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PERSECUTION AND FLIGHT FROM ENGLAND—SETTLEMENT IN HOLLAND (AT AMSTERDAM AND LEYDEN)—CROSSING TO ENGLAND AND VOYAGE TO AMERICA—LANDING AT CAPE COD AND NEW PLYMOUTH
I. Suppression of Religious Liberty in England—First Cause of the Foundation of the New Plymouth Settlement.
First I will unfold the causes that led to the foundation of the New Plymouth Settlement, and the motives of those concerned in it. In order that I may give an accurate account of the project, I must begin at the very root and rise of it; and this I shall endeavour to do in a plain style and with singular regard to the truth,—at least as near as my slender judgment can attain to it.
As is well known, ever since the breaking out of the light of the gospel in England, which was the first country to be thus enlightened after the gross darkness of popery had overspread the Christian world, Satan has maintained various wars against the Saints, from time to time, in different ways,—sometimes by bloody death and cruel torment, at other times by imprisonment, banishment, and other wrongs,—as if loth that his kingdom should be overcome, the truth prevail, and the Church of God revert to their ancient purity, and recover their primitive order, liberty, and beauty. But when he could not stifle by these means the main truths of the gospel, which began to take rooting in many places, watered by the blood of martyrs and blessed from heaven with a gracious increase, he reverted to his ancient stratagems, used of old against the first Christians. For when, in those days, the bloody and barbarous persecutions of the heathen Emperors could not stop and subvert the course of the gospel, which speedily overspread the then best known parts of the world, he began to sow errors, heresies, and discord amongst the clergy themselves, working upon the pride and ambition and other frailties to which all mortals, and even the Saints themselves in some measure, are subject. Woful effects followed; not only were there bitter contentions, heartburnings, and schisms, but Satan took advantage of them to foist in a number of vile ceremonies, with many vain canons and decrees, which have been snares to many poor and peaceable souls to this day.
So, in the early days, Christians suffered as much from internal dissension as from persecution by the heathen and their Emperors, true and orthodox Christians being oppressed by the Arians and their heretical accomplices. Socrates bears witness to this in his second book. His words are these: "Indeed, the violence was no less than that practised of old towards the Christians when they were compelled to sacrifice to idols; for many endured various kinds of torment—often racking and dismemberment of their joints, confiscation of their goods, or banishment from their native soil."
Satan has seemed to follow a like method in these later times, ever since the truth began to spring and spread after the great defection of that man of sin, the Papal Antichrist. Passing by the infinite examples throughout the world as well as in our country, when that old serpent found that he could not prevail by fiery flames and the other cruel torments which he had put in use everywhere in the days of Queen Mary and before, he then went more closely to work, not merely to oppress but to ruin and destroy the kingdom of Christ by more secret and subtle means, and by kindling flames of contention and sowing seeds of strife and bitter enmity amongst the reformed clergy and laity themselves.
Mr. Fox records, that besides those worthy martyrs and confessors who were burned and otherwise tormented in Queen Mary's days, as many as 800 students and others fled out of England, and formed separate congregations at Wesel, Frankfort, Basel, Emden, Marburg, Strasburg, Geneva, etc.
Amongst these bodies of protestant reformers—especially amongst those at Frankfort,—arose a bitter war of contention and persecution about the ceremonies and the service book and other such popish and anti-Christian stuff, the plague of England to this day. Such practises are like the high places in Israel, which the prophets cried out against; and the better part of the reformers sought to root them out and utterly abandon them, according to the purity of the gospel; while the other part, under veiled pretences, sought as stiffly to maintain and defend them, for their own advancement. This appears in the account of these contentions published in 1575—a book that deserves to be better known.
The one party of reformers endeavoured to establish the right worship of God and the discipline of Christ in the Church according to the simplicity of the gospel and without the mixture of men's inventions, and to be ruled by the laws of God's word dispensed by such officers as Pastors, Teachers, Elders, etc., according to the Scriptures.
