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Probably the great excitement of that period, added to the acknowledged skill of Calvin as a theologian, (for he was great, though gloomy; profound, though visionary;) rendered a deference to the speculative and most dogmatical decrees of the author of the Institutes an easier step from the moderate doctrines of the English confessors than may at first sight appear. But whether allowance be made or not, the records of history, tinctured as they may be by the colouring of parties, all bear testimony to the fact, that, at the close of the reign of Elizabeth, Puritanism had made rapid strides, and walking hand in hand with Calvinism, through the fair domains of ecclesiastical authority in Britain, was endeavouring to usurp (as afterwards it did usurp) a domination over the emancipated Church, more fierce and more tyrannical than ever was asserted by the magisterial supremacy of Papal Rome. Nor was there wanting to the interested chiefs of that ambitious faction a specious pretext of sincerity and zeal : for Rome itself, in whose steps they trod, though they disdained her influence, was a secure and fatal charm to win the weak, or the enthusiastic, to the fanatical observance of a servile deference.
For this purpose was an outcry raised against the Church of England, as by law established ; since the declaimers said, she was, in secret, still adhering to the wicked practices of that foreign Church from which she boasted to be separate ; and in her forms, her discipline, and doctrines, they could discover, not the forms, and discipline, and doctrines of the primitive and apostolic Church, but the spirit and governance of “ the whore of Babylon.” With this and other like speeches did they persuade the wavering, and overthrow the imbecile, and gradually bring in contempt upon the sacred orders of the priesthood, and on the functions of their lotfy offices. One great source of contention was the episcopal authority-an authority denied by Calvin, and ridiculed by his adherents : and not long will any church be secure from the threatenings or the violence of its enemies, when the power or the dignity of its guardians and chiefs are made the prey of designing usurpers, or the laughing-stocks of heretical schismatics.
It was during such a state of boisterous and ungovernable disorder that William Laud was born: a man eminently calculated, by the firmness of his mind, the soundness of his head, and the purity of his heart, to raise up the sinking energies of the tottering Church, and to support them in the midst of the oppressions of a lawless rabble. ; Laud was born at Reading, on the 7th October, 1573, of William Laud, clothier, and Lucy, daughter of Sir W. Webb, Lord Mayor of London in 1591. His pedigree was, therefore, respectable, notwithstanding the falsities of his detractors. Weak in body, but strong in
the falsities of pedigree was, therefor. Webb, Lord May
to North Kiled to Stainford, in Wk the degree
intellect, he ran through the usual discipline of early years, with fears for his health, but in hope of his future fame. In July 1589, he was sent to Oxford, as a commoner of St. John's, then under the direction of Dr. (afterwards Bishop) Buckeridge. He was elected scholar of St. John's in 1590, and fellow in 1593. In the following year he proceeded B. A. and in 1598, M. A. In 1600, he was ordained deacon at Rochester, and on 5th April, 1601, was admitted priest. In 1602, he was appointed divinity reader. In 1603, proctor and chaplain to Blount, Earl of Devonshire. In 1604, he took the degree of B. D. In 1607, he was preferred to Stainford, in Northamptonshire, and in 1608, to North Kilworth, in Leicestershire, in which year he proceeded D.D. and was appointed chaplain to Bishop Neile, of Rochester. In 1609, he exchanged Kilworth Rectory for West Tilbury, in Essex; having preached before the King. He afterwards received the living of Cuckstone, in Kent, when he resigned his fellowship: though in May, 1611, he was selected to the Presidency of his College. In 1615, he became Prebendary of Buckden, and Archdeacon of Huntingdon; and in 1616, Dean of Gloucester. In 1617, be attended King James to Scotland. In 1620, he was installed Prebendary of Westminster, ten years after the appointment; and also Bishop of St. David's, after which he resigned the Presidentship of St. John's. In 1626, he was translated to Bath and Wells, and made a Privy Councillor ; in 1629, he became Bishop of London ; and in 1630, was elected Chancellor of Oxford. Finally, in 1633, King Charles addressed him as “ My Lord's Grace of Canterbury :" in which year he was chosen Chancellor of Dublin. Such was the progress of William Laud to the Archiepiscopal chair : and in how brief a period was he translated from an earthly mitre to a heavenly crown! In 1640, he was impeached by the Parliament, and committed to the Tower :-in 1643, he was tried; on the 6th January, 1644, condemned ; and on the 10th January, 1645, was beheaded on Tower
Rapid, indeed, was the rise, and sudden the fall of this great man; the former points out the greatness of his character, which, in an age of virulent and private animosity, was acknowledged and rewarded as it well deserved ; and the latter teaches us by what violent and lawless means he fell a sacrifice to the ferocious thirst of public malice. What were the immediate sources of his official dignity, how he merited the favour of his Sovereigns, and received the honours of an approving country; and by what unparalleled cruelty and barbarous misrule he finally was offered up a splendid victim on the altar of ruffian democracy, it is not in our power to state at large: but in the full and perfect history of his “ Life and Times" by Mr. Lawson, there are detailed the merits and the virtues of this great
prelate, and the unjust and sinful progress of his murderers : by which it will be seen how deeply has the pen of history been dipped in gall, and what despicable ignorance of the state of things, and of the workings of the human heart, do they betray, who, for the sake of party, or for a more worthless cause, have condescended to strip truth of her identity, and to revile the memory of a certainly frail but noble being—and to traduce the character of a calumniated yet glorious defender of the Church of England.
