THE BAPTISTS AND LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE.
The Baptists occupy an honourable position in the history of religious freedom. They were the first to assert, in this country, the right of every man to worship God as his conscience dictated, and the first to show that that right was based both on reason and Scripture. When England was still suffering from the vexations and miseries of persecution for religious opinions, Baptists lifted up their earnest, but at that time unheeded, protests against its injustice and tyranny. Some of these protests were issued at great peril to the writers, and others were the plaints of men who, for their Baptist opinions, were condemned to fester in loathsome prisons. All bear witness to an unconquerable love of freedom, which at length bore its priceless fruits. It would, therefore, be ungrateful in their descendants, who are now sitting under the shadow of the tree which these courageous pioneers watered with their blood, not to hold their names in everlasting remembrance.
Leonard Busher the writer of the earliest extant treatise in favour of the broadest religious liberty, was a Baptist. There can be no question as to the truth of this statement, since it rests on his own emphatic words. "Christ," says Busher, in the treatise to which we refer, "will have His ministers to preach and to teach the people of all nations . . . and to baptize in His name all who believe." Still more explicitly he says in another place: "Such as willingly receive the truth, Christ hath commanded to be baptized in water; that is, dipped for the dead in water."
Of Busher's personal history very little is known. He was a citizen of London the later days of Queen Elizabeth, and fled to the Continent on account of his religious opinions. In the time of her successor, James the First, he returned to London; but "found it hard to get his daily bread, with his weak body and feeble hands." Probably, as his name suggests, of Walloon extraction; a man of some learning; a controversialist, entering the lists with Robinson of Amsterdam, and the Brownists; too poor to print the books he had written, and yet somehow getting printed the one which places his name in the foremost ranks of advocates for religious liberty such is absolutely all the record we have of the brave and gentle Leonard Busher.
His treatise was presented to the King and Parliament in 1614, but so far as both were concerned, very little came of its presentation. A valiant Independent, in the days of the Civil War, Henry Burton by name, a man who had suffered under the tyranny of the land, and was among the earliest of his own religious party to claim and allow full liberty of conscience, reprinted the treatise in 1646, with an address prefixed to it for the special benefit of the Presbyterians. At that time the Presbyterians were in the ascendant, and were eagerly using their power to repress all who differed from them. The title of Busber's treatise is,
"Religious Peace; or, A Plea for Liberty of Conscience."
After a short preface "to the King, and to the princely and right honourable Parliament," for whom he wishes "the wisdom of Solomon, the zeal of Josias, and the mercy of Christ, with the salvation of their spirits in the day of the Lord Jesus," Busher assigns seventeen reasons against persecution, and concludes with "a design for a peaceable reconciliation of those that differ in opinion."
Busher's main object by this petition was to secure a repeal of the odious and oppressive, or as he calls them, "the anti-Christian, Romish, and cruel laws," then in force against all Nonconformists. Every kind of argument is used to influence the minds of the King and his Parliament. We shall, perhaps, best illustrate the contents of this remarkable plea for liberty of conscience by grouping together some of its main features, rather than by pretending to give any complete analysis of the whole book.
Busher quotes widely opposite examples of toleration. There is the example of the Emperor Constantine: "I read that he wrote to the Bishop of Rome, that he would not force and constrain any man to the faith, but only admonish, and commit judgment to God." There is that of a Turkish emperor. "A Bishop of Rome would have constrained him to the Christian faith, but the Emperor answered, “I believe that Christ was an excellent prophet; but He did never, as far as I understand, command that men should, with the power of weapons, be constrained to believe His law; and verily I also do force no man to believe Mahomet's law." Busher adds to this the statement: "Also I read the Jews, Christians, and Turks are tolerated in Constantinople, and yet are peaceable, yet so contrary the one to the other. If this be so, how much more ought Christians not to force one another to religion? And how much more ought Christians to tolerate Christians, whereas the Turks do tolerate them? Shall we be less merciful than the Turks? or shall we learn (teach) the Turks to persecute Christians. It is not only unmerciful, but unnatural and abominable, yea, monstrous, for one Christian to vex and destroy another for difference and question of religion." Even "Pagans," Busher also says, "will not persecute one another for religion; though, as I read, there be above three thousand sorts of them." He follows up the allusion to pagan toleration with a homethrust at the King about the mistakes made in England, "both by King Henry and Queen Mary, who thought themselves defenders of the faith, and thought they burned heretics and heresy, when they burned men and their books. But now you see, and must acknowledge, that they were persecutors of the faith, instead of defenders thereof."
