has pronounced such an unjust sentence against this sect, we may the more easily excuse an inferior set of autbors, who have loaded them with groundless accusations.
It will however be alleged, that, whatever may have been the religious sentiments and discipline of the Independents, innumerable testimonies concur in proving, that they were chargeable with the death of Charles I. and many will consider this single circumstance as a sufficient demonstration of the impiety and depravity of the whole sect. I am well aware indeed that many of the most eminent and respectable English writers have given tbe Independents the denomination of Regicides ; and if, by the term Independents, they mean those licentious republicans, whose dislike of a monarchical form of government carried them the most pernicious and extravagant lengths, I grant that this deno. mination is well applied. But if, by the term Independents, we are to understand a religious sect, the ancestors of those who still bear the same title in England, it appears very questionable to me, whether the unhappy fate of the worthy prince above mentioned ought to be imputed entirely to that set of men. They who affirm that the Independents were the only authors of the death of king Charles, must mean one of these two things, either that the regicides were animated and set on by the seditious doctrines of that sect, and the violent suggestions of its members, or that all who were concerned in this atrocious deed were themselves Independents, zealously attached to the religious community now under considération. Now it may be proved, with the clearest evidence, that neither of these was the case. There is nothing in the doctrine of this sect, so far as they are known to me, that seems in the least adapted to excite men to such a horrid deed; nor. does it appear from the history of these times, that the Independents were a whit more exasperated against Charles, than were the Presbyterians. And as to the latter supposi. tion, it is far from being true, that all those who were concerned in bringing this unfortunate prince to the scaffold were Independents; since we learn from the best English writers, and from the public declarations of Charles II. that this violent faction was composed of persons of different sects. That there were Independents among them, may be easily conceived. After all, this matter will be best unravelled by the English writers, who know best in what sense the term Independents is used, when it is applied to those who brought Charles I. to the block. *
* Dr. Mosheim's defence of the Independents is certainly specions; but he has not sufficiently distinguished the times; and he has perhaps, in defending them, strained too far that equitable principle, that we must not impute to a sect any principles that are not contained in, or deducible from, their religious system. This maxim does not entirely answer here the purpose for which it is applied. The religious system of a sect may be in itself pacific and innocent, while, at the same time, certain incidental circumstances, or certain associations of ideas, may render that sect more turbulent and restless than others, or at least involve it in political factions and broils. Such perhaps was the case of the independents at certain periods of time, and more especially at the period now under consideration. When we consider their religious form of government, we shall see evidently, that a principle of analogy, which influences the sentiments and imaginations of men, much more than is generally supposed, must naturally have led the greatest part of them to republican notions of civil government : and it is further
the authority of synods, presbyteries, or any ecclesiastical assembly composed of the deputies from different churches.
On inquiring, with particular attention, into the causes of that odium that has been cast upon the Independents, and of the heavy accusations and severe invectives with which they have been loaded, I was more particularly struck with the three following considerations, which will perhaps furnish a satisfactory account of this matter. In the first place, the denomination of Independents is ambiguous, and is not peculiar to any one distinct order of men. For, not to enumerate the other notions that have been annexed to this term, it is sufficient to observe, that it is used sometimes by the English writers to denote those who aim at the establishment of a purely democratical or popular government, in which the body of the people is clothed with the supreme dominion. Such a faction there was in England, composed, in a great measure, of persons of an erthusiastical character and complexion ; and to it, no doubt, we are to ascribe those scenes of sedition and misery, whose effects are still lamented with justice. The violence and folly that dishonoured the proceedings of this tumultuous faction have been, if I am not mistaken, too rashly imputed to the religious Independents now under consideration, who, with all their defects, were a much better set of men than the persons now mentioned. It may be observed furtber, secondly, that almost all the religious sects which divided the English nation in the reign of Charles I. and more especially under the administration of Crom. well, assumed the denomination of Independents, in order to screen themselves from the reproaches of the public, and to share a part of that popular esteem that the true and genuine Independents had acquired, on account of the regularity of their lives and the sanctity of their manners. This is confirmed, among other testimonies, by the following passage of a letter from Toland to Le Clerc: “ Au commencement tous les sectaires se disoient Independans, parce que ces derniers etoient fort honores du peuple a cause de leur piete." See Le Clerc's Biblioth. Univers, et Histor. tom. xxiii. p. ii. p. 506. As this title was of a very extensive signification, and of great latitude, it might thus easily happen that all the enormities of the various sects who sheltered themselves under it, and several of whom were but of short duration, might unluckily be laid to the charge of the true Independents. But it must be particularly remarked, in the third place, that the usurper Cromwell, preferred the Independents before all other religious communities. He Jooked, with an equal eye of suspicion and fear, upon the Presbyterian synods and the Episcopal visitations ; every thing that looked like an extensive authority, whether it was of a civil or religious nature, excited uneasy' apprehensions in the breast of the tyrant; but in the limited and simple form of ecclesiastical discipline, that was adopted by the Independents, he saw nothing that was adapted to alarm his fears. This circumstance was sufficient to render the Independents odious in the eyes of many, who would be naturally disposed to extend their abhorrence of Cromwell to those who were the objects of his favour and protection.
