Archive for the ‘John Bunyan’ Tag

The first secularists: Puritans, Separatists and Baptists   1 comment

January 2015 Preface:

I first published this blogpost in April 2012, but have decided to re-publish it because of the number of times I have heard ‘secularism’ as a term misused over the last few days, mainly in response to the tragic events in Paris. ‘Experts’ have been called in to talk about ‘lycité’, and have pointed out that although there is a strict separation of state and church in France, the Catholic church still has a special status in terms of state funding, recognition in ceremonial events and the celebration of ‘holidays’ – not just Christmas and Easter, but also ‘Toussaint’ (‘All Saints’ – a two week school holiday) and ‘Shrovetide’ (‘La Jour des chandleurs!), among others. If France were truly a secular country, they have pointed out, equal preference in funding, ceremonial and celebrations would be given to the main protestant church and to Judaism and Islam. Eid would be made a national holiday, along with Pesach and Hannukah. Plus, there would be equal treatment in the display of religious symbols and dress. The other mistake which people make is to equate ‘secularism’ as practiced and/or advocated in Britain with ‘lycité’ in France. In the first place, secularism in Britain is much older. When Louis XIV got fed up with the Huguenots, he simply expelled them, and many of them settled in Britain, which had been briefly ‘secular’ under Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, since there was no established church and each parish could choose the form of protestantism it wanted. By the end of the seventeenth century, although the Church of England had been re-established, there was broad toleration of those who wanted to worship outside it, i.e. who wanted to be separate from the state in matters of religion. The French state broke with the Catholic Church in the Revolution and Reign of Terror, even instigating a purely secular calendar, but by the beginning of the nineteenth century most of the links were restored, though other churches and faiths were ‘tolerated’. In Britain, ‘secularism’ refers to the complete separation of church and state, or ‘disestablishment’ (which happened in Wales a century ago), but Scotland still has a ‘national’ church which has a special relationship with the state and, of course, the Queen is still Supreme Governor of the Church of England. However, the passing of the ‘Equal Marriage’ Act in 2013 has created a definition of marital status which is at odds with the definition of marriage in canon law and scripture, and this anomaly is already leading to some ‘nonconformist’ churches voluntarily giving up their right to marry couples on behalf of the state. So, in all but ceremonial life, the whole of Britain (excluding Northern Ireland) is a secular state, and there is little difference with France in overall status in reality if not in theory. Secularism therefore is not the equivalent of atheism, and both are multi-cultural liberal democracies in which subjects/ citizens have the rights and responsibilities of freedom of speech and worship.

An Unholy Muddle:

Britain is in a constitutional muddle over Church Schools, House of Lords reform and ‘Gay Marriage’. This muddle is the result of a series of compromises between church and state dating back to the sixteenth century, which have left the state at the centre of religious life in Britain, in the shape of the established Church of England and its supreme governor, HM the Queen, and, by the same token (over on the other side of the coin!) the ‘Church’ at the centre of political life, or at least very close to it, in the shape of the Bishops in the House of Lords. Marriage law is being fought over in a way it can’t be in other ‘Christian’ European countries where there is a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage, and a clear separation between church and state. In Hungary, most couples who want to get married in church, a pub, the woods, or wherever, still have to ‘tie the knot’ in front of a civil registrar at some point. In Britain, there is only one ceremony, either in church, or in the registry office, which is both civil and religious. All the original religious words can be left out, but it’s still, effectively, a religious service. But it is secular, just as the church service is. That is, the couple chooses where to have the marriage witnessed, not the church or the state, and that’s an important principle which our forefathers, and foremothers, fought for. We may consider ourselves to be ‘British citizens’ but, in reality, we are ‘subjects’ of the Queen, and while we are free to worship in whatever way we want, or not at all, the English (at least) are still subject to the church, the Church of England, that is, which the Queen was charged with ‘defending’ when she took the coronation oath nearly sixty years ago now. Therefore, the government minister is clearly wrong. The Church does, quite clearly, own the ‘patent’ on marriage, though it now shares this with the state. This situation results from the ultimate failure of the first secularists to achieve a society in which they could worship freely, without interference from the state. These people were the ‘Baptists’, ‘Independents’ and ‘Congregationalists’, later joined by ‘Quakers’ and still later by ‘Methodists’ who formed the ‘free churches’ outside the Church of England.

