350th Anniversary of the Great Ejection

August 24, 2012

english puritansJ.I. Packer opens his book, A Quest for Godliness, with this evocative image:

On a narrow strip in the northern California coastline grow the giant Redwoods, the biggest living things on earth.  Some are over 360 feet tall, and some trunks are more than 60 feet around.  They do not have much foliage for their size; all their strength is in those huge trunks, with foot-thick bark . . . Some have actually been burned, but are still alive and growing . . . The Redwoods (to use a much cheapened word in its old, strict, strong sense) awesome.  They dwarf you, making you feel your smallness as scarcely anything else does.

California’s Redwoods make me thing of England’s Puritans, another breed of giants who in our time have begun to be newly appreciated.  Between 1550 and 1700 they too lived unfrilled lives in which, speaking spiritually, strong growth and resistance to fire and storm were what counted. As Redwoods attract the eye, because they overtop other trees, so the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans shine before us as a kind of beacon light, overtopping the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age of crushing urban collectivism, when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill an puppets on a string.

Today commemorates one of the sadder chapters in Anglican history, the 350th Anniversary of the Great Ejection.  The Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, J. C. Ryle, reflecting on the Ejection, described it as an “injury to the cause of true religion in England which will probably never be repaired.”

The Great Ejection followed the Act of Uniformity 1662. This Act was part of the Clarendon Code, which sought to reestablish the supremacy of the Anglican church following Cromwell’s Commonwealth by enforcing uniformity of religion and its practice throughout England.  In the year leading up to the Act of Uniformity there were consultations and consideration of proposals for the uniformity of public prayers and administration of the sacraments. On the face of it there seemed to be a genuine attempt at compromise which at one point produced a watered down episcopacy that may have been acceptable to many non conformists, including some Presbyterians. However the final Act was severe and the date for implementation was changed first from Michaelmas to Midsummer Day and then to St. Bartholomew’s Day.

The Act of Uniformity was explicit in its directives.  It stated that “every Parson, Vicar or other Minister whatsoever” was required on or before the Feast of St Bartholomew (hereafter known as “Black Bartholomew’s Day”), 24 August 1662, to use the new Prayer Book and read Morning  and Evening Prayers in his church; and in the presence of his congregation to make a declaration:

I, ….. do here declare my unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained in and prescribed in and by the Book entitled The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the use of the Church of England, together with the Psalter and Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in Churches; and the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

A further and more stringent oath was required of all persons ecclesiastical, curates, teachers, schoolmasters, professors:

 I… do declare that it is not lawful, upon any pretence whatsoever ,to take arms against the King; and that I do abhor that traitorous position of taking arms by his authority against his person, or against those that are commissioned by him; and that I will conform to the liturgy of the Church of England as it is now by law established: and I do declare that I do hold there lies no obligation upon me or on any other person, from the Oath commonly called The Solemn League and Covenant, to endeavour any change or alteration of government either in Church or State; and that the same was in itself an unlawful Oath, and imposed upon the subjects of this realm against the known laws and liberties of this Kingdom.

Any clergyman who failed to subscribe to this statement was to be ejected from the Church of England.

It is estimated that 2000 clergymen refused to conform to the edict and were ejected from their parishes and the Church of England. This group included Puritan luminaries such as John OwenRichard BaxterEdmund Calamy the ElderSimeon AsheThomas CaseJohn FlavelWilliam JenkynJoseph CarylThomas Brooks (Puritan)Thomas MantonWilliam SclaterThomas Doolittle and Thomas Watson. Biographical details of ejected ministers and their fates were later collected by the historian Edmund Calamy.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, perhaps more than anyone else, recovered and restored the works of the Puritans to the modern church.  In 1962 he delivered an address at Westminster Chapel’s Puritan Conference commemorating the tercentennial of the Ejection; an event Lloyd-Jones considered a watershed event on almost equal footing with the Reformation itself.  You can read Lloyd-Jones’ address in his book, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (in the chapter titled, “Puritan Perplexities – Some Lessons from 1640-1662″).

Following is a very brief summary of Lloyd-Jones’ delineation of the factors leading to Great Ejection and lessons learned from the Ejection.

