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and reverend father of our Church,” who was universally beloved and who suggested a scheme for a “moderated episcopacy,” that attracted even the attention of Cromwell, and, but for the heated passions of the hour, might have formed a workable basis for ecclesiastical union.
There were the divines of Oxford who in February, 1644, brought forward the proposals of the so called “Treaty of Uxbridge,” in which Charles and the Parliament sought to find a ground of accommodation, and the first article of which was, “That freedom be left to all persons, of what opinions soever, in matters of ceremony, and that all the penalties of the laws and customs which enjoin those ceremonies be suspended.”
It is said indeed that Charles was not sincere, that he did not intend to carry out these proposals. They at least were formulated in good faith by his theological counsellors; they anticipated the proposals made to him by the Army in 1647, and the Toleration Act of 1689, and the Oxford clergy who made them were the first persons, who, acting as a public body, made proposals tending to liberty of religious opinion and practice; but the Presbyterians were in no mood to listen to such propositions. Among these clergymen-long a devoted follower and counsellor of the king-was the gifted Henry Hammond, a profound scholar and a saintly man, whose “Practical Catechism" and sermons, though he was a strong Churchman, breathe a most tolerant spirit, and show that he understood the principles and was ready for measures of comprehension.
There was Richard Baxter who, though at this time Churchman as he was, could not accept the extreme view of either party; critic both of the King and of Parliament, yet by his breadth and tact and evangelical zeal he contrived to unite all the ministers of Kidderminster in practical serviceableness and charity through all those troublous times. There was the witty Bishop Hall of
Norwich who long kept his place by his mingled piety and independence, and who though no Puritan told Laud that rather than be subject to "the slanderous tongues of his informers, he would throw up his rochet.”
There was the rollicking, whimsical, yet able, and keen-sighted Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), historian of the English Church, the most popular writer of his times, who, neither follower of Laud nor anything of a Puritan yet had appreciative words for the Separatists while yet loyal to the King.
There was the true Churchman, but leader of the latitudinarian School of English Divines, Benjamin Whichcote, famous as preacher and Platonist, graduate of Emmanuel, the Puritan College of Cambridge, who distinctly favored the Puritan party during the Civil War.
There was the saintly George Herbert, twenty years older than Taylor, keeping faith and hope and charity in his little church at Bemerton till his death, ten years before the Civil War, and writing his quaint poem on “Divinitie” whose breadth anticipates Taylor's book; and again in his poem on the Militant Church describing the evils of the time he says:
“Religion stands on tip toe in our land
Ready to pass to the American strand,"
as though he had sympathy for the Puritans.
And there was the brilliant Lucius Cary, Lord Falkland, who had not the firmness to act up to his lights, but who gathered about him at Great Tew near Oxford a congenial company of thoughtful liberty lovers, among whom were Hales and Chillingworth.
Of course such men as these do not represent the main trend of opinion in the Established Church before or during the Civil War, but they show that Taylor had many forerunners and followers among genuine Churchmen, to say nothing of Dissenters; that the substance of his
book was foreshadowed by many Episcopal thinkers; and that he must have had many sympathizers in Episcopal ranks.
The Non-conforming individuals and bodies certainly deserve great credit which has generally been acknowledged as the earlier and more pronounced advocates of religious liberty in England. Their record in this respect is open. But it is important to remember that with the exception of a few individuals, their aim was to change the whole ecclesiastical policy of the state, and when it was changed, to govern it with as intolerant a hand as their predecessors. It is also important to bear in mind that the Established Church was by no means all blind, or reactionary during this significant period, but that no small part of its culture, its learning, its wisdom and its piety was actively enlisted on the side of liberty of conscience and of opinion.
Of course the enormous obstacle which hindered all parties in the struggle towards the freedom which when in the minority, each in turn longed for, was the entire identification of Church and State. Religion was politics and politics was religion. This was as true under the Parliament as it was under the King; as true of Presbyterianism as of Episcopacy. The control of the government was the aim, desired or dreaded which lay back, consciously or unconsciously, of almost every attempt to express or suppress religious opinion. It cannot be said that freedom was the direct object of any party. It was rather the incidental result of the quarrels of all parties. The fear of the establishment of popery by intrigue, constantly hung over the nation. Whichever party was in control-whether Charles or Cromwell, Laud or the Parliament, the Commonwealth or the Army-could for the time see little or nothing good in its opponents, and for the most part, when in power denied to others the very toleration for which, when it was oppressed, it had pleaded in vain.
Thus slowly as the authority, in that time of violent transition, went revolving round from King and Bishop, to Commonwealth and Protector, from the Presbyterianism of Parliament to the Independency of the Army, till it completed the circle and at the Restoration, came back to King and Bishop again, each party in turn experienced the dangerous responsibility of power and the misery and limitations of oppression, until the inconsistency and folly of attempting to coerce religious opinion and prescribe religious worship by a criminal code, gradually dawned on all hands, and liberty of conscience began to be realized as the only possible remedy for abuses, toleration the only possible foundation for a Christian state and civilization.
Of course it is the persecuted and not the persecutorsthe under, and not the upper dog in the fight-who see the beauty of toleration and discover the most potent arguments in its behalf. Hence it is generally among the Protestants; among the individuals and sects, who felt the impulse of the new learning and, beginning to exercise their newly found individualism and liberty, broke away from the established order and in consequence suffered for it—it is among these that we find the earliest and most pronounced advocates of freedom of religious opinion and action. They had little to lose. For the moment they did not have the responsibility of civil and ecclesiastical order, and the anxieties that always arise in connection with the practical solution of difficulties created by reformers.
Mr. Worley in his life of Taylor, properly remarks that the Liberty of Prophesying "would have been more valuable if it had been produced when the church was a persecutor instead of when she was persecuted”: and it may be suggested that under such circumstances probably Taylor would never have written it, inasmuch as when the Church came into power at the Restoration, he apparently found
it inconvenient to practise the theories which he had advocated in its weakness.
Bishop Brooks in his little book on Tolerance somewhat too severely speaks of "the tolerance of Jeremy Taylor writing the Liberty of Prophesying when the Parliament were masters in the Land” as “the tolerance of helplessness; the acquiesence in the utterance of error because we cannot help ourselves; the tolerance of persecuted minorities." (Page 20.) “The book is the book of an ecclesiastic. It deals with the impossibility of compulsion as if, if it were possible, compulsion would not be so bad a thing." (Page 42.)
This is hardly fair. Taylor points out as clearly as anyone can that, in the nature of things, “it is unnatural and unreasonable to persecute disagreeing opinions. Unnatural: for understanding being a thing wholly spiritual cannot be restrained, and therefore neither punished by corporal afflictions.... You may as well cure the colic by brushing a man's clothes, or fill a man's belly with a syllogism." Yet we shall all agree with Bishop Brooks, when with great discernment, he remarks that “the Liberty of Prophesying had a place which neither of the other books (Williams and Milton), could have filled in English life and literature and religion.”
So we leave the great Bishop of Connor and Down and his noble book, with the commendation, two centuries and a quarter later, of his scarcely less distinguished brother, the Bishop of Massachusetts.