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truth, a work filled with the spirit and principles of religious liberty, a plain, unvarnished story of the great struggles and sufferings of godly men, endured beneath oppression for Christ and the truth's sake, and made interesting, not only by the inevitable, irrepressible interest of the tale, but by the honest, unexaggerated sympathy of a pious heart, it has won and maintained a very high place in the standard historical literature of England and the world. Indeed, it was almost the first great effort to collect the light of an age of heroic religious enthusiasm and principle, and to let it shine. The masses of its facts, and presentations of facts, were so indisputably true, that nothing could successfully be said or done against it. And it made an impression like that which the faithful testimony of an honest, unpolished, but evidently strong-minded, straight-forward, undissembling man from the country would make upon the minds of a court and jury, listening to his statements in a case of great importance before them.
It is a trustworthy, and has become a familiar, well-known, respected work. Calm, unprejudiced, impartial, entirely free from bigotry, but written from the heart, in a deep sympathy with the pious spirit of the Reformers, it has accomplished a great mission, in a time of obscurity and calumny. It has carried the truth into many a household, where all the historical impressions before had been gathered almost exclusively from the pages of Hume. It is a work which we rejoice to see spreading throughout our country, so much more readily and generally than it could do in the edition in five volumes.
A full history of the Puritans, according to Edwards's “method entirely new,” is yet to be written. The history of Neal, following only the stream of Puritanism in England, through its surprising developments of truth and principle there, affords no view of the still greater developments of God's Providence with the Puritans of America. But these latter developments have come to be the great river, and the historical record of them remains to be written. It should be written only on the same principles on which Cromwell in England, and the Puritans in America, spoke and acted. “Supposing this cause business must be carried on," he once said to his Parliament, “it is either of God or man. If it be of man, I would I had never touched it with a finger. If I had not had a hope fixed in me that this cause and this business was of God, I would many years ago have run from it. If it be of God, He will bear it up. if it be of man, it will tumble ; as everything that hath been of man since the world begun hath done. And what are all our histories, and other traditions of actions in former times, but God manifesting himself, that He hath shaken, and tumbled down, and trampled upon, everything that he hath not planted. And as this is, so let the Allwise God deal with it. If this be of human structure and invention, and if it be an old plotting and contriving to bring things to this issue, and that they are not the births of Providence, then they will tumble.”
One would think it was old Latimer or John Bunyan speaking in this strain, instead of the greatest ruler and statesman in the world. But this is simply that entirely new method in history, which ought to have been as old and as familiar as God's Providence itself, but seems new and strange even now, whenever state affairs are made to bend to it, and are measured by it in the scale of importance. That which is to be sought in History is the births of Providence ; of which Cromwell and his age in England
was a remarkable one indeed, but the unobtrusive growth of the Puritans and their institutions in this country a greater. “ Without Cromwell, humanly speaking,” remarks D'Aubigné, “liberty would have been lost, not only to England, but to Europe. And the defeat of liberty would have been the defeat of the gospel.” But, Cromwell or no Cromwell in England, the irresistible progress and triumph of the gospel in this country would have been the same, and must have been followed by the great developments of God's Providence, through the principles of Puritanism, extending from this country over the world. It is this wonderful sweep of Divine Providence which is yet to be traced by some great and devout mind; and perhaps God for this purpose is training, or will train, some acute and comprehensive intellect, to discern the steps of God, and to pour upon the history of this country, beginning with New England, as powerful a light of Providence and grace in union, as was ever poured through the mind of Jonathan Edwards to form and illustrate the body of New England theology.
A part of the preparation for this work must lie in memorials of individual manifestations of the grace of God, drawn from hitherto neglected materials. It is a good indication that the descendants of the Puritans are becoming sensible of the importance of opening and enshrining these records of their ancestors. When God thus turns the heart of the children to the fathers, we may hope it is done, that he may not be compelled to smite their inheritance with a curse. The works and biographies of the fathers of New England ought, before this, as precious stones neglected in the rough, to have been set, and to have formed, as far as possible, the commanding volumes in our national literature. For a long time this work of filial piety was hardly thought of, and Mather's Magnalia stood conspicuously alone, without imitation or rivalship, as, indeed, it ever must in its quaintness and singularity.
There have been some glowing and admirable testimonials; now and then an orator has spoken in tones that have gone to the heart of the nation; but in truth no mind can measure, no language describe, the extent of our obligations to the costly virtues of our ancestors. Every year that we live, their names ought to be dearer to us; for every year we see more clearly that but for the sternness of the stuff with which they builded, our state ere this would have gone to decay. It may be that the battle of religious freedom which they fought in one of the most discouraging periods of religious tyranny, will have to be fought over again : for new elements have come in, of which they never dreamed, or from which they thought themselves and their posterity had escaped for ever. Their example may yet be a light to us in the perils of the conflict.
Character, sometimes, is like the simplicity of the atmosphere, which men breathe without attempting to analyse. How noble is the work, when a set of men, thinking simply of God and duty, can create a moral atmosphere for their race, with neither the pretence, nor even the consciousness, of doing so, but simply in obedience to the in-working law of a holy nature, struggling up to God! When the earthly vessel appointed for such precious elements is returned to him who made it, the light it held can shine abroad without injury to that humility and unconsciousness. If a star, said a devout poet of that age, Henry Vaughan,
If a star were confined even into a tomb,
She'd shine through all the sphere. Much of the world's history has been as a tomb to the world's true lights. Instead of setting them in candlesticks, the masters of our ceremonies have put them under bushels, to make theatrical displays of their own lying transparencies. But an end is coming to such historical despotism.