The other party,—the episcopal,—under many pretences, endeavoured to maintain the episcopal dignity after the popish manner,—with all its courts, canons, and ceremonies; its livings, revenues, subordinate officers, and other means of upholding their anti-Christian greatness, and of enabling them with lordly and tyrannous power to persecute the poor servants of God. The fight was so bitter, that neither the honour of God, the persecution to which both parties were subjected, nor the mediation of Mr. Calvin and other worthies, could prevail with the episcopal party. They proceeded by all means to disturb the peace of this poor persecuted church of dissenters, even so far as to accuse (very unjustly and ungodly, yet prelate-like) some of its chief members with rebellion and high-treason against the Emperor, and other such crimes.
And this contention did not die with Queen Mary, nor was it left beyond the seas. At her death the episcopal party of the Protestants returned to England under gracious Queen Elizabeth, many of them being preferred to bishoprics and other promotions, according to their aims and desires, with the result that their inveterate hatred towards the holy discipline of Christ in his church, represented by the dissenting part, has continued to this day; furthermore, for fear it should ultimately prevail, all kinds of devices were used to keep it out, incensing the Queen and State against it as a danger to the commonwealth; arguing that it was most needful that the fundamental points of religion should be preached in these ignorant and superstitious times, and that in order to win the weak and ignorant it was necessary to retain various harmless ceremonies; and that though reforms were desirable, this was not the time for them. Many such excuses were put forward to silence the more godly, and to induce them to yield to one ceremony after another, and one corruption after another. By these wiles some were beguiled and others corrupted, till at length they began to persecute all the zealous reformers in the land, unless they would submit to their ceremonies and become slaves to them and their popish trash, which has no ground in the word of God, but is a relic of that man of sin. And the more the light of the gospel grew, the more they urged subjection to these corruptions,—so that, notwithstanding all their former pretences, those whose eyes God had not justly blinded easily saw their purpose. In order the more to cast contempt upon the sincere servants of God, they opprobriously gave them the name of "Puritans," which it is said the novations assumed out of pride. It is lamentable to see the effects which have followed. Religion has been disgraced, the godly grieved, afflicted, persecuted, and many exiled, while others have lost their lives in prisons and other ways; on the other hand, sin has been countenanced, ignorance, profanity, and atheism have increased, and the papists have been encouraged to hope again for a day.
This made that holy man, Mr. Perkins, cry out in his exhortation to repentance, upon Zeph. ii. "Religion," said he, "has been amongst us these thirty-five years; but the more it is disseminated, the more it is condemned by many. Thus, not profanity or wickedness, but Religion itself is a byword, a mocking stock, and a matter of reproach; so that in England at this day the man or woman who begins to profess religion and to serve God, must resolve within himself to sustain mocks and injuries as though he lived among the enemies of religion." Common experience has confirmed this and made it only too apparent.
But to come to the subject of this narrative. When by the zeal of some godly preachers, and God's blessing on their labours, many in the North of England and other parts become enlightened by the word of God and had their ignorance and sins discovered to them, and began by His grace to reform their lives and pay heed to their ways, the work of God was no sooner manifest in them than they were scorned by the profane multitude, and their ministers were compelled to subscribe or be silent, and the poor people were persecuted with apparators and pursuants and the commissary courts. Nevertheless, they bore it all for several years in patience, until by the increase of their troubles they began to see further into things by the light of the word of God. They realized not only that these base ceremonies were unlawful, but also that the tyrannous power of the prelates ought not to be submitted to, since it was contrary to the freedom of the gospel and would burden men's consciences and thus profane the worship of God.
On this subject a famous author thus writes in his Dutch commentaries: "At the coming of King James into England, the new King found established there the reformed religion of Edward VI., but retaining the spiritual office of the bishops,—differing in this from the reformed churches in Scotland, France, the Netherlands, Emden, Geneva, etc., whose reformation is shaped much nearer to the first Christian churches of the Apostles' times."