Causes of the Great Ejection

The mixing of politics and religion. From the time of the English Reformation many prominent Anglican clergyman, and especially Archbishop Laud, held influence with the Monarch and other politically connected people. The Puritans had grievances with Laud and his party, as did others whose action were not motivated by religion as were the Puritans’. These disenfranchised parties banded together in an unscriptural alliance to fight a common enemy. “To mix politics with religion in the church is always a danger” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 61).

Divisions among the Puritans. “This is what makes the story a real tragedy. Fundamentally these men were all agreed about doctrine” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 61). But they had endless disagreements over other matters, especially the preferred manner of church governance. Among the various groups of Puritans, Lloyd-Jones particularly faulted the Presbyterians their divisive spirit noting that “they were the most intransigent” (p. 62). Ironically, the Presbyterians “were always ready to make agreements with the king,” but they tended to fight those with whom they were in agreement on the essential matters of the Christian faith.

The idea of a State-Church. “The Presbyterians believed in a State Church quite as much as the Anglicans” (p. 63). They inherited this position and continued to fight for their version of it rather than inquiring what the New Testament said about the nature of the church as it relates to the government. “The Presbyterians believed, quite as much as the Anglicans, that people should be compelled by Act of Parliament and the power of the State to submit to their particular view of the Church” (p. 65). While other groups simply wanted toleration to worship freely, the Anglicans and Presbyterians were fighting for supremacy, and the Anglicans won in 1662.

Lessons drawn from the Great Ejection

Gospel Priority.  The thing of supreme importance is “the gospel of salvation which is also ‘the gospel of the glory of God’” (p. 67).

Faithful Ministers.  “Coupled with that, there was their emphasis upon the necessity of having able and good ministers, and the primacy and the centrality of preaching.” (pp. 67-68).

Biblical Grounding.  Our view of the church should be in line with the New Testament. How should doctrine and practice be determined? Our faith should stand squarely on the Scriptures.

Careful Discernment.  Our divisions should be over the fundamental matters of the faith, not things of lesser importance. Lloyd-Jones argued against a divisive spirit that refused to budge on non-essential matters. He notes that to the intransigent there are no “non-essential” matters, every ditch is worth dying in, every matter of doctrine and manners are black and white.

The Battle is Spiritual.  And we must fight the battle “in a spiritual manner, and not with carnal weapons” (p. 70). Many Presbyterians actually allied themselves with those who despised and opposed them to gain political advantage. Some Puritans, like John Owen, stood against such carnality, and so should we. If we view party success as more important than the glory of God and the purity of the Church, “our cause is already lost” (p. 71).

The Ultimate Lesson?  Lloyd-Jones offers this: “‘The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.” (p.72)  At the end of the day the work is the Lord’s and He will sustain (sometimes at great personal cost) your stand on His Word.

Lloyd-Jones closed his address, speaking of those who were ejected, with these apt words:

“We thank God for the memory of these men, who, having seen the position clearly, acted upon it at all costs. May God give us grace to follow in their train!”


2 responses to 350th Anniversary of the Great Ejection

  1. From Thomas Watson’s Farewell Sermon:

    “We should not over-value the comforts of the world. Worldly comforts are very sweet, but they are swift, they are soon gone. The pleasures of the world are but for a season, just like Noah’s dove, that brought an olive-branche in her mouth, but she had wings, and so did presently fly from the ark: so are all outward comforts; they bring an olive-branch, but they have wings too, with which they fly away. The thoughts of eternity would make us not to over grieve the crosses and sufferings of the world. What are these sufferings to eternity? Our sufferings, says the apostle, are but for a while (1 Pet v.10). What are all the sufferings we can undergo in the world to eternity? Affliction may be lasting, but it is not everlasting. Our sufferings here are not worthy to be compared to the eternal weight of glory.”

    For the interested, you can read a range of farewell sermons that the Puritans gave before the ejection over at googlebooks, which has a fine copy of the “Farewell Sermons” that can be read for free.

  2. I’m about a hundred pages into Packer’s book it’s a great look at faithful people.