Flying High since 1998.

Rule of Religion

by Will Durant

On July 1, 1643, the Westminster Assembly of English divines, thirty English laymen, and (later) eight Scottish delegates met to define the new Presbyterian Protestantism of England. Hampered by Parliamentary domination, it dragged out its conferences through six years.

A few members, favoring episcopacy, withdrew; a small group of Puritan Independents demanded that each congregation should be free from presbyteries as well as from bishops; the majority, following the pledge and the will of Parliament, favored the rule of religion in England and Ireland, as in Scotland, by presbyters, presbyteries, provincial synods, and general assemblies.

Parliament abolished the Anglican episcopacy (1643), adopted and legislated the Presbyterian organization and creed (1646), but gave itself a veto power over all ecclesiastical decisions.

In 1647 the Assembly issued the Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, and Smaller Catechism, reaffirming the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, election, and reprobation. The decisions of the Westminster Assembly were set aside by the restoration of the Stuart dynasty and the Anglican Church, but the confession and the catechisms have remained in theoretical force in the Presbyterian churches of the English-speaking world.

Excerpts from the Westminster Confession: "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death... Those of mankind that are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them . . . and all to the praise of His glorious grace . . .

The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice."

The Assembly and the Parliament agreed in rejecting the plea of the minor sects for religious toleration. The incorporated city of London petitioned Parliament to suppress all heresies. In 1648 the Commons passed bills punishing with life imprisonment the opponents of infant baptism, and with death those who denied the Trinity, or the Incarnation, or the divine inspiration of the Bible, or the immortality of the soul.

Several Jesuits were executed between 1642 and 1650; and on January 10, 1645, Archbishop Laud, aged seventy-two, was led from the Tower to the block. Parliament felt that it was engaged in a war to the death and that it was no time for amenities. Cromwell, however, stood out for some measure of toleration. In 1643 he organized at Cambridge a regiment, which came to be called the Ironsides, a name originally given by Prince Rupert to Cromwell himself.

Into this company he welcomed men of any faith, except Catholics and Episcopalians, "who had the fear of God before them and made some conscience of what they did."

When a Presbyterian officer wished to cashier a lieutenant colonel as an Anabaptist, Cromwell protested, "Sir, the state, in choosing men to serve it, takes no notice of their opinions; if they be willing to serve it faithfully, that suffices." He asked Parliament to "endeavor the finding out some way how far tender consciences, who cannot in all things submit to the common [ecclesiastical] rule...may be borne with according to the Word."

Parliament ignored the request, but he continued to practice a comparative toleration in his regiments, and during his ascendancy in England. Cromwell's development as a general was one of the surprises of the war.

From Age of Reason Begins by Will Durant P. 214-15

Also see Origins of English Rationalism.

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