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I appointed as a day of thankfulness, though God took away Mr. Whitaker's wife while he was a prisoner. Blessed, blessed be God, who hath not only set us at liberty, but given us the liberty of ordinances without threats or disturbances.” Hence it appears, that the sufferings of those servants of God for conscience sake had not diminished, but rather increased their zeal for the divine glory. The hope of publicly serving the cause of their divine Master was at first very faint ; but he, who is Governor among the nations, was secretly preparing the means for the establishment of religious liberty in this land. Their deliverance from prison was but a short time antecedent to those events which introduced the glorious revolution, and was a presage of that release from open persecution which Dissenters have since enjoyed.
Death of Charles II. and Accession of James II.- Declaration for
Liberty of Worship-Commencement of the Dissenting Interest at Halifax-Erection of the Chapel at Northowram-The Revolution -Mr. Heywood's Annual Covenant-His Sickness - The Congregations at Alverthorp and Pontefract-Instances of Mr. Heywood's Usefulness-His Journey to York—Renewed Covenants Last Visits to Lancashire and York-Invitations to London and Manchester-Reflections on the Year 1698—Visit of Mr. T'imothy Jollie-Sickness of his Wife and Son John-Return of his Baptismal Day-Last Year of Mr. Heywood's Life.
DURING the imprisonment of Mr. Heywood in York, Charles II. died and was succeeded by his brother James. The reign of Charles was a memorable period to the Nonconformists. His character has been differently described by various writers, but the history of his actions shows us what he really was. Bishop Burnett justly remarks: “No part of his character looked meaner or more wicked, than that he, all the while that he professed to be of the church of England and to have zeal and affection for it, was yet secretly reconciled to the church of Rome; thus mocking God, and deceiving the world by so gross a prevarication. His not having the honesty or courage to own this at last, his not showing any sign of remorse for his illspent life, or any tenderness, either for his subjects in general, or for the queen and his servants, and his recommending only his mistresses to his brother's care, would have been a strange conclusion to the life of any other, but was well enough suited to all the parts of his.” James, who was an acknowledged papist, ascended the throne of England, Feb. 6th, 1685. It was universally known that the former sovereign was guided by popish counsels, and every body expected the new monarch would be under the same guidance. Charles had scourged the dissenters with whips, and James, it was supposed, would chastise them with scorpions. He had an appropriate instrument in the merciless Jeffries, who filled the office of Lord Chief Justice. Popery made - rapid progress on the accession of James II, and threatened to overspread the nation. Fears among the members of the established church, as well as the Dissenters, were awakened, and those who a little before had been persecutors of their brethren for conscience sake, now courted the friendship of those whom they had formerly despised. But when the storm appeared to be gathering thick, which threatened the Nonconformists with almost total extinction, they were suddenly surprised with the prospect of religious liberty. The mercenary judges had given it as their opinion, that the laws of England were the king's laws, that it was a branch of his prerogative to dispense with all penal laws at particular times, and that he was the sole judge of those occasions.
The king acquainted his council that he had determined to send forth a declaration for general liberty of conscience to all persons of every persuasion, and that he had given orders to the attorney and solicitor general, not to permit any process to issue in his majesty's name against Dissenters. April 10th, 1687, Mr. Heywood received a copy of the king's declaration, on which he observes : “Many prayers have been put up for the liberty of God's ministers to preach the gospel, and we have been under a long restraint for twenty-four years; though sometimes we have enjoyed a
little more liberty in private than at other times. Our circumstances of late have been very sad, and we expected on the death of Charles II. to be either put to death or banished; but God hath strangely influenced the heart of king James to favour us and proclaim liberty to all prisoners, and to take off the fines imposed for private meetings. A copy has come to my hands, which is as follows:
• The king was pleased this day, March 18th, 1687, in council to declare, he thought fit for divers weighty considerations, that the parliament should be prorogued from the 28th of April to the 22nd of Nov. next; and his Majesty did also acquaint the council, that he had resolved in the mean time to issue out a declaration for general liberty of conscience to all persons of what persuasion soever, which he was moved to by having observed that, though a uniformity in religious worship had been endeavoured to be established within this kingdom, in the successive reigns of four of his Majesty's predecessors, assisted by their respective parliaments, yet it hath altogether proved ineffectual : that the restraint upon the consciences of the Dissenters thereunto had been very prejudicial to this nation, as was sadly experienced by the horrid rebellion in the time of his majesty's royal father: that the laws made against Dissenters, in all the foregoing reigns, and especially in the time of the late king, had rather increased than lessened the number of them : and that nothing can more conduce to the peace and quiet of this kingdom, and the increase of the number as well as of the trade of his subjects, (wherein the greatness of a prince doth more consist than in the extent of his territories,) than an entire liberty of conscience ; it having always been his majesty's opinion, as most suitable to the principles of christianity, that
no man should be persecuted for conscience, which his majesty thinks is not to be forced, and that it can never be the true interest of a king of England to endeavour it. And his majesty was also pleased to direct his attorney and solicitor general, not to permit any process to issue in his majesty's name against any dissenter whatsoever,' &c.
“ This design creates displeasure in many of the church of England, and in some Dissenters, and jealousy in most, who suspect some other design therein. However it may prove, it becomes us thankfully to accept this immunity, to improve opportunities of service, give God the glory of all, and hope and pray that the churches of God may make it conducive towards the propagation of the gospel and the conversion of sinners. Amen. According to this promise, a declaration came forth, April 4th, entitled his Majesty's gracious declaration for liberty of conscience, in which he gives liberty to all his loving subjects to meet and serve God after their own way and manner, in private houses, or places hired or built for that purpose. This came to my hand April 10th, and I perceive all ministers accordingly do preach publicly. Blessed be God. Ebenezer. On that day I preached in my own house, and many flocked thither, among whom was the youngest son of my dear friend J. Priestley, and it pleased God to touch his conscience from what I said on Nahum i. 15. Blessed be God for these first fruits of a hoped-for harvest. Lord, go on and perfect that which thou hast wrought for us.”
The king promised to get this declaration established by law, and appointed commissioners to go into the several counties, and ascertain what money or goods had been levied on the Nonconformists by prosecutions for recusancy, and not paid into the Exchequer. The