The first Puritans:

The Elizabethan puritans wanted to reform the church from within, to make it more like Jean Calvin‘s church in Geneva, as part of a ‘Corpus Christianum’, a Christian state. They simply wanted to purify the national church from all the ceremonial remnants, vestiges and vestments of Roman Catholicism. They also questioned whether there was any biblical basis for the authority of bishops over the Church. Some wanted to replace them with a system of elders and synods, with stricter discipline. This became known as Presbyterianism. Elizabeth I resisted these changes and James I hated Presbyterians, threatening to ‘harry them out of the land.’ While many compromised uneasily within the state Church, others eventually left of their own accord, like the Pilgrim Fathers. However, a small group of separatists grew up alongside the main puritan group. They had formed their own independent congregation at Norwich in 1581, withdrawing completely from the Church, which they believed to be so polluted it could not be cleansed from within. The government of their chapel was based on a ‘covenant’, marking the beginning of the ‘Congregationalist’ movement. They were persecuted by the authorities and driven abroad to the Netherlands. The Dutch were tolerant of religious nonconformity, and allowed the English independents refugee status and freedom of worship. It was from Leiden that one of these groups emigrated to New England, via Plymouth, in 1621. Other groups returned to England, led by Thomas Helwys, who, in 1612, founded the first openly ‘Baptist’ church in London, four hundred years ago this week.

The first English Baptists:

Helwys’ group formed the first General or Arminian Baptist Congregation in England at Spitalfields in 1612. Arminianism was a rejection of Calvinist ideas of predestination and ‘God’s Elect’, and the belief that God’s grace is available to all. They practised believers’ baptism as a sign of this.  By 1638, there were also Calvinists in London who practised believers’ baptism, and these became known as ‘Particular Baptists‘. They had grown out of the first independent congregations in the capital, and their understanding of the church as a gathered community led to them professing that only the baptism of believers fitted such a view. Helwys’ group had been much influenced by the Dutch Mennonites, but both the General and Particular Baptist churches developed out of a conscientious search for the true pattern of the ‘apostolic church’ of the New Testament and the first century.

Church, State and New Model Army:

These youthful Baptist churches were soon at the centre of the debate about the relationship between church and  state, or, as they put it then, ‘the magistrate’.  They sought guidance from the scriptures about proper Christian obedience. At the same time, the Presbyterians within the Church of England were growing in strength and becoming more vocal in their opposition to Charles I’s reactionary changes in church worship. They also found their political voice in Parliament, Charles’ dissolution of which and his attempts to impose his new Prayer Book on the Presbyterian Scots, led ultimately to Civil War between the Monarchy and Parliament. Many of the officers in the New Model Army which won the war under Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell were drawn from Independent and Baptist congregations, as were the professional, often radical, rank and file. Since it was the ‘New Model’ which effectively won the War for Parliament, their views had to be taken into account in the shaping of church and state without the King and ‘Supreme Governor.’

Grace Abounding:

John Bunyan (1628-88) was one of these poor ‘russet-coated’ soldiers who became a member of an independent congregation in Bedford in 1651. Despairing over his spiritual state for several years, he eventually received assurance of  God’s ‘Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,‘ the title of his first book.  Under Cromwell’s Protectorate the established church continued, but its pulpits were filled with Baptist, Independent and Presbyterian ministers, alongside Protestant Anglicans. Those who still wished to worship separately were allowed to do so, provided they did not disturb the peace. The majority of Baptist ministers continued to serve independent congregations, which achieved the peak of numerical strength and national influence during the Commonwealth period, though even then their strength was being reduced by a drift to more radical ‘sects’ like the Quakers and ‘Fifth Monarchists’, like Vavasour Powell, who openly opposed Cromwell’s rule. Baptist congregations were more ‘quietist’ in manner, claiming their local independence as congregations, free from state interference through the established church.  This did not mean that they thought the local congregation had complete competence to decide in religious matters. That was to be discerned from the reading and preaching of God’s word by ministers ordained in the apostolic succession, in association with the church meeting, its ‘deacons’ and with other churches in each ‘region’. These ‘regional associations’ led to the setting up of a ‘General Assembly’, providing for mutual assistance between the churches. Through this, they also continued to discuss ‘the place of the magistrate’.