Yet, though we cannot enter into any delicate anatomy of this narrative, we may be able to discover such of the points to which attraction may be drawn ; and to transfer to our pages some portions of the annals of that gloomy period, by which they will obtain a lustre not their own. We may, not inappropriately, investigate the causes of that awful change by which the splendour of the English name was tarnished, and the dignity of our church and nation humbled to the dust.
After the English Reformation of religion, notions had been entertained by many persons in the Church, not only subversive of its constitution, but highly detrimental to the safety and well-being of the state. The discipline of Geneva, and the doctrine of expediency, as laid down by John Calvin, who has the merit, if merit it be, of contriving and introducing a new system of ecclesiastical polity, and who, moreover, has the still more questionable merit of discovering in the sacred Scriptures certain doctrines which exhibit the Deity not in the most favourable light, as he himself was forced to confess, when with grief he admits it to be an “horribile decretum :"—this discipline had led many astray from the maxims of primitive truth and order, and the notions of expediency as to the Church and its visibility, had engendered a lamentable calsousness towards that very Church of which they all professed to be sincere members. Forgetting that the Church of Christ is one and undivided, -forgetting that the Saviour himself declared, “my kingdom is not of this world,”— and forgetting, too, that this union is not solely a spiritual union, composed at the saine time of outward heterogeneous masses, but is, in truth, both a spiritual and a temporal union, no limits were assigned to the extravagances of fancy, and no safeguard adopted for the preservation of that Church, the doctrines of which Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, had sealed with their blood.—Pp. 14, 15.
Under the auspices of Reynolds and other leaders of the Puritans, the tenets of Geneva were making rapid progress in the University, engendering the most novel speculations about the Church, and producing a general carelessness about its constitution, which threatened to sap its very foundation. Forgetting the moderation and admirable caution of the great men under whose auspices the reformation of the Church of England had been conducted, they seemed as if they had themselves determined to commence a new reformation, while at the same time they admitted, that the line of demarcation between the Reformed Church and that of Rome was broad and insurmountable. Nor was their policy the less crafty than their general conduct; for since they well knew that, were they to make any notorious innovation at once, they would be punished by the civil and ecclesiastical power as disturbers of the peace of the realm, their sole hope lay in biassing the minds of the students in the University, over whom they were placed; while, at the same time, they merely corresponded about their differences with their friends among the laity who were in power and influence. Now it was, indeed, that the doctrines of the Church of England, founded on holy Scripture, were not only disputed, but positively denied. The opinions of Calvin respecting predestination, reprobation, election, and all the other kindred dogmas, were zealously maintained, although their defenders
might have known that, besides looking in vain for Calvin's horribile decretum in the holy Scriptures, the fathers, with the exception of St. Augustine, and his two disciples, Prosper and Fulgentius, never conceived such tenets, so far as individuals are concerned; and perhaps in this view even St. Augustine himself may not be conceded. The doctrine of Scripture and of the Church respecting regeneration in infant baptism was denied, as was also the doctrine of the Church respecting the holy Eucharist. It was absolutely denied, that either of these sacred rites had any efficacy in man's salvation. The article in the Apostles' Creed respecting Christ's local descent into hell, asserted in the Convocations of the Church in 1552 and 1562, was disclaimed as erroneous, merely, as Dr. Heylin well remarks, “because repugnant to the fancies of some foreign divines, though they were in dispute among themselves about the meaning of it.” The episcopal government of the Church was held to be against the ecclesiastical constitution of the apostolic and primitive times, and this, too, by men who were conversant with the apostles and fathers. Presbyters and bishops were held to be synonymous, and the fallacious doctrine of expediency in church government was assumed, it being asserted, that the apostles did not trouble themselves about ecclesiastical polity; the doctrine of the visibility of the Church was disclaimed, and sectarian converticles were held to be as scriptural as the Church, though these, it was evident, were all founded on the visions of enthusiasts, and false positions erroneously drawn froin holy Scripture. The Pope was furiously declared to be Antichrist; the ordination of the Church of Rome was pronounced invalid, as part of " the mark of the beast." These and such other opinions were “as positively and magisterially maintained, as if they had been the chief articles of the Christian faith.” The public services of the Church, according to the Book of Common Prayer, were either carelessly performed, or neglected; offence was taken at every sacred rite and ceremony which had been practised since the days of the apostles. “In a word,” to quote from Heylin on this very subject, “the books of Calvin made the rule by which all men were to square their writings, his only word (like the ipse dixit of Aristotle) admitted as the sole canon to which they were to frame and conform their judgments, and in comparison to whom, the ancient fathers of the Church, men of renown, and the glory of their several times, must be held contemptible : and to offend against this canon, or to break this rule, was esteemed a more unpardonable crime, than to violate the apostles' canons, or dispute the doctrines and determinations of any of the four first General Councils; so that it might bave proved more safe for any man, in such a general deviation from the rules and dictates of this Church, to have been looked upon as an heathen or a publican, than an anti-Calvinist.”—Pp. 22–25.
