Prayer Book & Persecution II   Leave a comment

 

When John Bunyan had been brought before the judge in 1660 he had been told that if he did not stop preaching he would be hung. He replied, ‘If I were out of prison today, I would preach again tomorrow, by the help of God’. He remained in prison for twelve years, during which time he wrote many books, including The Pigrim’s Progress, once to be found in almost every home in England. He had friends, even among the judiciary, like Sir Matthew Hale, who tried to get him out of prison and who also helped Richard Baxter, when he, too, found himself in prison after 1672.

The picture below shows Bunyan in the stained glass window which was installed in Bedford Free Church for the 300th anniversary of The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1978.

This was made into commemorative postcards, one of which found its way to Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s  special envoy, who was held captive by ‘Hizbollah’ in the Lebanon in the 1980’s. It was sent by Joy Brodier, with the simple hand-written message ‘We remember, we shall not forget. We shall continue to pray for you and to work for all people who are detained around the world’.  When he was eventually freed, Terry Waite brought the postcard home with him and  showed it to the world’s press as Joy watched the scenes at the airport on television. She said,

“Like everyone else I was glued to the television, celebrating his release. Then he mentioned the card. I could hardly believe it. I knew we couldn’t put anything too explicit. We addressed it to the Party of God just to be flattering and hoped that it would get through.”

Terry Waite said that the message boosted his hopes more than anything else during the darkest days of his captivity, despite his envy of Bunyan’s apperently better conditions.

When he was in prison, Baxter wrote the following poem:

Must I be driven from my book

From house and goods and dearest friends?

My Lord hath taught me how to want

A place wherein to put my head.

No walls or bars can keep Thee out

None can confine a holy soul,

The streets of heaven it walks about

None can its liberty control.

In the period of  Bunyan and Baxter prisons were very crowded and unhealthy. In winter they were bitterly cold and damp, and in summer they were full of flies and rats, spreading disease. Baxter became ill and may have died had his friends not managed to get him released before his sentence was over. However, after his release, he could not return to his house in Acton, but had to spend the winter in lodgings near Barnet. He could not preach, but continued to write to help men settle their quarrels. He received letters from many ministers who had also lost their homes because of the Act of Uniformity. One wrote that his wife and children had lived ever since his ejectment on black rye-bread and water, and another that he had to spin all day and night to make a living.

James, Duke of York, Charles II’s brother and heir, was Roman Catholic and Charles was also secretly a Catholic. He wished to protect the Catholics. Left to himself, he would probably have allowed both Catholics and Non-conformists to worship in freedom, but Parliament wanted to uphold the Act of Uniformity. However, many magistrates understood the King’s sympathies and allowed preaching in private homes. In 1672 the King went further in issuing a ‘Declaration of Indulgence‘ which granted licenses for preaching to some non-conformist preachers, Baxter among them. He came back to London and settled in Bloomsbury, but Parliament soon forced Charles to put an end to the Declaration, and it wasn’t long before Baxter found himself in danger of being imprisoned once more. Despite feeling too ill to travel, three friends persuaded him to leave London for Hertfordshire, and he therefore avoided six months in a common prison, which probably would have killed him.

While at Rickmansworth he met the famous Quaker, William Penn, who later founded the American colony of Pennsylvania, based on principles of religious toleration. He and Baxter held a meeting in which they discussed and disputed in front of an audience, from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon, without a break. Penn, like other Quakers, such as James Nayler, had won fame as a soldier and had become a favourite at Court, but had long-since left the Army to uphold the Peace Testimony of the ‘Society of Friends‘, as they called themselves. Baxter and Penn respected each other, though they disagreed on many points, since they were both courageous men in constant danger of persecution. Here is a description of the persecution of the Quakers by Bishop Barnet, who wrote a history of his own times:

‘When they were seized, none of them would get out of the way. They all went together to prison; they stayed there till they were all dismissed, for they would not petition to be set at liberty, nor would they pay their fines…and as soon as they were let out, they went to their meeting-houses again; and when they found these were shut up by order, they would, they held their meetings in the streets, before the doors of those houses. They said they would not be ashamed of their meeting…but would do it the more publicly, because they were forbidden to do it.’

As a result, the authorities simply didn’t know what to do with the Quakers, who showed so little fear and so much firmness. They crammed them into prison, but they still held their meetings there. They told their jailers that ‘they might as well stop the sun from shining, or the tide from flowing whilst two of them were left together’.  The children showed the same courage as their parents. At Bristol, Reading and Cambridge, when all the men and women were in prison, the children continued the meetings. A letter to George Fox, dated November 15th, 1664, says that ‘our little children  kept up the meeting when we were all in prison‘, so that ‘the wicked justice, when he came and found them there, beat them with a staff he had with a spear in it’. In Bristol, the children were also savagely beaten, but ‘bore it patiently and cheerfully’ and ‘were unmoveable’.

After his disputation with William Penn, Baxter felt strengthened to return to London to preach to the many thousands who, after the Ejectment and the Fire, were still without churches and ministers. He decided to sell all his remaining possessions, including his books, so that he would have nothing for the authorities to seize. Losing his books was a great sacrifice, but he was determined to have some peace in order to continue preaching. Then, in 1678, national events took another turn for the worse…

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