A New Act Brings Mass Resignations
Suppose . . . just suppose now . . . that you as a minister, or your minister, had a certain time period to decide to renounce the ordination vows made at ordination, subscribe to a different set of doctrinal standards, promise to arrange the worship according to a different standard of worship, agree to be re-ordained by another ecclesiastical body, and do all this by a certain day, or be deposed by the spiritual authorities which had the approval of the government. Talk about change! And yet this was the way it was on this day in Presbyterian history, August 24, 1662 in the British Isles.
It was called officially The Act of Uniformity, 1662. Its longer title was “An Act for the Uniformity of Public Prayers and Administration of Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies and for the Establishing the Form of making, ordaining, and consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in the Church of England.” It was broken up into five actions; (1) to have a complete and unqualified assent to the newly published book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. (In passing, most preachers and people had not even seen this newly published book.) (2) to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine articles of the Church of England; (3) to renounce the Solemn League and Covenant; (4) To renounce any attempt to alter the government of the church or state; (5) to receive ordination at the hands of a bishop in the Church of England.
Combined with other acts of this Church, it excluded anyone who was not in compliance with the above from holding civil or military office. Students at Cambridge or Oxford would not receive any degrees from such study, if they refused this act.
And all this was to take place before August 24, which date was the celebration of St. Bartholomew Day. Students of church history remember, as they did then, that this was the day of the massacre in France when Huguenots were slaughtered by the Roman Catholics. So, this was a day remembered “Black” St. Bartholomew”s Day.
It is estimated that some 2000 ministers were ejected from their pulpits and parishes, including their manses, with Anglican priests put in their place. The majority were Presbyterian (1,816), Independents (194), and Baptists (19). A similar procedure was enacted in Scotland, with 400 ministers ejected from the pulpits and parishes. In future posts, we shall treat some of these ministers who were ejected on that day.
Words to Live By:
Two years ago, in 2012, there was a ministry event of reconciliation by the Church of England at the 350th anniversary of the Great Ejection. We might be glad that such a meeting took place, but the real issue was, as Ian Murray put it, the issue on the nature of true Christianity. Let’s face it. True adherence to the gospel will require sacrifice. That is why all of us as believing Presbyterians need to be more in prayer and watchfulness for our respective Presbyterian denominations and local churches. What has been faithful and true in the past may not be the case for the present and future witness of your church, if church officers and members grow careless about the faith once delivered unto the saints. As Paul put it, “the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
Two volumes, Sermons of The Great Ejection (Banner of Truth, 1962) and Farewell Sermons (Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), provide some of the gathered sermons preached by these pastors when torn from their congregations by the Act of Uniformity. The following words are a portion of the sermon brought by the Rev. John Whitlock on that fateful day. (time and space do not permit the full text)
REMEMBER, HOLD FAST, AND REPENT.
Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.—Rev. 3:3.
Beloved, when I entered on this verse in the course of my Friday Lecture, I little thought that I had so short a time to preach among you. I hoped I should have enjoyed some further opportunities for some few weeks, at least as long as the Act of Uniformity allows. But it has pleased God by His wise and holy providence to order it otherwise. I being suspended from preaching here from this day forward, for nonconformity. How far rightly or legally on man’s part, I shall not dispute, but leave to the righteous God to determine. I desire that both you and I may not eye man, but God, in this dispensation. I did not think to have preached my Farewell Sermon to you from these words, but having begun this text, and finding the matter of it so seasonable and suitable to this sad occasion, I shall by God’s assistance proceed in the handling of it.
Since it is probable that I shall preach no more to you, I judge it very seasonable to leave the exhortation in the text with you, to call upon you to remember what and how you have received and heard, and to hold fast those wholesome truths you have heard, and those precious ordinances (at least the remembrance, impressions, and gracious effects of them) that you have enjoyed and been privileged with. Also, to repent of those sins, which have provoked, and may further provoke God to come on us as a thief, to take away many of His ministers from among us. . .
. . . The silence of ministers calls aloud on us all to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. It bids us to repent of our sins, the causes of God’s judgments. It calls on you to prize and improve ministers and ordinances, better, if God shall continue, restore or further afford them to you. Yes, ministers’ silence should cause people to speak the more and louder to God in prayer for the continuance and restoring of ministers and ordinances to them. When you do not hear so much and so often from God in preaching, let God hear the more and oftener from you in prayer. Ply the throne of grace. Give God no rest till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. And as our silence should make you speak the more to God, so also the more and oftener one unto another in holy conference, to provoke to love and to good works. And I beseech you, brethren, pray for us. Whatever God may do with us, or whithersoever we may be driven, we shall carry you in our hearts; and when and while we remember ourselves to God, we shall never forget you, but present you and your souls’ concerns daily unto God at the throne of grace in our prayers. And we earnestly beg this of you, as you would remember what we have spoken to you in the name of the Lord, so you would remember us to God, and let us have a room and share in your hearts and prayers. When you get into a corner to pour out your hearts before God, carry us to God upon your hearts. Do not forget us, but lift up a prayer to God for us, your (we hope we may say) faithful, though weak, unworthy ministers, who have laboured among you in the Word and doctrine.
I shall say no more, but conclude with these two Scriptures: ‘And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified,’ Acts 20.32. The other Scripture is that request of Paul to, and prayer for, the Hebrews in Chapter 13.18-21: ‘Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’