The uselessness of persecution is pointed out in various ways. "Neither the King nor the bishops can command faith, any more than they can command the winds." If you "force men to go to church against their consciences, they will believe as they did before when they come. . . . It is not the gallows, nor the prisons, nor burning, nor banishing, that can defend the Apostolic faith . . . . The Dutch princes and peers say: ‘that force, sword, and gallows, in matter of religion, is a good means to spill blood, and to make an uproar in the land; but not to bring any man from one faith to another.'" Even kings enjoy no exemption from other people: "They are men as well as kings, and Christ hath ordained the same means of faith for kings as for subjects."
Persecution is fraught with mischief to the State. "If persecution continues, then the King and the State shall have against their will, many dissemblers in authority and office, both in court, city, and country. . . . Most men will conform themselves for fear of persecution, although in their hearts they hate and detest the religion whereto they are forced by law; the which is very dangerous and hurtful, both to the King and to the State, in time of temptation from beyond the seas, and in rebellion at home. For they that are not faithful to God in their religion., will never be faithful to the King and the State in their allegiance: especially being tried by a great reward, or by a mighty rebel."
Persecution is "a notable mark of the false Church, and her bishops and ministers." "All bishops that force princes and people to receive their faith and discipline, do, with Judas, go against Christ and His members, with swords, staves, and halberds." " Christ saith, ‘He that will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen man, and a publican.' He saith not, ‘Burn, banish, or imprison him:' that is Antichrist's ordinance." "With Scripture, and not with fire and sword, your Majesty's bishops and ministers ought to be armed and weaponed." "Those bishops which persuade the King and Parliament to burn, banish, and imprison for difference of religion, are bloodsuckers and manslayers." "The ministers and bishops of Antichrist cannot abide nor endure the faith and discipline of the Apostolic Church, because it will be the overthrow of their blasphemous and spiritual lordships, and of their anti-Christian and bloody kingdom; and therefore are they so fiery hot and zealous for the Catholic or anti-Christian faith and practice."
Busher is very careful to show, by innumerable passages, that all Christ's teaching and example are directly against persecution. "Christ came into the world to save sinners, and not to destroy them, though they be blasphemers; seeing the Lord may convert them, as He did Saul." "Christ saith, ‘Teach all nations;' not, ‘Force all nations.' " "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, and not by the King's sword." "Christ overcame the devil and his ministers by the Word of God, and by a good, meek, and gentle life." "And it is to be well observed, that when Christ would have preached the word of salvation to the Gadarenes, He did not compel them when they refused; but finding them unwilling to receive Him and His Word, he turned from them without hurting them. Also when James and John saw that some of the Samaritans refused Christ, they wanted to have commanded fire from heaven to consume them, as Elias did; but Christ rebuked them and said, ‘Ye know not of what spirit ye are; for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.'" "Christ sent His ministers as lambs among wolves, and not as wolves among lambs." These are a few only of the many passages that might be quoted.
By giving up persecution, Busher assures the King that he will "prevent his land from a great impoverishing and weakening by the loss of the faithfullest subjects and friends, who, not having here freedom of conscience to follow the Apostolic faith, must depart the land for some free country." Still further, "the Jews, to the great profit of his realm, shall then inhabit and dwell under his Majesty’s dominions." The King may even go further grant, without damage to the State, "liberty for every person, yea, Jews and Papists, to write, dispute, confer, and reason, print and publish any matter touching religion, either for or against whomsoever, always provided”--and the proviso reads strangely in our days--"they alledge no Fathers for proof of any point of religion, but only the Holy Scriptures."