Indeed, the virtues of our ancestors, and of the whole crowd of “ slain witnesses,” and the encompassing bright cloud in Heaven, are like great buried forests of timber of a former age, that, while generation after generation walk over them and go to the dead, change into mines of mineral riches, and then, when opened, supply the world with fuel. We are working those mines now. Our fires are kept burning by the deep, inexhaustible material. It is a curious and most instructive process in what may be called our moral geology, to go down and examine the circumstances in which this wonderful deposit for future ages was made.
From the close of the reign of Mary in England, and the return of the English exiles from Germany and Switzerland, there was a fermentation of thoughts, principles, prejudices, opinions, and feelings going on in England, of which little or nothing is to be seen in ordinary history. In a history like Hume's, for example, which maintained so long an absolute despotism and monopoly of representation, we see little of what is passing among the common classes, or of movements in the heart of the people. Sometimes the word fanaticism occurs in his pages; it seems to indicate some temporary monstrosity shooting up to impede the calm, royal course of affairs; a snag, as it were, on which the theory of unreserved submission to hierarchical and political supremacy had touched for a moment; or, as if, on the smooth ocean, you had seen the fin of a shark come out from the surface, warning you of the monsters that lie in wait beneath. Sometimes a form like Wentworth’s is seen rising like a veiled prophet from the shades, as Samuel's ghost suddenly confronting Saul, asserting, amidst a cowering assembly in parliament, the freedom of a representative of the people; but it seems a strange apparition, out of place, and struck down instantly at the touch of the Queen's prerogative. The mighty working of principles, thoughts, feelings, opinions, knowledge, and religious and political convictions, of which these things are both the indication and the consequence, could never be known from Hume's pages. Nevertheless, sometimes he is forced into a declaration which, rightly pondered, reveals a world of things of which there is no detail or suggestion; as, for example, the famous declaration attributing the whole freedom of the English constitution to the English Puritans. This sentence is as if a great mountain had risen, or a volcano had broken forth in the midst of the sea, so little does he prepare the mind for it, or recognise, or suffer to be seen, its connexions or its foundations. The word fanaticism, in such a history, is a majestic word. And if you watch narrowly, you may conjecture, even from that history alone, something of the truth concealed under it, but falsified by it, and of the commotion of religious and popular principles and power, which was soon to shatter the crust of despotism into a thousand pieces.
The administration of Elizabeth was indeed a despotism, the restrictions of which upon the liberty of thought and speech, had it not been for the indomitable spirit of religious freedom awakened among the people, must have been fatal. Her own character is one of the very worst ever recorded in history. If the moral could stand out as fully personified as the physical, it would make a more deformed image of ugliness than the decrepitude of the witch-hags in the Fairy Queen. Her utmost efforts could not destroy the inflexible religious principle, which still grew, in defiance of her despotism, nor suppress its demonstrations. And never was there such a sight in the world as that of these noble religious men, trampled beneath her government, and yet upholding it, racked, tormented, torn, by the ecclesiastical engines which she set in motion, and laboring in the very fire for their principles, and yet manifesting the purest patriotism. If a right hand was cut off for penning words of remonstrance against Elizabeth's religious despotism, with the left hand the man would swing his hat in the air, shouting, God Save the Queen! Never was there such a sight in the world as this conflict. A great portion of the literature of Elizabeth's reign grew up in the midst of it, and no small part was the production of leaders in it.
The Puritans were men who had had the dross of Popery burned out of them, and a temper inwrought, which would not again endure its superstitions. But in passing from Mary's reign to Elizabeth's, they only went out from one fire into another, and they found the fires of Protestantism not more tender to the flesh than those of Popery. Mary, in addition to her other cruelties, had contemplated the establishment of the Inquisition in England, for all Protestants. Elizabeth did really establish an Inquisition for Nonconformists. The most despotic writers admit that scarcely any feature of the Romish Inquisition was wanting in the Star Chamber and Court of High Commission. The Spanish Armada, therefore, which came prepared to set up the Inquisition in due form, would have brought no novelty ; the machinery was already at work in England; the powers of the Armada would only have enlarged its sphere, and kindled its fires impartially for all. Elizabeth was her tyrant father's counterpart in female form, without her father's careless prodigality or quickness of impulse. She was eminently the Protestant Persecutor. In the fifth year of her reign, it was made death to deny her supremacy. In the twenty-third year of her reign it was made death to withdraw any persons from the established religion, or to be so persuaded or withdrawn. From 1581 to 1603, not less than one hundred and twenty Romish priests were put to death for exercising their sacerdotal functions. The plea of State necessity, or security against treason and conspiracy, is insufficient for such cruelties, and detestable in itself. These cases were as clear instances of religious intolerance as the persecution of the Anabaptists and Puritans. Two of the former were burned at an early period of Elizabeth's reign, by the same dreadful writ, issued by the Papists in 1401, and renewed almost word for word by Elizabeth. The venerable Fox, the martyrologist, did all in his power to dissuade her from such intolerance and cruelty. He wrote her an admirable letter of remonstrance, being desirous, as Fuller wrote of him in his Church History, that the Papists might enjoy as their monopoly the cruelty of burning condemned persons, but in vain. Much information, solemnly and sadly instructive in regard to the cruelties of Elizabeth's reign, may be found collected in the tenth of Professor Smyth's Lectures on Modern History, edited in this country by Professor Jared Sparks.