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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 anbiguous, and is not peculiar to any one distinct order of men. For, not to enumerate the other notions that bave 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 enthusiastical 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 further, secondly, that almost all the religious sects which divided the English nation in the reign of Charles J. and more especially under the administration of Cromwell, 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 looked, with an equal eye of suspicion and scar, 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 tye rant; 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 sears. This circunstance 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.
9 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 forcign jurisdiction. Robinson, the founder of the sect, makes express use of this term in explaining his doctrine relating to ecclesiastical government: “Cætum 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 1. 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 eager spirit of party, nourished by bope, made each faction expect that the chaos would end in some settled system, favourable to their respective views, sentiments; and passions : this will engage us to think, that the independents, at that time, may haré been much more tnmultuous and republican than the sect that hears 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. Sec particnlarly Clarendon's History of his owon Life. Neal's History of the Puritans, vol. jii
. p. 547, &c. Hume's History of England, vol. r edit. in quarto. 'Burnet's History of his on T'imes, vol. i. p. 46, 47.
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 Hibernia, 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 denomination, 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.
also much more attentive than the Brownists in keeping on foot a regular ministry in their communities; for while the latter allowed promiscuously all ranks and orders of men to teach in public, and to perform the other pastoral functions, the independents had, and still have, a certain number of ministers, chosen respectively by the congregations where they are fixed; nor is any person among them permitted to speak in public, before he has submitted to a proper examination of his capacity and talents, and been approved of by the heads of the congregation. This community, which was originally formed in Holland, in the year 1610, made at first but a very small progress in England ;49 it worked its way slowly, and in a clandestine manner; and its members concealed their principles from public view, to avoid the penal laws that had been enacted against nonconformists. But during the reign of Charles I. when, amidst the shocks of civil and religious discord, the authority of the bishops and the cause of Episcopacy began to decline, and more particularly about the year 1640, the independents grew more courageous, and came forth, with an air of resolution and confidence, to public view. After this period, their affairs took a prosperous turn; and, in a little time, they became so considerable, both by their numbers and by the reputation they acquired, that they vied, in point of pre-eminence and credit
, not only with the bishops, but also with the presbyterians, though at this time in the very zenith of their power. This rapid progress of the independents was, no doubt, owing to a variety of causes; among which justice obliges us to reckon the learning of their teachers, and the regularity and sanctity of their manners.' During the administration of Cromwell, whose peculiar protection and patronage they enjoyed on more than one account, their credit arose to the greatest height, and their influence and reputation were universal; but after the restoration of Charles II. their cause declined, and they fell back gradually into their primitive obscurity. The sect indeed still subsisted; but in such a state of dejection and weakness, as engaged them, in the year 1691, under the reign of king William,
99 In the year 1616, Mr. Jacob, who had adopted the religious sentiments of Robinson, set up the first Independent or Congregational church in England.
r Neal's History of the Puritons, vol. ii. p. 107, 293, vol. viii. p. 141, 145, 276, 303, 437, 549. See also a German work, entitled Englische Reformations Historie, by Anthony William Bohm, p. 794.
to enter into an association with the Presbyterians residing in and about London, under certain heads of agreement that tended to the maintenance of their respective institutions. XXII. While Oliver Cromwell held the reins of
government in Great Britain, all sects, even those that dishonoured true religion in the most shocking the cor manner, by their fanaticism or their ignorance, en- der Cromwell joyed a full and unbounded liberty of professing publicly their respective doctrines. The Episcopalians alone were
The state of
s From that time they were called United Brethren. The heads of agreement that formed and cemented this union are to be found in the second volume of Whiston's Memoirs of his Life anil Writings, and they consist in nine articles. The first relates to churches and church members, in which the united ministers, Presbyterians, and Independents, declare, among other things, “That each particular church had a right to choose
their own officers; and being furnished with such as are duly qualified and ordained :: according to the gospel rule, bath authority from Christ for exercising government,