By the time of the Restoration of Charles II (1660) there were roughly 300 General and Particular Baptist Churches. The Broadmead Records for Bristol at this time, give graphic accounts of the price of dissent in the years between the Act of Uniformity of 1662 and the Act of Toleration in 1689. Bunyan’s preaching in Bedford soon led to his imprisonment after the Restoration, and he spent much of the next twelve years under lock and key. Following a further spell behind bars in 1676, he wrote his epic allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which ‘Christian’ overcomes many hazards, fleeing the ‘City of Destruction’ and the ‘Slough of Despond’ to the foot of the cross, before finally reaching ‘the shining city’. Bunyan’s language is a happy mixture of homespun phrases and echoes of the English Bible. His beliefs come straight from the pages of the Bible, shaped by his own fiercely Independent position, and his book soon became a perennial classic, second in popularity only to the ‘King James’ Bible, and the only other book in many village cottages and humble town dwellings for the next 150 years or more.

Evangelicals and Empire:

Even after Toleration, many Baptist Congregations stuck tenaciously to their local autonomy, and it wasn’t until 1792 that the need to establish a Missionary Society, pioneered by William Carey, also led to the development of denominational organisation.  Carey’s many-sided work in India included Bible translation and production, evangelism, church-planting, education and medical relief, as well as social reform, linguistic and horticultural research. The message of his Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation gave British evangelicals a world-wide vision, and revived the churches at home. Of course, all this was achieved before the British Empire and its establishment Anglicans jealously took over the work of ‘civilising’ the Indians, eventually leading to the ‘Indian Mutiny’ of 1857 and the establishment of ‘the Raj’.

Dissent, Definition and Division:

So, British life and culture owes much to these early secularists, who achieved so much in the face of prejudice and persecution. Their ‘Dissent’ was creative, not simply iconoclastic. The atheistic secularists four hundred years later might do well to examine their consciences before they cause further division and destruction to the shared, independent values of the majority of British people, even if these people are largely unaware of the origins of those values.

All of these people should think very hard before they allow the state to interfere again in their right to worship according to their conscience. We may only be, in Quaker terms, witnesses to a marriage ceremony, but even for Quakers, this takes place in a ‘Meeting for Worship’ and in a place of worship. The state cannot insist that churches marry couples against their consciences, which is where the proposed legislation redefining marriage will undoubtedly lead. It is not a question of equality, but it is one of liberty.

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…

Prayer Book and Persecution, 1662.   Leave a comment

001

Listening to the Sunday morning service on BBC Radio 4, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, preaching on this the first Sunday in Lent, I was reminded of two great events in Church History which happened 350 years ago this year. The first was referred to in the introit sentence for Lent, taken from the Prayer Book published in 1662, ‘Rend not your garments, but your hearts’. I quoted this in last week’s blog about the Lent Events of last week, some outward signs of which are based on the Old Testament signs of penitence, ‘sackcloth and ashes’. The second, which I was reminded of by broadcasts and discussions throughout last week and again, by Dr Williams’ sermon from the King’s School in Canterbury this morning, referring to ‘God’s Liberty’, is known as ‘the Great Ejectment’ which followed ‘the Act of Uniformity‘ of 1662.

