Posted by: Democratic Thinker | September 16, 2014

The Pilgrims Leave The Old World Behind

Freedom of Religion

 
William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Plantation, relates their reasons for leaving the Old World.


The other partie, though under many colours & pretences, endevored to have ye episcopall dignitie (affter ye popish maner) with their large power & jurisdiction still retained; with all those courts, cannons, & ceremonies, togeather with all such livings, revenues, & subordinate officers, with other such means as formerly upheld their Antichristian greatnes, and enabled them with lordly & tyranous power to persecute ye poore servants of God.


 

Church of England Heretics.

 

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And first of ye occasion and indusments ther unto; the which that I may truly unfould, I must begine at ye very roote & rise of ye same. The which I shall endevor to manefest in a plaine stile, with singuler regard unto ye simple trueth in all things, at least as near as my slender judgmente can attaine the same.

1. Chapter.

IT is well knowne unto ye godly and judicious, how ever since ye first breaking out of ye lighte of ye gospell in our Honourable Nation of England, (which was ye first of nations whom ye Lord adorned ther with, affter yt grosse darknes of popery which had covered & overspred ye Christian worled,) what warrs & opposissions ever since, Satan hath raised, maintained, and continued against the Saincts, from time to time, in one sorte or other. Some times by bloody death and cruell torments; other whiles imprisonments, banishments, & other hard usages; as being loath his kingdom should goe downe, the trueth prevaile, and ye churches of God reverte to their anciente puritie, and recover their primative order, libertie, & bewtie. But when he could not prevaile by these means, against the maine trueths of ye gospell, but that they began to take rootting in many places, being watered with ye blooud of ye martires, and blessed from heaven with a gracious encrease; he then begane to take him to his anciente strategemes, used of old against the first Christians. That when by ye bloody & barbarous persecutions of ye Heathen Emperours, he could not stoppe & subuerte the course of ye gospell, but that it speedily overspred with a wounderfull celeritie the then best known parts of ye world.

He then begane to sow errours, heresies, and wounderfull dissentions amongst ye professours them selves, (working upon their pride & ambition, with other corrupte passions incidente to all mortall men, yea to ye saints them selves in some measure,) by which wofull effects followed; as not only bitter contentions, & hartburnings, schismes, with other horrible confusions, but Satan tooke occasion & advantage therby to foyst in a number of vile ceremoneys, with many unprofitable cannons & decrees, which have since been as snares to many poore & peaceable souls even to this day. So as in ye anciente times, the persecutions by ye heathen & their Emperours, was not greater then of the Christians one against other; the Arians & other their complices against ye orthodoxe & true Christians. As witneseth socrates in his 2. booke. His words are these; The violence truly (saith he) was no less then that of ould practised towards ye Christians when they were compelled & drawne to sacrifice to idoles; for many endured sundrie kinds of tormente, often rackings, dismembering of their joynts; confiscating of ther goods; some bereaved of their native soyle; others departed this life under ye hands of ye tormentor; and some died in banishmete, never saw ther cuntrie againe, &c.

Lib. 2. Chap. 22.

The like methode Satan hath seemed to hold in these later times, since ye trueth begane to springe & spread after ye great defection made by Antichrist, ye man of sine.

For to let pass ye infinite examples in sundrie nations and severall places of ye world, and instance in our owne, when as ye old serpente could not prevaile by those firie flames & other his cruell tragedies, which he by his instruments put in ure every wher in ye days of queene Mary & before, he then begane an other kind of warre, & went more closly to worke; not only to oppuggen, but even to ruinate & destroy ye kingdom of Christ, by more secrete & subtile means, by kindling ye flames of contention and sowing ye seeds of discorde & bitter enmitie amongst ye proffessors & seeming reformed them selves. For when he could not prevaile by ye former means against ye principall doctrins of faith, he bente his force against ye holy discipline & outward regimente of ye kingdom of Christ, by which those holy doctrines should be conserved, & true pietie maintained amongest the saints & people of God.