Many good things are suggested as likely to follow this repeal of Popish laws and canons. One of these is stated in a manner which reveals the quiet humour of this grave and valiant man. It is this--the possible action of such repeal on the bishops. Busher could see little difference between the manners of bishops, whether Popish or Protestant. "Pope, in Latin (Italian) is papa, and papa signifies father in English. All the bishops in our land are called Reverend Fathers; 'therefore all the bishops in our land are called Reverend Popes.' So many ‘Lord Bishops,' so many ‘Reverend Fathers,' so many ‘Reverend Popes.'" But such would be the influence upon the bishops' minds of this toleration, that after a time, suggests Busher, "All those bishops who unfeignedly fear God, and truly love the King, will haste and make speed to come to his Majesty for pardon; acknowledging the truth of this book; confessing their ignorance and arrogance in God's Word; and in compelling the people to hear the Word preached, and for imprisoning, burning, banishing, and hanging for religion, contrary to the mind of Christ; and also for stopping the mouths of men, and burning their books, that preach and write contrary to their minds and wills." Busher further adds, anticipating the very words of their penitence "Yea, it may be, they will also confess and say, ‘Oh, most gracious King! we beseech your Majesty to show us mercy, and to forgive us our spiritual pride and ambition, in that we have thus long usurped the blasphemous titles of 'Spiritual Lords,' and ‘Lord Graces;' the which titles we now, to the glory of God and honour of the King, do, with unfeigned hearts, confess to be due and belong only to Christ Himself. And that the name and title of ‘Spiritual Lord' cannot belong to any earthly creature; no, not to the King or Emperor, because it is an heavenly name and title. How much less can it belong, or be due to us, your Majesty's unworthy subjects and scholars? . . . Also we do confess that our pomp and state wherein we now live, is more like the bishops of the Catholic Church of Antichrist than any way like the bishops of the Apostolic Church of Christ, unto whom we acknowledge we ought to be made like, and also to be qualified with the like gifts and graces of the Spirit; or else in no case can we be meet bishops for the Church of Christ, as the Apostle plainly teacheth both to Timothy and Titus, &c. And we must further acknowledge and confess that our houses, households, and revenues are more fit and meet for princes, dukes, and earls, than for disciples of Christ. Wherefore, being moved and stirred up hereto by the fear of God, we earnestly beseech your Majesty and Parliament also to disburden us of this great pomp and state, and of our great and prince-like houses, households, and revenues, that so we may be made equal and conformable to the ministers of Christ; and then we shall have both hope and comfort of the world to come, although but little in this, except your Majesty and Parliament do grant free liberty of conscience.'"
Five reasons are then supposed to be assigned by the penitent bishops for conceding this freedom, the last being "the great gain to the King and the country from the relinquishment of their own (the bishops') revenues, more profit and commodity than we or any man is able to express." The sarcasm reaches its drollest point when the bishops are said "to desire all his Majesty's subjects, both great and small, in all love and fear of God, not to be offended, or in any way moved or grieved, when they shall see such a reformation in us as that famous king, Henry the Eighth, did make of our lordly brethren, the abbots and their clergy. For indeed such a reformation ought to come among us clergy." Busher expresses a hope that all this surrender of their wealth may come about "without compulsion and constraint." But if this should not be, "that God would open the King's heart" to compel the bishops to disgorge their enormous wealth. A third course, however, suggests itself to Busher's mind: "If free liberty of conscience be granted, the spiritual kingdom of these idol-bishops will, in time, fall to the ground of itself, as the idol Dagon fell before the ark." Events have abundantly justified Busher's prediction. The spiritual power of the English bishops in our day is absolutely nil. Even their own party sneeringly describe them as "mitred old gentlemen."
We cannot close our sketch of this treatise without pointing out the incidental confirmation which one passage in it supplies to a hundred other testimonies of the profligacy and debauchery of the times, the poison of the Court of James the First descending into and defiling every grade of society. "If," says Busher, when thinking of the dark condition of England at that time, "If the holy laws of God's Word be practised and executed after Christ's will, then shall neither king, prince, nor people be destroyed for difference of religion. Then treason and rebellion, as well as burning, banishing, hanging, or imprisonment for difference of religion, will cease, and be laid down. Then shall not men, women, and youth be hanged for theft. Then shall not the poor, lame, sick, and weak ones be stocked (put in the stocks) and whipped; neither shall the poor, stranger, fatherless, and widows be driven to beg from place to place; neither shall the lame, sick, and weak persons suffer such misery, and be forsaken of their kindred, as now they be. Then shall not murder, whoredom, and adultery be bought out for money. Then shall not the great defraud and wrong the small; neither the rich oppress the poor by usury and little wages. . . . Then shall not servants be forced from marriage bonds, nor yet be bound to servitude longer than six years; neither shall they be brought up contrary to covenant, nor posted from one quarter or one year to another, for their freedom, and in the end be forced to buy it of their masters, or else to go without it too."