First, a little personal background is perhaps necessary in order to explain my spiritual motivations. I lived and worked in Canterbury until last year, worshipping in two very different Anglican churches and the United Reformed Church in Watling Street. I also attended Evensong at the Cathedral, and walked with my son on the Youth Pilgrimage twice on Easter Monday, a walk led by Rowan Williams along the River Stour into the city, where we sang joyful, vibrant songs accompanied by a rock band. The Pilgrimage started at Chartham, where I lived and worshipped, on opposite sides of the Village Green. Although a Nonconformist, a Baptist by believers’ baptism at the age of fourteen and a Quaker ‘by convincement’ in my twenties, I had, like Rowan Williams, found a home as a student in the disestablished Anglican church in Wales, training for teaching Religious Education at Trinity College, Carmarthen before taking up an appointment at a voluntary-controlled Church of England Secondary School in Lancashire. There I worshipped regularly at the local parish church, until I was told by the rector that if I wished to continue to take communion, I would need to be confirmed by the Bishop. Since I had already given my confession and been received into ‘the church universal’ ten years earlier, I saw no reason for this, and stopped attending. Instead, I found a very open, if small, meeting of Quakers in the town, and having attended Quaker meeting in my early student days in Bangor, again became a ‘refugee’ attender in Lancashire, then moving to Coventry, where I am still in membership, though unable to attend at present, being ‘in exile’ here in Hungary. So, when we went to live in Chartham as a family, we were delighted to be welcomed by the rector and congregation there, who had seen the last Nonconformist ’causes’ in the village close down, and made it clear that everyone living in the village, from whatever Christian ‘tradition’, was welcome to receive communion on equal terms. On this basis, I also became a member of the Parochial Church Council until the rector left and diocesan ‘authority’ was again restored.   From this background, you may begin to understand why I hold strong beliefs about religious liberties in general, the role of the state in this, and the rights of parents to have access to a broad and deep Religious Education for their children within the state-funded system which they support through taxation and, indeed, in the case of Nonconformity, helped to create.

I’ve always been interested in the History of Nonconformity, or ‘Dissent’, going back to the time of the Reformation and the ‘Gunpowder Plot‘. As a History teacher in my second appointment in Coventry, I researched the Catholic Rebellion in the Midlands which accompanied ‘the Plot’, which I discovered was really a plot by the Stuart state in Whitehall against the ‘recusant’ Midland gentry. I also joined the English Civil War re-enactors, ‘the Sealed Knot’ and began to play a ‘Quaker’ corporal in the New Model Army. It was then that I encountered the real chaplains in the Army, Henry Pinnell and Richard Baxter, both of whom had worked for a lasting peace with the King based on a tolerant, national church for all Protestant believers, which would no longer have the monarch as its Head. Charles refused this, and thereby lost his. I played the part of Pinnell in my regiment, much of the part being based on Baxter, about whom we know a lot more.

After the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and state, Baxter, as a leading Puritan, continued to work for a broad settlement in the Church of England. However, the restored bishops refused to take the hand of friendship from those, they believed, who had turned them out of their ‘livings’.  They also sincerely believed that the people were being wrongly taught, and persuaded the new King to agree to ‘The Act of Uniformity’, to make everyone conform to a uniform way of worship. The Puritan ministers would need to promise to use the restored Prayer Book and obey their bishops, or they would be expelled from their parishes. The deadline for this was set as St Bartholemew’s Day, August 24th, 1662. Baxter was one among many ministers who could not promise this, not because he couldn’t use the Prayer Book, but because he believed that it was wrong for the state to force people to do anything against their conciences, and so could not accept the Act itself.  Being turned out of their churches also meant losing their homes so that, as Baxter wrote in the autumn of 1662, “hundreds of good ministers with their wives and children had neither home nor bread”. Worse was to follow. Many of the people loved their ministers and tried to help them, following them about, listening to their teaching in private homes and outdoors. A further law was made, this time against the people as well as the ministers, stopping such meetings and imprisoning those attending to prison. This was called ‘The Conventicle (or Meeting) Act’. Prisons soon became full of brave people who defied the Act, especially the Quakers.  Baxter admired them for their courage in the face of persecution, though disagreeing with many of their ideas. They met openly and didn’t resist arrest, continuing their meetings in prison.  Baxter also fell victim to these laws. He couldn’t return to Kidderminster and had to move home nine times in three years, being followed by spies wherever he went, who reported even his visits to the sick, in which he prayed with them. This, the magistrates claimed, was a ‘conventicle’ under the law.  “What a joy would it have been to them” he wrote, “to have found but such an occasion as praying with a dying woman to have laid me up in prison.” Another time he was preaching in the window of a house when he was shot at, but muskets and pistols were not very accurate weapons, so thankfully no-one was hurt by the ‘sniper’s bullet’.