Mr Foxe recordeth how ye besids those worthy martires & confessors which were burned in queene Marys days & otherwise tormented, many (both studients & others) fled out of ye land, to ye number of 800. And became severall congregations. At Wesell, Frankford, Bassill, Emden, Markpurge, Strausborugh, & Geneva, &c. Amongst whom (but especialy those at Frankford) begane ye bitter warr of contention & persecutions aboute ye ceremonies, & servise-booke, and other popish and Antichristian stuffe, the plague of England to this day, (which are like ye high plases in Israell, wch the prophets cried out against, & were their ruine) which ye better parte sought (according to ye puritie of ye gospell) to roote out and utterly to abandon. And the other parte (under veiled pretences) for their ouwn ends & advancements, sought as stifly to continue, maintaine, & defend. As appeareth by ye discourse therof published in printe, Ano. 1575 (a booke ye deserves better to be knowne and considred.)

Acts & Mon: pag. 1587. editi: 2.

The one side laboured to have ye right worship of God & discipline of Christ established in ye church, according to ye simplicitie of ye gospell, without the mixture of mens inventions, and to have & to be ruled by ye laws of Gods word, dispensed in those offices, & by those officers of Pastors, Teachers, & Elders, &c. according to ye Scripturs. The other partie, though under many colours & pretences, endevored to have ye episcopall dignitie (affter ye popish maner) with their large power & jurisdiction still retained; with all those courts, cannons, & ceremonies, togeather with all such livings, revenues, & subordinate officers, with other such means as formerly upheld their Antichristian greatnes, and enabled them with lordly & tyranous power to persecute ye poore servants of God. This contention was so great, as neither ye honour of God, the commone persecution, nor ye mediation of Mr Calvin & other worthies of ye Lord in those places, could prevaile with those thus episcopally minded, but they proceeded by all means to disturbe ye peace of this poor persecuted church, even so farr as to charge (very unjustly, & ungodlily, yet prelatelike) some of their cheefe opposers, with rebellion & hightreason against ye Emperour, & other such crimes.

And this contetion dyed not with queene Mary, nor was left beyonde ye seas, but at her death these people returning into England under gracious queene Elizabeth, many of them being preferred to bishopricks & other promotions, according to their aimes and desires, that inveterate hatered against ye holy discipline of Christ in his church hath continued to this day. In so much that for fear

A late observation, as it were
by the way, worthy to be
Noted.

Full litle did I thinke, ye the downfall of ye Bishops, with their courts, cannons, & ceremonies, &c. had been so neare, when I first begane these scribled writings (which was aboute ye year 1630) and is so peeced up at times of leasure afterward), or that I should have lived, to have seene or heard of ye same, but it is ye Lords doing, and ought to be marvelous in our eyes! Every plante which mine heavenly father hath not planted (saith our Saviour) shall be rooted up. Mat: 15. 13. I have snared the, and thou art taken, O Babell (Bishops), and thou wast not aware; thou art found, and also caught, because thou hast striven against the Lord. Jer. 50. 24. But will they needs strive against ye truth, against ye servants of God, what, & against the Lord him selfe? Doe they provoke the Lord to anger? Are they stronger than he? 1. Cor: 10. 22. No, no, they have mete with their match. Behold, I come unto ye, O proud man, saith the Lord God of hosts; for thy day is come, even the time that I will visite the. Jer: 50. 31. May not the people of God now say (and these pore people among ye rest), The Lord hath brought forth our righteousnes; come, let us declare in Sion the work of the Lord our God. Jer: 51.10. Let all flesh be still before the Lord; for he is raised up out of his holy place. Zach : 2. 13.

In this case, these poore people may say (among ye thousands of Israll), When the Lord brougt againe the captivite of Zion, we were like them that dreame. Psa: 126. 1. The Lord hath done greate things for us, wherof we rejoyce. v. 3. They that sow in teares, shall reap in joye. They wente weeping, and carried precious seede, but they shall returne with joye, and bring their sheaves, v. 5. 6.

