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At no period has biographical history been so much esteemed and promoted as in these days of christian freedom. The memoirs of wise and good men, especially such as have suffered for the testimony of a good conscience, afford interesting entertainment and valuable instruction. To rescue from oblivion impartial accounts of their holy actions, their painful sufferings, and their triumphant deaths, will confer a deserved honour upon their memory: and there is, perhaps, no class of men whose history better deserves to be transmitted to posterity than that of the persons stigmatized by the name of Puritans. The cruelties exercised upon them were indeed very great. THEY suffered For THE TESTIMONY OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE, and an Avow ED ATTACHMENT To THE CAUSE of CHRIST. The proofs which they gave of their zeal, their fortitude, and their integrity, were certainly as great as could be given. They denied themselves those honours, preferments, and worldly advantages by which they were allured to conformity. They suffered reproach, deprivation, and imprisonment; yea, the loss of all things, rather than comply with those inventions and impositions of men, which to them appeared extremely derogatory to the gospel, which would have robbed them of liberty of conscience, and which tended to lead back to the darkness and superstitions of popery. Many of them, being persons of great ability, loyalty, and interest, had the fairest prospect of high promotion; yet they sacrificed all for their nonconformity. Some modestly refused preferment when offered them: while others, already preferred, were prevented from obtaining higher promotion, because they could not, with a good conscience, comply with the ecclesiastical impositions. Nor was it the least afflictive circumstance to the Puritan divines, that they were driven from their flocks, whom they loved as their own souls; and, instead of being allowed to labour for their spiritual and eternal advantage, were obliged to spend the best of their days in silence, imprisonment, or a state of exile in a foreign land. The contents of these volumes tend to expose the evil of bigotry and persecution. When professed Protestants oppress and persecute their brethren of the same faith, and of the same communion, it is indeed marvellous. The faithful page of history details the fact with the most glaring evidence, or we could scarcely have believed it. A spirit of intolerance and oppression ever deserves to be held up to universal abhorrence. In allusion to this tragic scene, Sir William Blackstone very justly observes, “That our an“cestors were mistaken in their plans of compul“sion and intolerance. The sin of schism, as such, “is by no means the object of coercion and “punishment. All persecution for diversity of “opinions, however ridiculous or absurd they “may be, is contrary to every principle of sound “ policy and civil freedom. The names and sub“ordination of the clergy, the posture of devo“tion, the materials and colour of the minister's “garment, the joining in a known or unknown “form of prayer, and other matters of the same “kind, must be left to the opinion of every man's “private judgment. For, undoubtedly, all per“secution and oppression of weak consciences, “on the score of religious persuasions, are highly “unjustifiable upon every principle of natural “reason, civil liberty, or sound religion.” Perhaps no class of men ever suffered more reproach than the Puritans. Archbishop Parker stigmatizes them as “schismatics, belly-gods, deceivers, flatterers, fools, having been unlearnedly brought up in profane occupations, being puffed up with arrogancy.”f His successor Whitgift says, “that when they walked in the streets, they hung down their heads, and looked austerely; and in com
* Blackstone's Comment. vol. iv. p. 51—53. Edit. 1771. + Strype's Annals, vol. i. p. 481–Poirce's Vindication, part i. p. 61.
pany they sighed much, and seldom or never laughed. They sought the commendation of the people; and thought it an heinous offence to wear a cap and surplice, slandering and backbiting their brethren. As for their religion, they separated themselves from the congregation, and would not communicate with those who went to church, either in prayer, hearing the word, or sacraments; despising all, who were not of their sect, as polluted and unworthy of their company.” Dugdale denominates them “a viperous brood, miserably infesting these kingdoms. They pretended,” says he, “to promote religion and a purer reformation; but rapine, spoil, and the destruction of civil government, were the woeful effects of those pretences. They were of their father the devil, and his works they would do.”f A modern slanderer affirms, “that they maintained the horrid principle, that the end sanctifies the means; and that it was lawful to kill those who opposed their endeavours to introduce their model and discipline.”f Surely so much calumny and falsehood are seldom found in so small a compass. Bishop Burnet, a man less influenced by a spirit of bigotry and intolerance, gives a very different account of them. “The Puritans,” says he, “gained credit as the bishops lost it. They put on the appearance of great sanctity and gravity, and took more pains in their parishes than those who adhered to the bishops, often preaching against the vices of the court. Their labours and their sufferings raised their reputation and rendered them very popular.” Hume, who treats their principles with ridicule and contempt, has bestowed upon them the highest eulogium. “So absolute,” says he, “was the “authority of the crown, that the precious spark “of liberty had been kindled, and was preserved, “by the Puritans alone; and it was to this sect “that the English owe the whole freedom of their “constitution.”f - It is granted that they had not all equally clear views of, our civil and religious rights. Many of their opinions were confused and erroneous; yet their leading principles were the same. Though they had, in general, no objection to a national establishment, many of them maintained, “That all true church power must be founded in a divine commission: that where a right to command is not clear, evidence that obedience is a duty is wanting: that men ought not to make more necessary to an admittance into the church than God has made necessary to an admittance
* Strype's Annals, vol. ii. p. 5. t Dugdale's Troubles of Eng. Pref. * f Churton's Life of Nowell, p. 215.