It has been conjectured that Leonard Busher was a member of Mr. Helwys's church; but on what grounds does not appear. It is, however, worthy of notice, that the year after Busher issued his Plea for Liberty of Conscience, some members of this church published another pamphlet, "proving," as the title-page declares, "by the law of God and of the land, and by King James's own testimonies, that no man ought to be persecuted for his religion, so he testify his allegiance by the oath appointed by law." The title of the pamphlet is,
"Persecution for Religion, judged and condemned."
The resemblance between the style of this book, and one written by John Morton, a member of Mr. Helwys's church, has led to the conclusion that Morton himself was the author, although, at the end of the "Epistle," or preface, the subscription runs as follows: "By Christ's unworthy witnesses, His majesty's faithful subjects, commonly (but most falsely) called, Anabaptists."
The book is written in the form of a dialogue between Anti-Christian and Christian. "Why come you not to church?" is the question started by Anti-Christian; and this leads to a discussion on the nature of worship, and so to the question of persecution. Anti-Christian thinks he has his opponent on the hip, when be says, "It is manifest in the Scriptures, by the example of the Apostle Peter smiting Ananias and Sapphira to death, and of the Apostle Paul striking Elymas, the sorcerer, blind, and also by delivering Hymeneus and Alexander unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that punishment upon the body may be used, and the flesh destroyed. For if it were lawful for them to smite to death, and the like, though by extraordinary means, then it must be lawful for us by ordinary means, since extraordinary means now fail. If you say it be not lawful for us, then you must say it was not lawful for them; and that were to accuse them of laying a false foundation, which none fearing God will affirm."
Christian's reply to this specious statement is very adroit and unanswerable: "I dare not once admit of such a thought, as to disallow the truth of that foundation which the Apostles, as skilful master-builders, have laid; but for your argument of Peter's extraordinary smiting of Ananias and Sapphira, he neither laid hand upon them, nor threatened them by word, only declared what should befall them from God; and, therefore, serveth nothing to your purpose. Also that of Paul to Elymas, he laid no hands upon him, but only declared the Lord's hand upon him, and the judgment that should follow. If you can so pronounce, and it so come to pass upon any, do it; and then it may be you may be accounted master-builders, and layers of a new foundation, or another Gospel."
In the course of the dialogue the writer denounces the pride, luxury, and oppression of the bishops, protests strongly against the political errors of the Papists, and condemns those who, through fear of persecution, comply with any external worship contrary to their conscience. The speeches of the King are quoted to illustrate his professions of religious toleration, a thing easy enough to do; but it would be extremely difficult to point out instances wherein his actions agreed with his professions. A part of the dialogue is taken up with the "illustration of the writer's opinion that the spiritual power of England is the image of the spiritual cruel power of Rome, or that beast mentioned in the thirteenth chapter of the Revelations;" and the concluding portion is especially intended to meet and answer the objections made by the Brownists and Robinson against the creed and practice of the General Baptists.
A very noteworthy declaration on the subject of liberty of conscience occurs in "the Epistle" which is prefixed to the dialogue, and is addressed "to all that truly wish Jerusalem's prosperity, and Babylon's destruction." The words are these: "We do unfeignedly acknowledge the authority of earthly magistrates, God's blessed ordinance, and that all earthly authority and command appertains to them. Let them command what they will, we must obey, either to do or to suffer, upon pain of God's displeasure, besides their punishment. But all men must let God alone with His right, which is to be Lord and Lawgiver to the soul, and not command obedience to God, where He commandeth none. And this is only that which we dare not but maintain upon the peril of our souls, which is greater than bodily affliction." In the dialogue itself Christian afterward affirms, "If I take any authority from the King's majesty, let me be judged worthy of my desert; but if I defend the authority of Christ Jesus over men's souls, which appertaineth to no mortal man whatsoever, then you know, that whosoever would rob Him of that honour which is not of this world, He will tread them under foot. Earthly authority belongs to earthly kings; but spiritual authority belongeth to that spiritual King, who is King of kings."
