With the close of the Civil War we enter on a time of confused struggles, a time tedious and uninteresting in its outer details, but of higher interest than even the war itself in its bearing on our after history. Modern England, the England among whose thoughts and sentiments we actually live, began however dimly with the triumph of Naseby. Old things passed silently away. When Astley gave up his sword the " work" of the generations which had struggled for Protestantism against Catholicism, for public liberty against absolute rule, in his own emphatic phrase, was " done." So far as these contests were concerned, however the later Stuarts might strive to revive them, England could safely " go to play." But with the end of this older work a new work began. The constitutional and ecclesiastical' problems which still in one shape or another beset us started to the front as subjects of national debate in the years between the close of the Civil War and the death of the King. The great parties which have ever since divided the social, the political, and the religious life of England, whether as Independents and Presbyterians, as Whigs and Tories, as Conservatives and Liberals, sprang into organized existence in the contest between the Army and the Parliament. Then for the first time began a struggle which is far from having ended yet, a struggle between political tradition and political progress, between the principle of religious conformity and the principle of religious freedom.
It was the religious struggle which drew the political in its train. We have already witnessed the rise under Elizabeth of sects who did not aim, like the Presbyterians, at a change in Church government, but rejected the notion of a national Church at all, and insisted on the right of each congregation to perfect independence of faith and worship. At the close of the Queen's reign, however, these "Brownists" had almost entirely disappeared. Some of the dissidents, as in the notable instance of the congregation that produced the Pilgrim Fathers, had found a refuge in Holland; but the bulk had been driven by persecution to a fresh conformity with the Established Church. "As for those which we call Brownists," says Bacon, "being when they were at the best a very small number of very silly and base people, here and there in corners dispersed, they are now, thanks to God, by the good remedies that have been used, suppressed and worn out so that there is scarce any news of them." As soon, however, as Abbot's primacy promised a milder rule, the Separatist refugees began to venture timidly back again to England. During their exile in Holland the main body had contented themselves with the free developement of their system of independent congregations, each forming in itself a complete Church, and to them the name of Independents attached itself at a later time.
[Authorities. - Mainly as before, though Clarendon, invaluable during the war, is tedious and unimportant here, and Cromwell's letters become, unfortunately, few at the moment when we most need their aid. On the other hand Ludlow and Whitelock, as well as the passionate and unscrupulous " Memoirs " of Holies and Major Hutchinson, become of much importance. For Charles himself, we have Sir Thomas Herbert's "Memoirs" of the last two years of this reign. Burnet's "Lives of the Hamiltons " throw a good deal of light on Scotch affairs at this time, and Sir James Turner's " Memoir of the Scotch Invasion." The early history of the Independents, and of the principle of religious freedom, is told by Mr. Masson (" Life of Milton," vol. iii.)].
A small part, however, had drifted into a more marked severance in doctrine from the Established Church, especially in their belief of the necessity of adult baptism, a belief from which their obscure congregation at Leyden became known as that of the Baptists. Both of these sects gathered a church in London in the middle of James's reign, but the persecuting zeal of Laud prevented any spread of their opinions under that of his successor; and it was not till their numbers were suddenly increased by the return of a host of emigrants from New England, with Hugh Peters at their head, on the opening of the Long Parliament, that the Congregational or Independent body began to attract attention. Lilburne and Burton soon declared themselves adherents of what was called " the New England way; " and a year later saw in London alone the rise of "four score congregations of several sectaries," as Bishop Hall scornfully tells us, "instructed by guides fit for them, cobblers, tailors, felt-makers, and such-like trash." But little religious weight however could be attributed as yet to the Congregational movement. Baxter at this time had not heard of the existence of any Independents. Milton in his earlier pamphlets shows no sign of their influence.
Of the hundred and five ministers present in the Westminster Assembly only five were Congregational in sympathy, and these were all returned refugees from Holland. Among the one hundred and twenty London ministers in 1643, only three were suspected of leanings towards the Sectaries.
The struggle with Charles in fact at its outset only threw new difficulties in the way of religious freedom. It was with strictly conservative aims in ecclesiastical as in political matters that Pym and his colleagues began the strife. Their avowed purpose was simply to restore the Church of England to its state under Elizabeth, and to free it from "innovations," from the changes introduced by Laud and his fellow prelates. The great majority of the Parliament were averse to any alterations in the constitution or doctrine of the Church itself; and it was only the refusal of the bishops to accept any diminution of their power and revenues, the growth of a party hostile to Episcopalian government, the necessity for purchasing the aid of the Scots by a union in religion as in politics, and above all the urgent need of constructing some new ecclesiastical organization in the place of the older organization which had become impossible from the political attitude of the bishops, that forced on the two Houses the adoption of the Covenant. But the change to a Presbyterian system of Church government seemed at that time of little import to the bulk of Englishmen. The dogma of the necessity of bishops was held by few, and the change was generally regarded with approval as one which brought the Church of England nearer to that of Scotland and to the reformed Churches of the Continent. But whatever might be the change in its administration, no one imagined that it had ceased to be the Church of England, or that it had parted with its right to exact conformity to its worship from the nation at large.