q The Independents were undoubtedly so called, from their maintaining that all Christian congregations were so many Independent religious societies that had a right to be governed by their own laws, without being subject to any further or foreign jurisdiction. Robinson, the founder of the sect, makes express use of this term in explaining his doctrine relating to ecclesiastical government: “ Cotum quemlibet particularem," says he, in his Apologia, cap. v: p. 22, “ esse totam, integram, et perfectam ecclesiam ex suis partibus constantem, immediate et Independenter (quoad alias ecclesias) sub ipso Christo.” It may possibly have been from this very passage that the title of Independents was originally derived. The disciples of Robinson did not reject it; nor indeed is there any thing shocking in the title, when it is understood in a manner conformable to the sentiments of those to whom it is applied. It was certainly utterly unknown in England before the year 1640; at least it is not once mentioned in the eccletiastical canons and
to be observed, that from a republican government, they must have expected much more protection and favour, than from a kingly one. When these two things are considered, together with their situation under the reign of Charles I. when the government was unhinged, when things were in confusion, when the minds of men were suspended upon the issue of the national troubles, and when the cager spirit of party, nourished by hope, made each faction expect that the chaos would end in some settled system, favourable to their respective views, sentiments; anů passions : this will engage us to think, that the independents, at that time, may have been much more tnmultuous and republican than the sect that bears that denomination in our times. The reader that would form just ideas of the matter of fact, must examine the relations given by the writers of both parties. Seo particularly Clarendon's History of his own Life. Neal's History of the Puritans, vol. iii. p. 547, &c. Hume's History of England, vol, v. edit, in quarto. "Burnet's History of his own T'imes, vol. i. p. 46, 47.
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had much of vion of Brownists, in the defects tha
It is in this, their notion of ecclesiastical government, that the difference between them and the presbyterians principally consists; for their religious doctrines, except in some points of very little moment, are almost entirely the same with those that are adopted by the church of Geneva. The founder of this sect was John Robinson, a man who had much of the solemn piety of the times, and was master of a congregation of Brownists, that had settled at Leyden. This well-meaning man, perceiving the defects that reigned in the discipline of Brown, and in the spirit and temper of his followers, employed his zeal and diligence in correcting them, and in modelling anew the society, in such a manner as to render it less odious to his adversaries, and less liable to the just censure of those true Christians, who looked upon charity as the end of the commandment. The independents, accordingly, were much more commendable than the Brownists in two respects. They surpassed them both in the moderation of their sentiments, and the order of their discipline. They did not, like Brown, pour forth bitter and uncharitable invectives against the churches that were governed by rules entirely different from theirs, nor pronounce them, on that account, unworthy of the Christian name. On the contrary, though they considered their own form of ecclesiastical government as of divine institution, and as originally introduced by the authority of the apostles, nay, by the apostles themselves, yet they had candour and charity enough to acknowledge, that true religion and solid piety might flourish in those communities which were under the jurisdiction of bishops, or the government of synods and presbyteries. They were
constitutions that were drawn up during that year, in the synods or visitations held by the archbishops of Canterbury, York, and other prelates, in which canons all the various sects that then subsisted in England are particularly mentioned. See Wilkins's Concilia Magnæ Britanniæ-et Hibernice, vol. iv. cap. v. p. 548, where are the “ constitutions and canons ecclesiastical, treated upon by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the rest of the bishops and clergy, in their several synods," An. mdcxl. It is true, that not long after this period, and more particularly from the year 1642, we find this denomination very frequently in the English Annals. The English Independents were so far from being displeased with it, that they assumed it publicly in a piece they published in their own defence at London, in the year 1644, under the following title : Apologetical Narration of the Independents. But when in process of time a great variety of sects, as has been already observed, sheltered themselves under the cover of this extensive denomis nation, and even seditious subjects, that aimed at nothing less than the death of their sovereign and the destruction of the government, employed it as a mask to hide their deformity, then the true and genuine Independents renounced this title, and substituted another less odious in its place, calling themselves Congregational brethren, and their religious assemblies Congregational churches.