Convocation in its book of Canons denounced as a fatal error the assertion that "all civil power, jurisdiction,and authority were first derived from the people and disordered multitude, or either is originally still in them, or else is deduced by their consent naturally from them; and is not God's ordinance originally descending from Him and depending upon Him." In strict accordance with James's theory, these doctors declared sovereignty in its origin to be the prerogative of birthright, and inculcated passive obedience to the monarch as a religious obligation. Cowell, a civilian, followed up the discoveries of Convocation by an announcement that" the King is above the law by his absolute power," and that " notwithstanding his oath he may alter and suspend any particular law that seemeth hurtful to the public estate." The book was suppressed on the remonstrance of the House of Commons, but the party of passive obedience grew fast. A few years before the death of James, the University of Oxford decreed solemnly that "it was in no case lawful for subjects to make use of force against their princes, or to appear offensively or defensively in the field against them." The King's " arrogant speeches," if they roused resentment in the Parliaments to which they were addressed, created by sheer force of repetition a certain belief in the arbitrary power they challenged for the Crown. We may give one instance of their tone from a speech delivered in the Star-Chamber. " As it is atheism and blasphemy to dispute what God can do," said James, "so it is presumption and a high contempt in a subject to dispute what a King can do, or to say that a King cannot do this or that." " If the practice should follow the positions," once commented a thoughtful observer on words such as these, "we are not likely to leave to our successors that freedom we received from our forefathers".
It is necessary to weigh throughout the course of James's reign this aggressive attitude of the Crown, if we would rightly judge what seems at first sight to be an aggressive tone in some of the proceedings of the Parliaments. With new claims of power such as these before them, to have stood still would have been ruin. The claim, too, was one which jarred against all that was noblest in the temper of the time. Men were everywhere reaching forward to the conception of law. Bacon sought for law in material nature; Hooker asserted the rule of law over the spiritual world. The temper of the Puritan was eminently a temper of law. The diligence with which he searched the Scriptures sprang from his earnestness to discover a Divine Will which in all things, great or small, he might implicitly obey. But this implicit obedience was reserved for the Divine Will alone; for human ordinances derived their strength only from their correspondence with the revealed law of God. The Puritan was bound by his very religion to examine every claim made on his civil and spiritual obedience by the powers that be; and to own or reject the claim, as it accorded with the higher duty which he owed to God. "In matters of faith," Mrs. Hutchinson tells us of her husband, "his reason always submitted to the Word of God; but in all other things the greatest names in the world would not lead him without reason." It was plain that an impassable gulf parted such a temper as this from the temper of unquestioning devotion to the Crown which James demanded.
It was a temper not only legal, but even pedantic in its legality, intolerant from its very sense of a moral order and law of the lawlessness and disorder of a personal tyranny; a temper of criticism, of judgement, and, if need be, of stubborn and unconquerable resistance; of a resistance which sprang, not from the disdain of authority, but from the Puritan's devotion to an authority higher than that of kings. But if the theory of a Divine Right of Kings was certain to rouse against it all the nobler energies of Puritanism, there was something which roused its nobler and its pettier instincts of resistance alike in the place accorded by James to Bishops. Elizabeth's conception of her ecclesiastical Supremacy had been a sore stumbling-block to her subjects, but Elizabeth at least regarded the Supremacy simply as a branch of her ordinary prerogative. The theory of James, however, was as different from that of Elizabeth, as his view of kingship was different from hers. It was the outcome of the bitter years of humiliation which he had endured in Scotland in his struggle with Presbyterianism. The Scotch presbyters had insulted and frightened him in the early days of his reign, and he chose to confound Puritanism with Presbyterianism. No prejudice, however, was really required to suggest his course.
In itself it was logical, and consistent with the premisses from which it started. If theologically his opinions were Calvinistic, in the ecclesiastical fabric of Calvinism, in its organization of the Church, in its annual assemblies, in its public discussion and criticism of acts of government through the pulpit, he saw an organized democracy which threatened his crown. The new force which had overthrown episcopacy in Scotland, was a force which might overthrow the monarchy itself. It was the people which in its religious or its political guise was the assailant of both. And as their foe was the same, so James argued with the shrewd short-sightedness of his race, their cause was the same. "No bishop," ran his famous adage, "no King!" Hopes of ecclesiastical change found no echo in a King who. among all the charms that England presented him, saw none so attractive as its ordered and obedient Church, its synods that met at the royal will, its courts that carried out the royal ordinances, its bishops that held themselves to be royal officers. If he accepted the Millenary Petition, and summoned a conference of prelates and Puritan divines at Hampton Court, he showed no purpose of discussing the grievances alleged.