With some slight editing, we present today a portion of the text from George P. Hays’s 1892 work, PRESBYTERIANS.
Each in Turn, Briefly Center-stage
By act of Parliament, Presbyterianism was legally established as the state religion of England on this day, June 29, 1647. But before it could be further set up, proceedings in that direction were halted by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. In 1649, King Charles I. was beheaded by the authority of the Rump Parliament, and finally all parliamentary government was destroyed. The tidal wave toward Independency, which rose at the time of Cromwell, began to get ready for its return as the English people saw the Lord Protector’s soldiers dispersing Parliament.
Cromwell was as much opposed to Presbyterianism as he was to Episcopacy. His Latin secretary, the poet John Milton, had quite famously and precisely expressed Cromwell’s sentiments when he said that, “Presbyter was only Priest writ large.” The English nation, however, soon found out that Cromwell, while he was pious and honest, was also a dictator, and had at his back a thoroughly disciplined army. Under him the nation was quiet and orderly and voiceless at home and powerful abroad. The navy swept the seas clear of competitors; and a shake of the head by Cromwell, concerning the persecution of the Waldensians, as expressed in that magnificient poem of his secretary Milton, “Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints,” made even the Duke of Savoy and France’s king Louis XIV. call home from the Alps their relentless bloodhounds, and the Pope to cringe in his palace.
Oliver Cromwell, the absolutist, died in 1658 and he left no viable successor. Social chaos rolled over the kingdom when his son Richard tried to fill his father’s chair. In 1660 General Monk forestalled the movement for a parliamentary contract with royalty by calling Charles II. back to England and by the army putting him on the throne. Charles came, a thorough-going Stuart, without having learned any wisdom from the experience of his father. His return sent the Puritans into retirement and brought the rollicking Cavalliers all to the front. Amusement ran riot over England.
The Episcopal bishops immediately found that their success needed that they should keep still and flatter Charles. The Presbyterians yielded in quiet, in the hope that that the Savoy Conference to adjust religious matters, held in 1661, would secure religious toleration. Instead of that the Act of Uniformity came in 1662, and two thousand non-conformist ministers were forced to leave their pulpits and their worldly support, rather than violate their consciences. In the providence of God, all of this tended to increase emigration out of England and into America.
Words to Live By:
Nothing in the political and social machinations of man ever surprises the Lord of all creation. Jesus Christ remains King of Kings and Lord of lords, sovereign over all the nations of this earth. Great hope was perhaps raised on this day, June 29, 1647, but within a short span of years that hope seemingly came to naught. Then what seemed a great defeat in 1662 was used of God to bring a greater triumph as the Church was established for the next several centuries in a more prosperous and strategic place across the ocean. We may not understand—in fact, in this life we most likely never will understand—but God’s purposes and plan are sure. Surely the Lord God oversees all of human history, and will bring it to His intended conclusion.