Such was the state of affairs when William Laud made his appearance in the Church of England. With a penetrating eye he saw, at once, the nature of the opinions then afloat: and by the vigour of his mind, he planned the course which a supporter of his church should duteously pursue. Nor was it a matter of speculation alone : he was enabled to strive with the growing heresy, even unto death.
The axiom (says Mr. Lawson) which Laud subsequently assumed, though doubtless sneered at by Dissenters, is strictly true, that the Church must be guarded both against Rome and Geneva—that a Church founded on the Apostles, and not on Christ, is the Roman and the Genevan rock-but that the Church must have a more solid basis, or it has no foundation at all; and that, though it must be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself must be the chief corner-stone. There were, therefore, only two positions,-either that the Church must be a regularly organized body, which, though a voluntary association, acknowledges Christ for its head, or it must not; there must either be systems of authority and regulation, or there must be
anarchy and confusion; it must, in short, either be like a well-governed and well-organized kingdom, to which it is compared in the Holy Scriptures, or it must be so ill-regulated, as that all its members may literally do that which is right in their own eyes. The former, then, was the position of the well-wishers of the Church of England, the latter that of those who were preparing the way for its overthrow: the former was advocated by those who defended order and primitive truth, the latter by those who were on the point of holding out the right hand of fellowship to novelty and fanaticism. Laud hesitated not for a moment to decide; and his memory does truly deserve well of the Church of England, since he so early avowed himself the bold defender of its constitutions. Pp. 16, 17.
It would appear that he had long beheld, with deep regret the dangerous tendency of the enthusiasm of the times; and he resolved, though he stood alone, to raise his solitary voice in defence of the doctrines of the Church of England. He had studied the fathers with peculiar care, and made himself master of the constitution of the Church, as set forth during the apostolic and primitive times in the canons of the general councils. His theological studies had been founded on the sacred canon, carefully perusing at the same time the comments and interpretations of the fathers; and his vigorous mind enabled him at once to perceive the errors which the ancient heretics and modern schismatics had imbibed, by their attempts at private interpretation of the canon of inspiration : a practice which is unhappily too prevalent among their successors in the present times. He was not to be led astray by the names of men, however great and renowned, and he was determined to oppose those novelties in theology, which were daily becoming more prevalent. Fortified as he was by the canons of the Church, and, above all, by holy Scripture, he resolved “ to hold fast the form of sound words” which had been delivered ; and, solitary as he stood in this perilous undertaking, to try his fortune in the work, and to leave the issue thereof unto God, by whom “ Paul's planting and Apollos' watering do receive the increase.”
On no subject, perhaps, has there been greater dispute than on the meaning of the Articles of the Church of England. While the zealous Puritan rejected them in toto, both because they were not sufficiently Calvinistic to suit his notions, and because they contained that form of ecclesiastical polity which he abhorred; the Calvinist, on the one hand, who wished not to leave the Church, discovered them to be thoroughly Calvinistic, and was content; the Arminian loudly asserted on the other hand, that they contained the doctrines and tenets of Arminius, and cordially subscribed to them. Such was the procedure in the time of Laud, and such it is in the present day. Now, keeping out of view the Puritan and modern Dissenter as completely hopeless subjects, or, in other words, az men beyond the reach of argument or reason, nothing is more evident than that both the Calvinist and Arminian are decidedly wrong. The Articles are expressed with such clearness, that he who candidly peruses them, and is gifted with an ordinary share of reason, cannot fail to perceive their meaning, and to acquiesce at once in their decisions; but it is most absurd to say that they are founded upon, or that they favour, the individual theories either of John Calvin or of James Arminius. A division has indeed taken place in the Church in modern times, and an unaccountable zeal has now decided that the orthodox Clergy are the Calvinists : those who deny Calvin's tenets being of course anti-evangelical. Yet, if the test of evangelism be the rash assumptions of the predestinarian, most unquestionably that evangelism rests upon a feeble foundation, and they do greatly err whose zeal is thus permitted to triumph over their reason. But the Church of England at once disdains a blind veneration for any frail and erring mortal, however great or excellent in the eyes of his fellow men.
When Laud, therefore, stepped boldly forth to vindicate the Articles and Constitution of the Church, against the fancies and enthusiasm of her Puritan members, those Articles “had been wrested from the literal and grammatical sense, to fit them to the sense of particular persons,” and “a different construction had been put upon them from that which had been the true and