Doe you not now see ye fruits of your labours, O all yee servants of ye Lord that have suffered for his truth, and have been faithfull witneses of same, and yee litle handfull amongst ye rest, ye least amongest ye thousands of Israll? You have not only had a seede time, but many of you have seene ye joyefull harvest; should you not then rejoyse, yea, and againe rejoyce, and say Hallelu-iah, salvation, and glorie, and honour, and power, be to ye Lord our God; for true and righteous are his judgments. Rev. 19. 1, 2.

But thou wilte aske what is ye mater? What is done? Why, art thou a stranger in Israll, that thou shouldest not know what is done? Are not those Jebusites overcome that have vexed the people of Israll so long, even holding Jerusalem till Davids days, and been as thorns in their sids, so many ages; and now begane to scorne that any David should meadle with them; they begane to fortifie their tower, as that of the old Babelonians; but those proud Anakimes are throwne downe, and their glory laid in ye dust. The tiranous bishops are ejected, their courts dissolved, their cannons forceless, their servise casheired, their ceremonies uselese and despised; their plots for popery prevented, and all their superstitions discarded & returned to Roome from whence they came, and ye monuments of idolatrie rooted out of ye land. And the proud and profane suporters, and cruell defenders of these (as bloody papists & wicked athists, and their malignante consorts) marvelously over throwne. And are not these greate things? Who can deney it?

But who hath done it? Who, even he that siteth on ye white horse, who is caled faithfull, & true, and judgeth and fighteth righteously, Rev: 19. 11. whose garments are dipte in blood, and his name was caled the word of God, v. 13. for he shall rule them with a rode of iron; for it is he that treadeth the winepress of the feircenes and wrath of God almighty. And he hath upon his garmente, and upon his thigh, a name writen, The King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, v. 15, 16.

Hallelu-iah.

Anno Dom: 1646.

it should preveile, all plotts & devices have been used to keepe it out, incensing ye queene & state against it as dangerous for ye comon wealth; and that it was most needfull y tt ye fundamentall poynts of Religion should be preached in those ignorante & superstitious times; and to wine ye weake & ignorante, they might retaine diverse harmles ceremoneis, and though it were to be wished yt diverse things were reformed, yet this was not a season for it. And many the like, to stop ye mouthes of ye more godly, to bring them over to yeeld to one ceremoney after another, and one corruption after another; by these wyles begyleing some & corrupting others till at length they begane to persecute all ye zealous professors in ye land (though they knew little what this discipline mente) both by word & deed, if they would not submitte to their ceremonies, & become slaves to them & their popish trash, which have no ground in ye word of God, but are relikes of yt man of sine. And the more ye light of ye gospell grew, ye more yey urged their subscriptions to these corruptions. So as (notwithstanding all their former pretences & fair colures) they whose eyes God had not justly blinded might easily see wherto these things tended. And to cast contempte the more upon ye sincere servants of God, they opprobriously & most injuriously gave unto, & imposed upon them, that name of Puritans; which is said the Novatians out of prid did assume & take unto them selves, And lamentable it is to see ye effects which have followed. Religion hath been disgraced, the godly greeved, afflicted, persecuted, and many exiled, sundrie have lost their lives in prisones & otherways. On the other hand, sin hath been countenanced, ignorance, profannes, & atheisme increased, & the papists encouraged to hope againe for a day.

Eus: lib: . ch-ap. 42.

This made that holy man Mr Perkins crie out in his exhortation to repentance, upon Zeph. 2. Religion (saith he) hath been amongst us this 35. years; but the more it is published, the more it is contemned & reproached of many, &c. Thus not prophanes nor wickednes, but Religion it selfe is a byword, a mokingstock, & a matter of reproach; so that in England at this day the man or woman yt begines to profes Religion, to serve God, must resolve with him selfe to sustaine mocks, & injueries even as though he lived amongst ye enimies of Religion. And this comone experience hath confirmed & made too apparente.

pag. 247.

