This article was found in the July 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the sixth imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
You will remember that last month I mentioned how a large congregation of exile from England had been formed in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, many bitter quarrels rent the peace of the Amsterdam Church. We must not be hard in our judgement of them. Rather should we bear in mind what years of hardship really meant. Many were living in direst poverty, and they were in a foreign country. It is easy to see how almost trifling things would strain temperaments to breaking point. In 1609 a group of these exiles left behind the squabbles of the Amsterdam Church and settled in Leyden. This is important because it is to the exiles of Leyden that we owe that glorious chapter of Independent History - the sailing of the Mayflower.
The power of James I had even followed the exiles to Holland, and they found life very hard and bleak. They decided, therefore, to sail for the New World and found their own colony. The story of the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 has often been told, and it would take too long to tell it here. In any case it deserves a series of letters itself. Suffice it is to say that from that small beginning has come the great Republic of United States of America, and also American Congregationalism, which today is helping English Congregationalism so powerfully. One thing perhaps I should mention. In your own church you will find a brass tablet to the memory of these heroic men and women. It was placed in the church in 1920, then the ter-centenary of the Pilgrim Fathers was being celebrated all over this country and America. On that plate you will find the name of a local man who was one of their number.
Over the next twenty years or so Independency grew in numbers and in strength. In 1631 it is known there were eleven congregations, and there were probably many more. They were still meeting in secret although perhaps persecution was not so rigorously applied. At this time men's aspirations were beginning to turn towards civil liberties and religious liberties were pushed to the background. Charles I was on the throne, and his insistence on the Divine right of Kings and the truly amazing folly of he Archbishop Laud made civil liberty the foremost political question of the hour. Quite naturally Independents, who had suffered for generations because of their religious views, now took a prominent part in the struggle for civil rights. Independency came rapidly to the front and became the spearhead of the opposition to the King, and began to have a political flavour. I quote from Dr. Peel: -
"When Parliament asked for Scottish aid and were told it would be granted if Presbyterianism were established, it was inevitable that men, sick of the quarrel between Episcopacy and Presbyterianism, should say 'A plague on both your houses - we will be independent of you both.'
Then Independency had been brought into the limelight in the Westminster Assembly of 1643. That Assembly was appointed by Parliament to consider the liturgy, discipline, and government of the Church. It consisted almost wholly of Presbyterianism, but a group of Independents, especially five - Phillip Nye, Thomas Goodwin, William Bridge, Jeremiah Burrows and Sidrach Simpson - counted for far more than their number. They agreed with the majority in matters of doctrine, but they were almost alone in believing that every company of Christian men and women assembled for mutual fellowship and worship is a church and stands in immediate responsibility to Jesus Christ, is responsible to Him alone, and is under the most solemn obligation to allow no authority - Pope, Bishop, Council Assembly or Synod - to come between Christ and Himself. These arguments were pressed with so much fervour and force that, though they could not convince the assembly, they drew the attention of men of all classes to the Independent contentions."
The Civil War ended with Cromwell, an independent, in power as Protector. At one time it looked as if Presbyterianism would take chief place, but Cromwell altered that. Cromwell's Ironsides were composed largely of Independents, and I give here Dr. Dale's description of them: -
"It was largely composed of men who had a grave belief that they had been called of God to rescue the nation from the tyranny of the King and to secure for the 'saints' liberty to worship according to the commandment of men. At the root of their religious life was an intense faith in the illumination granted by the Divine Spirit to every Christian man to Christ by the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Christian Church. They saw, or thought they saw, that the usurpation by the clergy and the civil magistrates of the powers and responsibilities which Christ had entrusted to all Godly men, had been the cause of immeasurable evils. By the authority of the Bishops, sustained by the Crown, superstitions ceremonies had been forced on the nation. Godly ministers who refused to submit were silenced and subjected to cruel persecution, while men of scandalous lives, who knew nothing of the power and glory of Christ, were suffered to retain their pulpits and their tithes. It was not clear to them that Presbytery with the hierarchy of the Courts, was very much better than Episcopacy. The Spirit of God given to all that are 'in Christ' was not to be fettered by 'Confessions', 'Covenants' and 'Directories' of worship. Freedom must be left to the devout and adventurous soul to follow the guidance of the Spirit whenever the Spirit might lead."
Next month I will try and tell you a little of how Independency acted during its brief span of power.
May God bless you.