and enjoying all the ordinances of worsbip within itself ; that, in the administration of church power, it belongs to the pastors and other elders of every particular church, if such there be, to rule and govern; and to the brotherhood to consent, according to the rule of the gospel.” In this hoth Presbyterians and Independents depart from the principles of their respective institutions. Article ii. relates to the ministry, which they grant to have been instituted by Jesus Christ, For the gathering, guiding, cdifying, and governing of his church ; in this article it is further observed, that ministers ought to be endued with competent learning, sound judginent, and solid piety ; that None are to be ordained to the work of the ministry, but such as are chosen and called thereunto by a particular church ;, that, in such a weighty matter, It is ordinarily requisite, that every such church consult and advise with the pastors of neighbouring congregations : and that after such advice the person thus consulted about, being chosen by the brotherhood of that par. ticular church, be duly ordained and set apart to his office over them. Article iii. relates to censures, and prescribes first, the admonishing, and, if this prove ineffectual, the excommunication of offending and scandalous members, to be performed by the pastors, with the consent of the brethren. Article iv. concerning the communion of churches, lays it down as a principle, that there is no subordination between particular churches; that they are all equal, and consequently independent; that the pastors however of these churches ought to have frequent meetings together, that, by mutual advice, support, encouragement, and brotherly intercourse, they strengthen the hearts and hands of each other in the ways of the Lord. In article v. which relates to deacons aud ruling elders, the united brethren acknowledge, that the office of a deacon is of divine appointment, and that it belongs to their office to receive, lay out, and distribute, the stock of the church to its proper uses ; and as there are different sentiments about the office of ruling elders, who labour not in word and doctrine, they agree, that this difference makes no breach among them. In article vi. concerning occasional meetings of ministers, &c. the brethren agree, that it is needful, in weighty and difficult cases, that the ministers of several churches meet together, in order to be consulted and advised with about such matters; and that particular churches ought to have a reverential regard to their judgment so given, and not dissent therefrom without apparent grounds from the word of God. Article vii. which relates to the demeanour of the brethren toward the civil magistrate, prescribes, obedience to, and prayers for God's protection and blessing upon their rulers. In article viii. which relates to a confession of faith, the brethren esteem it sufficient, that a church acknowledge the Scriptures to be the word of God, the perfect and only rule of faith and practice, and own either the doctrinal part of the articles of the church of England, or the Westminster confession and catechisms, drawn up by the Presbyterians, or the confession of the congregational brethren, i. e the Independents, to be agreeable to the said rule. Article ix. which concerns the duty and deportment of the brethren toward those that arc not in communion with them, inculcates charity and moderation. It appears from these articles, that the Independents were led, by a kind of necessity, to adopt, in many things, the sentiments of the Presbyterians, and to depart thus far from the original principles of their sect. VOL. IV.
excepted from this toleration, and received the most severe and iniquitous treatment. The bishops were deprived of their dignities and revenues, and felt the heavy hand of oppression in a particular manner. But, though the toleration extended to all other sects and religious communities, yet the Presbyterians and Independents were treated with peculiar marks of distinction and favour. Cromwell
, though attached to no one particular sect, gave the latter extraordinary proofs of his good will, and augmented their credit and authority, as this seemed the easiest and least exasperating method of setting bounds to the ambition of the Presbyterians, who aimed at a very high degree of ecclesiastical power.' It was during this period of religious anarchy, that the fifth monarchy men arose, a set of wrong-headed and turbulent enthusiasts, who expected Christ's sudden appearance upon earth to establish a new kingdom ; and, acting in consequence of this illusion, aimed at the subversion of all human government, and were for turning all things into the most deplorable confusion." It was at this time, also, that the Quakers, of whom we propose to give a more particular account," and the hot-headed Anabaptists,' propagated, without restraint, their visionary doctrines. It must likewise be observed, that the Deists, headed by Sidney, Neville, Martin, and Harrington, appeared with impunity, and promoted a kind of religion, which consisted in a few plain precepts, drawn from the dictates of natural reason."
T t A little after Cromwell's elevation, it was resolved by the parliament, at the conclusion of a debate concerning public worship and church government, that the Presbyterian government should be the established government. The Independents were not as yet agreed upon any standard of faith and discipline ; and it was only a little before Cromwell's death that they held a synod, by his permission, in order to publish to the world a uniform account of thcir doctrine and principles.
u See Burnet's History of his own Times, tom. i. p. 67. w See, in this volume, the History of the Qitaliers.
DxWe are not to imagine, by the term hot-headed, furiosi, that the Anabaptists resembled the furious fanatics of that name that formerly eseited such dreadful tumults in Gerinany, and more especially at Munster. This was by no means the case ; the English Anabaptists differed from their protestant brethren about the subject and mode of baptism alone ; confining the former to grown Christians, and the latter to immersion or dipping. They were divided into generals and particulars, from their different sentiments upon the Arminian controversy. The latter, who were so called from their belief of the doctrines of particular election, redemption, &c. were strict Calvinists, who separated from the Independent congregation at Leyden, in the year 1638. Their consession was composed with a remarkable spirit of modesty and charity. Their preachers were gencrally illiterate, and were eager in making proselytes of all that would submit to their immersion, without a due regard to their religious principles or their moral characters. The writers of these times represent them as tinctured with a kind of enthusiastic fury against all that opposed them. There were nevertheless among them some pious and learned persons, who disapproved highly of all violent and uncharitable proceedings.
Neal's History of the Puritans, vol. iv. p. 87.