But that I may come more near my intendmente; when as by the travell & diligence of some godly & zealous preachers, & Gods blessing on their labours, as in other places of ye land, so in ye North parts, many became inlightened by ye word of God, and had their ignorance & sins discovered unto them, and begane by his grace to reforme their lives, and make conscience of their wayes, the worke of God was no sooner manifest in them, but presently they were both scoffed and scorned by ye prophane multitude, and ye minsters urged with ye yoak of subscription, or els must be silenced; and ye poore people were so vexed with apparators, & pursuants, & ye comissarie courts, as truly their affliction was not smale; which, notwithstanding, they bore sundrie years with much patience, till they were occasioned (by ye continuance & encrease of these troubls, and other means which ye Lord raised up in those days) to see further into things by the light of ye word of God. How not only these base and beggerly ceremonies were unlawfull, but also that ye lordly & tiranous power of ye prelats ought not to be submitted unto; which thus, contrary to the freedome of the gospell, would load & burden mens consciences, and by their compulsive power make a prophane mixture of persons & things in ye worship of God. And that their offices & calings, courts & cannons, &c. were unlawfull and Antichristian; being such as have no warrante in ye word of God; but the same yt were used in poperie, & still retained. Of which a famous author thus writeth in his Dutch comtaries. At ye coming of king James into England; The new king (saith he) found their established ye reformed religion, according to ye reformed religion of king Edward ye 6. Retaining, or keeping still ye spirituall state of ye Bishops, &c. after ye ould maner, much varying & differing from ye reformed churches in Scotland, France, ye Neatherlands, Embden, Geneva, &c. whose reformation is cut, or shapen much nerer ye first Christian churches, as it was used in ye Apostles times.

Em: Meter: lib: 24. col. 119.

The reformed churche shapen much neerer ye primitive patterne then England, for they cashered ye Bishops wth al their courts, cannons, and ceremoneis, at the first; and left them amongst ye popish tr to ch wch they per[??].

So many therfore (of these proffessors) as saw ye evill of these things, in thes parts, and whose harts ye Lord had touched wth heavenly zeale for his trueth, they shooke of this yoake of Antichristian bondage, and as ye Lords free people, joyned them selves (by a covenant of the Lord) into a church estate, in ye felowship of ye gospell, to walke in all his wayes, made known, or to be made known unto them (according to their best endeaours) whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them. And that it cost them something this ensewing historie will declare.

These people became 2. distincte bodys or churches, & in regarde of distance of place did congregate severally; for they were of sundrie townes & vilages, some in Notingamshire, some of Lincollinshire, and some of Yorkshire, wher they border nearest togeather. In one of these churches (besids others of note) was Mr John Smith, a man of able gifts, & a good preacher, who after wards was chosen their pastor. But these afterwards falling into some errours in ye Low Countries, ther (for ye most part) buried them selves, & their names.

But in this other church (wch must be ye subjecte of our discourse) besids other worthy men, was Mr Richard Clifton, a grave & revered preacher, who by his paines and dilligens had done much good, and under God had ben a means of ye conversion of many. And also that famous and worthy man Mr John Robinson, who afterwards was their pastor for many years, till ye Lord tooke him away by death. Also Mr William Brewster a reverent man, who afterwards was chosen an elder of ye church and lived with them till old age.

But after these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted & persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood. Yet these & many other sharper things which affterward befell them, were no other then they looked for, and therfore were ye better prepared to bear them by ye assistance of Gods grace & spirite. Yet seeing them selves thus molested and that ther was no hope of their continuance ther, by a joynte consente they resolved to goe into ye Low-Countries, wher they heard was freedome of Religion for all men; as also how sundrie from London, & other parts of ye land, had been exiled and persecuted for ye same cause, & were gone thither, and lived at Amsterdam, & in other places of ye land. So affter they had continued togeither aboute a year, and kept their meetings every Saboth in one place or other, exercising the worship of God amongst them selves, notwithstanding all ye dilligence & malice of their adversaries, they seeing they could no longer continue in yt condition, they resolved to get over into Hollad as they could; which was in ye year 1607. & 1608.; of which more at large in ye next chap.

—William Bradford, “Of Plimoth Plantation.”


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