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whom complaint was made to the council. These (i. e. these free-willers) were the first that made separation from the church of England; having gathered congregations of their own (a);" viz. one in London, one at Feversham in Kent, and another at Bocking in Essex. Besides which, they used to hold some petty bye meetings, when a few of them could assemble with secresy and safety.
Before we proceed, let me interpose a short remark. So far is the church of England from asserting the spiritual powers of free-will, and from denying predestination, that the deniers of predestination, and the asserters of free-will, were the very first persons who separated from her communion, and made a rent in her garment, by “gathering" three schismatical congregations of their own. Thus, the free-willers were the original, and are to this day some of the most real and essential, dissenters from our evangelical establishment.
I now return to the historian, who thus goes on: “ The congregation in Essex was mentioned to be at Bocking; that in Kent was at Feversham, as I learn from an old register. From whence (i. e. from which same old register) I collect, that they held the opinions (so far as free-will and predestination are concerned) of the Anabaptists and Pelagians (6)."
These free-willers were, it seems, looked upon in so dangerous a view by the church of England, that they were complained of to the privy council, and, for the more peaceful security of the reformed establishment, their names and tenets were authentically registered and enrolled.
Mr. Strype, after giving us the names of fifteen of them, adds as follows: " Their teachers and divers of them were taken up, and found sureties for their
(a) Strype's Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. ii. b. i. ch. 29. p. 236. (1) Ibid.
is taken up,
appearance; and at length brought into the eccle . siastical court, where they were examined in fortysix articles, or more (c).” Were (which God forbid) all free-will-men to suffer equal molestation in the present age; were all Anti-predestinarians to be
registered,” “find sureties for their appearance, and at length be “examined in the ecclesiastical court;" what work would it make for constables, stationers, notaries, and bishops' officers !
But to resume the thread. Many of those, before named, being deposed (i. e. put to their oath) upon the said articles, confessed these to be some sayings and tenets among them:
“ That the doctrine of predestination was meeter for devils than for Christian men.
“ That children were not born in original sin.
“ That no man was so chosen, but he might damn himself; neither any man so reprobate, but he might keep God's commandments, and be saved.
“ That St. Paul might have damned himself if he listed.
“ That learned men were the cause of great errors.
“ That God's predestination was not certain, but upon condition.
“ That to play at any manner of game for money is sin, and a work of the flesh.
“ That lust after evil was not sin, if the act were not committed.
That there were no reprobates. And,
“ That the preaching of predestination is a damnable thing (d).
So much for these free-willers, who were the first separatists from the church of England; and whose tenets Mr. Strype (though not a Calvinist himself) justly allows to be Anabaptistical and Pelagian. How exactly do the doctrines of Wesley and Sellon, on the points of election, reprobation, and
(d) Strype, u. s. p. 236, 237.
free-agency, chime in with the hot and muddy ideas of their pelagian forefathers! I cannot help indulging a very suitable speculation. What a delicious pastor would Mr. Sellon in particular have made, to the free-willers of Bocking, or Feversham, had the æra of his nativity commenced about 200 years sooner! He would have fed them, not, indeed, with knowledge and understanding, but, after their own hearts. His lack of learning, his being “an exotic without academical education,” would have been no impediment to that piece of promotion : nay, the flock would have liked him the better for it; seeing, in their estimation, “learned men are the cause of great errors." The spirit of which maxim, aided by his blasphemies against predestination, would have made him (next to free-will itself) the very idol of the sect.
O tibi præteritos referat si Jupiter annos ! Instead of being, as now, Mr. John Wesley's pack-horse, you might have sat up for yourself; and, as a reward for your meritorious denial of election, been elected Tub Orator to the pelagians of Feversham, or Bocking.
From such samples, as history has recorded, of the vigour (not to say the rigour), with which free-will men were proceeded against, in the days of Edward VI. under whom the reformation of the church was accomplished, it necessarily and unanswerably follows, that the church herself was reformed from popery to Calvinism, and held those predestinarian doctrines, which she punished (or, more properly, persecuted) the pelagians for denying.
The persons who bore the main sway in church and state at the time last referred to, were the king, the duke of Somerset, and archbishop Cranmer. Over and above the matters of fact, in which that illustrious triumvirate were concerned, and which
neither would nor could have been directed into such a channel, had not those personages been doctrinal Calvinists; there are also incontestible written evidences, to prove that they were, conscientiously and upon inward principle, firm believers of the Calvinistic doctrines. This shall be proved of Cranmer, in its proper place, when I come to treat of the Reformers. The same will sufficiently appear, as to Somerset, under the section which is to treat of the influence which Calvin had on the English Reformation. The epistolary intimacy, which subsisted between Calvin and Somerset; the high veneration in which that foreign reformer was held by the latter; and the readiness with which the first liturgy was altered, in consequence of the same reformer's application ; plainly demonstrate, that the duke of Somerset, no less than his royal nephew king Edward, and good archbishop Cranmer, had (happily for the church) heartily adopted Calvin's doctrine, though (no less happily) pot proselyted to Calvin's favourite form of ecclesiastical regimen. To these considerations let me add another, drawn from that most excellent prayer, written by himself, upon his being declared protector of the realm, and governor of the king's person during his majesty's minority. It is entitled, “ The Lord Protector's Prayer for God's Assistance in the high Office of Protector and Governor, new committed to him (e).” A man of the duke's extraordinary piety can never be thought to trifle with God, and to prevaricate on his knees. The prayer itself, therefore, proves him to have been a Calvinist. Part of it runs thus: “Lord God of hosts, in whose only hand is life and death, victory and confusion, rule and subjection; I am the price of thy Son's death ; for thy Son's sake thou wilt not lese (i. e. Jose) me. I am a vessel for thy mercy; thy justice
(e) See Strype's Repository of Originals, annexed to the second vol. of Eccles. Memor. p. 18.
will not condemn me. I am recorded in the book of life; I am written with the very blood of Jesus; thy inestimable love will not then cancel my name : for this cause, Lord God, I am bold to speak to thy Majesty: thou, Lord, by thy providence, hast called me to rule; make me therefore able to follow thy calling: thou, Lord, by thine order, bast committed an anointed king to my governance; direct me therefore with thine hand, that I err not from thy good pleasure: finish in me, Lord, thy beginning, and begin in me that thou wilt finish.” When this illustrious peer fell, afterwards, a sacrifice to the machinations and state intrigues of Warwick (who, bimself, within a short time, paid dearly for his insidiousness and ambition), Somerset, during his imprisonment in the Tower, and a little before his death, “translated, out of French into English, an epistle wrote to him by John Calvin, (on the subject) of Godly Conversation, which he received while under his continement, and was printed at London (f)."
As to the Calvinism of king Edward himself, every religious transaction of his reign sets it beyond a doubt. The reformation of the church upon the principles she still professes, might suffice to comprehend all proofs in one: but this excellent prince was not content to establish the church of England; he himself voluntarily and solemnly subscribed her articles. “A book, containing these articles, was signed by the king's own hand (9).” And Edward was too sincere a Christian, to sign what he did not believe; a species of prevarication reserved for the more accomplished iniquity of after-times; and which bids fair to end in the utter extirpation of all religion from amongst us.
Neither would king Edward have honoured what is commonly called Ponet's catechism (of which,
(f) Collins' Peerage, vol. i. p. 160. Edit. 1768. (9) Strype's Eccles. Memor. vol. ii. p. 368.