In 1665 the Great Plague came to London. Of course, it was the duty of clergymen to stay with the dying and help the  bereaved families, but so many fled into the country that the silenced nonconformist ministers were needed too badly for anyone to stop them from ministering to the Plague victims. They said that “no obedience to any laws could justify them from neglecting men’s souls and bodies in such want and that it would be a poor excuse to say to God, ‘how I was forbidden by the law’ “.  Despite this, or perhaps because of the popularity they had gained because of it, another Act was passed against them, the Five Mile Act, forbidding them from coming within five miles of any important town or any place where they had once been ministers. Since help from ‘the Parish’ for the jobless could only be obtained from the area which was, or had been, their home, this meant that the nonconformist ministers would be starved out. Some emigrated, and those that stayed either hid in out-of-the-way villages, or lived secretly near their own homes, visiting their wives and children only at night.  Baxter shows how, even by this hard law, God was able bring good out of evil, because many ministers had little to lose by continuing to preach and teach openly rather than see their children starve. So congregations continued to grow and support them, and there were not enough jails to hold the numbers defying the  three Acts of Parliament.

One of those living in prison was John Bunyan, who had been an officer in Cromwell’s Army, and wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, which became the second most popular book in England, and one of the most important works of literature in English, because of its influence on the development of the language. It was written during his seven years in Bedford Jail.  Baxter himself, and his family, escaped the Plague, though the churchyard at Acton, six miles from London, “was like a ploughed field with graves”.  The Great Fire of 1666, the next terrible event to strike the City. Everyone knows Pepys’ version of these events, and I’m using a simplified English reader on it in class at present, but Baxter noticed that “those who had money managed to get their carts and carriages and horses to carry away their possessions from the burning houses, but the poor lost almost all they had”.  The only possessions Baxter ever cared much about were his books, perhaps because he, like Bunyan, believed the pen to be ‘mightier than the sword’ or, to put it another way which I was also reminded of last week, ‘books are weapons’ (it’s a pity that those American soldiers who burnt copies of the Qu’uran were not educated enough to understand the symbolic force their act would have). Baxter noted in his diary the huge number of books destroyed in the fire:

“Almost all the booksellers in St Paul’s Churchyard brought their books  into vaults under St Paul’s where it was thought almost impossible that fire should come. But the Church itself being on fire, the exceeeding weight of stones falling down did break into the vault and let in the fire and they could not come near to save the books.”

Many othe libraries were burnt and six miles away at Acton Baxter noticed half-burnt pages blowing past his cottage door. Just as he had had to go to the battlefield at Edgehill to see the destruction for himself, so too with the Fire. Defying the Five Mile Act, on his way to the City he saw “the fields filled with heaps of goods and costly furniture” and at last caught sight of “all the buildings aflame” and “the air as far as could be beheld, so filled with the smoke that the sun shined through it with a colour like blood”.

Baxter thought these events should have stopped the religious quarrels and persecutions, but each side blamed the other for what had happened. The nonconformists, who were among the poor Londoners who suffered most, were one of the groups blamed for starting the fire, perhaps because their ministers had been forced, like Baxter, to leave the City’s churches, and people suspected it was an act of vengeance on their part. This shows how little such people understood the beliefs of the Dissenting congregations, however, who once more were allowed to open their meeting houses to those who needed comfort and shelter, or a place to meet,  having not only lost their houses and possessions but also their places of worship.

Baxter himself was careful not to be seen as setting himself up in competition with the established church, still hoping for a better settlement with it. He continued to preach to family and friends in Acton, and then to growing numbers from surrounding parishes, but he did not preach during church times and, since his house was close to the church, he took people to hear the Vicar after he had preached to them!  However, the Vicar eventually became jealous of Baxter and informed the King that Baxter was breaking the Conventicle Act.  He was visited by the magistrates, but refused to stop preaching and so was imprisoned, but Newgate was too full of Quakers already!  So instead, he was sent to Clerkenwell where he was allowed a room of his own, which his wife could share.  However, he knew that, on release, he would have to leave Acton, because of the Five Mile Act.

I’ll be writing more about his time in and out of prison later in the week. For now, I want to conclude with the points that I raised to begin with. The attempts of the state to impose uniformity in religion through the 1662 Prayer Book seem a very long way away from the tolerant, multi-cultural, multi-faith society we live in today. Yet our society did not emerge out of that one like a butterfly out of a chrysalis as if by magic. It required the courage, self-discipline and sacrifices of men and women like Richard Baxter,  John Bunyan and William Penn, whom I shall also be writing about later. Let me sign off, for now, with this paradox: ‘out of unity, comes diversity; out of diversity comes unity’.

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