There had been no Session of Parliament between 1614 and 1620; but driven by his urgent necessities, the King summoned both Houses in the year last named. In this year a third appeal was made by the Baptists for religious liberty, in
"A most Humble Supplication;"
or, as the title amply declares–“A most Humble Supplication of many of the King's Royal Subjects, ready to testify all Civil Obedience, by the Oath of Allegiance or otherwise, and that of Conscience, who are Persecuted (only for differing in Religion) contrary to Divine and Human Testimonies." The Baptists had good reason to plead earnestly for liberty of conscience at this period. They were not only themselves everywhere suffering from persecutions, but even the author of these arguments against persecutions was, at the time of writing his book, "a close prisoner in Newgate." "Having not the use of pen and ink," says Roger Williams, "he wrote these arguments in milk, in sheets of paper brought to him by the woman, his keeper, from a friend in London as the stopples of his milk bottle. In such paper, written with milk, nothing appeared; but the way of reading it by fire being known to his friend who received the papers, he transcribed and kept together the papers, although the author himself could not correct nor view what himself had written."
The "Most Humble Supplication," is divided into ten chapters, wherein the Baptists again set forth their opinions of the rule of faith, the method of ascertaining its teaching, and the folly, unlawfulness, and unscripturalness of persecution: "(1) The rule of faith is contained in the Holy Scriptures, not in any church, council, prince, or potentate, nor in any mortal man whatsoever; (2) the interpreter of this rule is the Scriptures, and the Spirit of God in whomsoever; (3) the Spirit of God, to understand and interpret the Scriptures, is given to all and every person that fear and obey God, of what degree soever they be, and not to the wicked; (4) these men are commonly, and the most part the simple, poor, and despised, &c.; (5) the learned in human learning do commonly and for the most part err, and know not the truth, but persecute it and the professors of it, and therefore are no further to be followed than we see them agree with the truth; (6) persecution for cause of conscience is against the doctrine of Jesus Christ, the King of kings; (7) against the profession and practice of famous princes; (8) condemned by ancient State writers, yea, by Puritans and Papists; (9) it is no prejudice to the Commonwealth if freedom of religion were suffered, but would make it flourish, (10) lastly, kings are not deprived of any power given them of God, when they maintain freedom for cause of conscience."
In the seventh chapter, the Baptists quote the testimony of Stephen, the liberal and tolerant King of Poland, who declared, "I am king of men, not of consciences; a commander of bodies, not of souls." It was this same distinguished sovereign who, though a convert to Catholicism, strenuously rejected the counsels of the Jesuits to persecute, and whose favourite saying was this, "There are three things which God has reserved to Himself creative power, the knowledge of future events, and dominion over conscience." But the foremost place is given in this chapter to the sayings of King James himself. The Baptists write, "We beseech your Majesty, we may relate your own worthy sayings, in your Majesty's speech at Parliament, 1609. Your Highness saith, ‘It is a rule in divinity, that God never loves to plant His Church by violence and bloodshed,' &c. And in your Highness's apology for the Oath of Allegiance, speaking of such Papists as take the oath, thus, ‘I gave a good proof that I intended no persecution against them for conscience' cause, but only desired to be secured (of them) for civil obedience, which, for conscience' cause, they were bound to perform.' And speaking of Blackwell, the archpriest, your Majesty saith, ‘It was never my intention to say anything to the said archpriest's charge, as I have never done to any, for cause or conscience.' And in your Highness's Exposition of Rev. xx., printed in 1588, and after in 1603, your Majesty truly saith, ‘Sixthly, the compassing of the saints, and besieging of the beloved city, declareth unto us a certain note of a false Church to be persecution; for they came to seek the faithful, the faithful are those that are sought; the wicked are the besiegers, the faithful are the besieged.’”
But King James could talk liberally enough when it suited his purpose. There is no evidence that he was equally liberal in his actions. It shows, therefore, great courage in these despised and persecuted Baptists daring to close their "Humble Supplication" with these words to the King: “You may make and mend your own laws, and be judge and punisher of the transgressors thereof; but you cannot make and mend God's laws, they are perfect already; you may not add nor diminish, nor be judge nor monarch of His Church; that is Christ's right. He left neither you, nor any mortal man His deputy, but only the Holy Ghost, as your Highness acknowledgeth. And whosoever erreth from the truth, his judgment is set down, and the time thereof. This, then, is the sum of our humble petition, that your Majesty would be pleased not to persecute your faithful subjects, who are obedient unto you in all civil worship and service, for walking in the practice of what God's Word requireth of us for His spiritual worship, as we have faith: knowing as your Majesty truly writeth in your Meditation on Matt. xxvii., in these words: ‘We can use no spiritual worship nor prayer, than can be available to us without faith.’” It was no un-skilful hand that thus feathered the last arrow with the King's own words; but, so far as liberty of conscience was concerned, all arrows proved in vain, the King in no case relaxing the iron hand of persecution which held the Baptists, and others, in its relentless grip.