Those reformers who saw the evil of these things, and whose hearts the Lord had touched with heavenly zeal for his truth, shook off this yoke of anti-Christian bondage and as the Lord's free people joined themselves together by covenant as a church, in the fellowship of the gospel to walk in all His ways, made known, or to be made known to them, according to their best endeavours, whatever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them. And that it cost them something, the ensuing history will declare.
These people became two distinct bodies or churches and congregated separately; for they came from various towns and villages about the borders of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire. One of these churches was led by Mr. John Smith, a man of able gifts, and a good preacher, who was afterwards made pastor; but later, falling into some errors in the Low Countries, most of its adherents buried themselves,—and their names! To the other church, which is the subject of this discourse, belonged besides other worthy men, Mr. Richard Clifton, a grave and reverend preacher, who by his pains and diligence had done much good, and under God had been the means of the conversion of many; also that famous and worthy man, Mr. John Robinson, who was afterwards their pastor for many years, till the Lord took him away; also Mr. William Brewster, a reverend man, who was afterwards chosen an Elder of the church, and lived with them till old age. But after the events referred to above, they were not long permitted to remain in peace. They were hunted and persecuted on every side, until their former afflictions were but as fleabitings in comparison. Some were clapped into prison; others had their houses watched night and day, and escaped with difficulty; and most were obliged to fly, and leave their homes and means of livelihood. Yet these and many other even severer trials which afterwards befell them, being only what they expected, they were able to bear by the assistance of God's grace and spirit. However, being thus molested, and seeing that there was no hope of their remaining there, they resolved by consent to go into the Low Countries, where they heard there was freedom of religion for all; and it was said that many from London and other parts of the country, who had been exiled and persecuted for the same cause, had gone to live at Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands. So after about a year, having kept their meeting for the worship of God every Sabbath in one place or another, notwithstanding the diligence and malice of their adversaries, seeing that they could no longer continue under such circumstances, they resolved to get over to Holland as soon as they could—which was in the years 1607 and 1608. But of this, more will be told in the next chapter.
II. Flight to Holland (Amsterdam and Leyden): 1607–1608.
For these reformers to be thus constrained to leave their native soil, their lands and livings, and all their friends, was a great sacrifice, and was wondered at by many. But to go into a country unknown to them, where they must learn a new language, and get their livings they knew not how, seemed an almost desperate adventure, and a misery worse than death. Further, they were unacquainted with trade, which was the chief industry of their adopted country, having been used only to a plain country life and the innocent pursuit of farming. But these things did not dismay them, though they sometimes troubled them; for their desires were set on the ways of God, to enjoy His ordinances; they rested on His providence, and knew Whom they had believed.
But this was not all; for though it was made intolerable for them to stay, they were not allowed to go; the ports were shut against them, so that they had to seek secret means of conveyance, to bribe the captains of ships, and give extraordinary rates for their passages. Often they were betrayed, their goods intercepted, and thereby were put to great trouble and expense. I will give an instance or two of these experiences.
A large number of them had decided to take passage from Boston in Lincolnshire, and for that purpose had hired a ship wholly to themselves, and made agreement with the captain to be ready at a convenient place on a certain day to take them and their belongings. After long waiting and great expense—he had not kept day with them—he came at last and took them aboard at night. But when he had secured them and their goods he betrayed them, having arranged beforehand with the searchers and other officers to do so. They then put them in open boats, and there rifled and ransacked them, searching them to their shirts for money,—and even the women, further than became modesty,—and took them back to the town and made a spectacle of them to the multitude that came flocking on all sides to see them. Being thus rifled and stripped of their money, books, and other property, they were brought before the magistrates, and messengers were sent to inform the Lords of the Council about them. The magistrates treated them courteously, and showed them what favour they could; but dare not free them until order came from the council-table. The result was, however, that after a month's imprisonment, the majority were dismissed, and sent back to the places whence they came; but seven of the leaders were kept in prison, and bound over to the Assizes.
Excerpted from Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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