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From this period may be dated the establishment, increase, and prosperity of the Independent and Baptist Churches. *
Considering how much Milton had contributed
the bishops, gave great pleasure to the country, is evident from many circumstances; one may be mentioned :-In the Journals of the House of Lords, 22d April, 1642, there is an entry from “the knights, &c. &c. of the county of Cornwall,” in which it is said, “That they heartily praise God, and thank you, for your happy conjunction with the House of Commons, in casting out bishops for sitting and voting among you."
* The Baptists, who held the principles afterwards called Calvinistic, and had, from the time of Wickliffe, been mixed up with the Lollards and Sacramentarians, formed themselves, in the year 1633, into a separate church. Their beginning was very small; but they soon abundantly increased. Mr. William Kiffin, who joined them in 1638, and who became, from his character and influence, the father of the denomination, gives the following simple account of their origin. “ There was a congregation of Protestant dissenters of the Independent persuasion in London, gathered in the year 1616, of which Mr. Henry Jacob was their first pastor; and after him succeeded Mr. John Lathorp, who was their minister in 1633. In this society several persons, finding that the congregation kept not to its first principles of separation; and being also convinced that baptism was not to be administered to infants, but to such as professed faith in Christ, desired that they might be dismissed from that communion, and allowed to form a distinct congregation, in such order as was most agreeable to their own sentiments.
“ The church considering they were now grown very nu
towards this consummationthe abolition of Diocesan Episcopacy—the event of “the extirpation of prelacy” must have afforded him exuberant joy; because, with his sentiments, as expressed in his several treatises against the prelates, he considered, as the parliament appears to have done, that popery and prelacy were identical, or at least so closely united, that in death they could not be divided! The pious bishop, Joseph Hall, who was one of the protestors, calls the treatment they received from the Commons “ hard measure!" It might have been so to him and a few others, who were devoted Christian ministers of the Gospel; but as to most of them, they were any thing rather than Christian bishops !—Cruel persecutors of the godly dissenters, and base sycophants to the king
merous, and so more than could in those times of persecution conveniently meet together; and believing also that those persons acted from a principle of conscience, and not from obstinacy, agreed to allow them the liberty they desired, and that they should be constituted a distinct church; which was performed Sept. 12, 1633. And as they believed that baptism was not rightly administered to infants, so they looked upon the baptism which they had at that age as invalid, whereupon most or all of them received a NEW BAPTISM, [by being immersed in water on a personal profession of repentance and faith.] Their minister was Mr. John SPILSBury. What number there were is uncertain, because in the mentioning of about twenty men and women, it is added, “with divers others.'”—Hist. of Eng. Bap. vol. i. p. 138. -1811.
and his oppressive ministers; and who, like Ahab, as to the votes which they gave in parliament, “ sold themselves to work iniquity;" the nonresisting and passive obedient tools of arbitrary power; the ready helpers to execute any oppressive measures to grind the people to powder ; mean satellites and cringing hypocrites to those who were above them; haughty tyrants, and bloody oppressors to those whom they could ensnare by their et cætera oath, or get within the purlieus of the High Commission Court! And was it wonderful that
British heart, and especially the hearts of Protestant dissenters, rejoiced when these tyrants, who had oppressed them for nearly a century, fell into disgrace, and were pronounced, as to their temporal and spiritual dignity, to be public nuisances? However “ hard the measure,” no impartial and honest Briton but what will
say that it was strictly just. And what English heart now, but will raise a prayer to God—who hears the prayer of the humble, and who is always ready to help the oppressed, and to confound the oppressor——“ So let all thine enemies perish, oh, God! but let them that love thee be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might!” Judges, v. 31.
We are now arrived at the year 1644, and find our hero again employed as the defender of the liberties of his countrymen. The work which he
published he entitled, “Areopagilica, or an Oration to the Parliament of England for the Liberty of unlicensed Printing.” It is not improbable but the following circumstances, recorded in the Journals of the House of Lords for 1644, produced that extraordinary display of mind. Ordered, that the gentleman-usher attending this house, shall repair to the Lord Mayor of London, and the master and wardens of the Stationers' Company, to let them know, that this House expects a speedy account of them, what they have done in finding out the author, printer, or publisher of the scandalous libel.”
“The wardens of the Stationers' Company gave the house an account, that they had used their best endeavours to find out the printer and author of the scandalous libel; but they cannot yet make any discovery thereof, the letter being so common a letter;' and further complained of the frequent printing of scandalous books, by divers, as Hezekia Woodward and John MILTON.
“Hereupon it is ordered, that it be referred to Mr. Justice Bacon, to examine the said Woodward and MILTON, and such others as the master and wardens of the Stationers' Company shall give information of concerning the printing of books and pamphlets; and to examine also what they know concerning the libel, who was the author, printer and publisher of it. And the gentleman
usher shall attach the parties, and bring them before the judges; and the Stationers are to be present at their examination, and give evidence against them.”
On June 31, “ Mr. Justice Bacon informed the house of some paper which Ezeckiell Woodward confessed he made. Hereupon it is ordered he shall be released, giving his own bond to appear before this house when he shall be summoned.” It does not appear that Milton was brought up.
The length to which the Presbyterians carried their zeal to suppress libels, may be judged of from the following entry in the Journals, the 12th of July, 1644.
“ A book entitled Comfort for believers about their Sins and Troubles, by John Archer, M. A. sometime preacher at Lombardstreet.” The Assembly denounced it as blasphemous; and the Lords ordered it to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman, and all the copies of it to be called in.
It was necessary, that before any book could be printed, it should receive the imprimatur of some person authorised by the government; and subject of course to be deprived, by the same power, of
any emolument which he might derive from his office. The object proposed by Multon was, to procure the most entire liberty of the press, subject to a liability to prosecution, should that liberty be employed