Two or three other Baptist testimonies in favour of religious freedom were published during the time of the Civil War and the Restoration. A passing glance at one of these will show that there is an unbroken chain of witnesses to be found among the Baptists from the days of James the First, until the eve of the famous Act of Toleration. Not that Baptists, during all this period, were alone in their testimony; but they were its earliest and its most faithful and persistent advocates. Jeremy Taylor's Liberty of Prophesying appeared in 1646, and in the same year Mr. Dell expressed, in his sermon before the House of Commons, a clear and decided appeal for religious freedom. Meanwhile, the Independents were growing in their attachment to the same noble cause; and more than one public advocate of it arose in their midst.
In 1647, Mr. Samuel Richardson, who was co-pastor of the first Calvinistic Baptist Church in England, published a book under the title Fifty Questions propounded to the Assembly of Divines. This was afterwards issued under the title of
"The Necessity of Toleration in Matters of Religion."
Like many of the books published in those days, a whole table of its contents appears in the title page of this very rare tract. As a curiosity of its kind, we transcribe the whole: "The Necessity of Toleration in all Matters of Religion; or, certain questions propounded to the Synod, tending to prove that Corporeal Punishment ought not to be inflicted upon such as hold Errors in Religion, and that in matters of Religion, men ought not to be compelled, but have liberty and freedom. Here is also copy of the Edict of the Emperors Constantinus and Licinius, and containing the Reasons that enforced them to grant unto all men liberty to choose and follow what Religion they thought best. Also, here is the faith of the Assembly of Divines, as it was taken out of the exactest copy of their practice, with the Nonconformists' Answer why they cannot receive and submit to the said faith."
After offering five reasons in favour of the proposition,--"that religion ought to be free,"--Mr. Richardson submits no less than seventy questions to the Synod. The nature of all these questions, as the title-page indicates, tends to prove "that corporeal punishments ought not to be inflicted upon such as hold Errors in Religion." We give a few, as a fair example of the rest:--
"5. Whether it be wisdom and safe to make such sole judges in matters of religion who are not infallible, but as liable to err as others?
"8. If the magistrates may determine what is truth; whether we must not believe and live by the magistrate's faith, and change our religion at their pleasures? And if nothing must be preached, nor printed, nor allowed to pass, unless certain men please and approve, and give their allowance thereto, under their hands, whether such do not, by this practice, tell God that unless He will reveal His truth first to them, they will not suffer it to be published, and so not to be known? . . .
"21. Whether it be not better for us that a patent were granted to monopolise all the corn and cloth, and to have it measured out to us at their price and pleasure--which yet were intolerable--as for men to appoint and measure out unto us, what and how much we shall believe and practise in matters of religion?
"22. Whether there be not the same reason that they should be appointed by us, what they shall believe and practise in religion, as for them to do so for us; seeing that we can give as good grounds for what we believe and practise, as they can do for what they would have, if not better?
"29. Whether it be not vain for us to have Bibles in English, if, contrary to our understanding of them, we must believe as the Church believes, whether it be right or wrong?
"36. Whether the Scriptures appoint any other punishment to be inflicted upon heretics, than rejection and excommunication?
"56. Whether it be not a horrible thing that a free division of England may not have so much liberty as is permitted to a Turk in this kingdom; who although he denies Christ, yet he can live quietly amongst us here? And is it not a great ingratitude of this kingdom to deny this liberty to such as are friends, and have been means in their persons and estates, to save this England from destruction and desolation? Oh, England, England! Oh that thou wert wise to know the things that belong to thy prosperity and peace, before it be too late! The hand of God is against thee. How have we slain one another; and who knows but this is come upon us for troubling, undoing, despising, and banishing the people of God into so many wildernesses?
"61. Whether the priest's practice be not contrary to the Apostle's practice? Take one instance: the Apostles dipped, that is, baptized, persons after they believed and confessed their faith; whereas these sprinkle persons before they believe, yea, before they can speak. They (the Apostles) baptized persons in the river; these (the priests) sprinkle water upon their faces. Yet, if you will believe them, they are the successors of Apostles, and follow their steps."
Mr. Richardson, in the next part of his book, contends for the supremacy of Christ in His own Church, and for the excommunication of magistrates themselves, though members of churches, if they deserve it. "Sins of magistrates," says Richardson, "are hateful and condemned. It is a paradox, that a magistrate may be punished by the Church, and yet that they are judges of the Church." True religion demands from the magistrate a three-fold duty: "Approbation, with a tender respect to the truth and the professors of it; personal submission of his soul to the power of Jesus and His government; and protection of them and their estates from violence and injury." Even to a false religion he owes "permission and protection of person and goods." Richardson afterwards answers the objection that "the kings of Judah compelled men to serve the Lord, and kings may now compel, &c., showing that only Jews were compelled, and not strangers; that the Jews even were not to do anything but what they knew and confessed to be their duty, that if Jewish kings did compel, their actions were not moral, and so to be imitated; that they did not imprison schismatics, Pharisees, Herodians, and others; that they were directed by infallible prophets; and that Christ has nowhere set down that magistrates should compel all to His religion. In the latter part of his reply, Richardson asks, with shrewd humour, "Is there no better cure of pain in the head than beating out one's brains?"
Milton declared that "new presbyter was old priest writ large;" and many good men found this out to their cost. "Your argument is authority," says Richardson to Mr. Presbyter; "what you say must be an oracle of all men to be deferred to without opposition. What is contrary to you is heresy, ipso facto, to be punished with faggot and flaming fire;" "such as cannot dance after your pipe, and rule in your way, you judge heretics, and they must appear before your dreadful tribunal, to receive your reproof, which is sharp and terrible, and strikes at our liberties, estates, and lives." "You want still to use the sword." "We had as good be under the Pope as under your Presbyterian check, . . . since you will suffer none to live quietly and comfortably but those of your way."
(Richardson, in his Plain Dealing, &c., speaks a strong word in praise of Cromwell's services to his country and his personal qualities as a man and a governor, calling special attention to his tolerant spirit. The words are the more valuable because they are the testimony of one personally acquainted with Cromwell, and an eye witness of the facts he relates. "His Highness," says Richardson, speaking of the Lord Protector, "aimeth at the general good of the nation, and the just liberty of every man. He is also a godly man, and one that feareth God and escheweth evil; though he is not, nor no man else, without human frailty. He is faithful to the saints, and to these nations, in whatsoever he hath undertaken from the beginning of the wars. He hath owned the poor despised people of God, and advanced many of them to a better way and means of living. He hath been an advocate for the Christians, and hath done them much good in writing, speaking, pleading for their liberty in the Long Parliament, and fighting for their liberty. He, with others, hath hazarded his life, estate, family; and since he hath refused great offers of wealth and worldly glory for the sake and welfare of the people of God. God hath given him more than ordinary wisdom, strength, courage, and valour. God hath been always with him, and gives him great successes. He is fitted to bear burden, and to endure all opposition and contradictions that may stand with public safety. He is a terror to his enemies; he hath a large heart, spirit, and principle, that will hold all that fear the Lord, though of different opinions and practices in religion, and seek their welfare. It is the honour of princes to pity the miserable, to relieve the oppressed, and the wrongs of the poor; he is humble, and despiseth not any because poor; and is ready to hear and help them. He is a merciful man, full of pity and bounty to the poor. A liberal heart is more precious than heaven or earth. He gives in money to maimed soldiers, widows, and orphans, and poor families, a thousand pounds a week to supply their wants: he is not a lover of money, which is a singular and extraordinary thing. He will give, and not hoard up money, as some do. I am persuaded there is not a better friend to these nations and people of God among men, and that there is not any man so unjustly abused and censured as he is. And some that now find fault with him, may live to see and confess that what I have herein written is truth; and when he is gathered to his fathers, shall weep for the want of him.")
It would be easy to show that Baptists have persistently advocated the fullest liberty of conscience from the days of James the First to the days of William the Third; but enough has been given to justify the Baptist claim to an early, a clear, and an emphatic advocacy by their forefathers of religious freedom.