The Perplexities of History

The Perplexities of History

What follows are excerpts from Baptists’* letters to Charles II around 1657/8 while he was still in exile in Bruges.

**Most likely not Particular Baptists**

“When we sit down, and recount the wonderful and unheard of dispensations of God amongst us, when we call to our remembrances the tragical actions and transactions of these late times, when we seriously consider the dark and mysterious effects of providence, the unexpected disappointment of counsels, the strange and strong convulsions of state, the various and violent motions and commotions of the people, the many changes, turnings, and over-turnings of governors and governments, which in the revolutions of a few years, have been produced in this land of miracles, we cannot but be even swallowed up in astonishment, and are constrained to command an unwilling silence upon our sometimes mutinous, and over inquiring hearts, resolving all into the good will and pleasure of the all-disposing One, whose wisdom is unsearchable, and whose ways are past finding out.”

  • I feel the same way about the 17th century, and they’re only describing c.1640-1658!

“We cannot but judge it is a duty highly incumbent upon us, to endeavor, as much as in us lies, to repair the breaches of our dear country. And since it is our lot (we may say our unhappiness) to be embarked in a shipwrecked common-wealth (which like a poor weather-beaten Pinnace [a small sailing vessel], has for so long a time been tossed upon the waves and billows of faction, split upon the rocks of violence, and is now almost quite devoured in the quicksands of ambition) what can we do more worthy of Englishmen, as we are by nation, or of Christians, as we are by profession, than every one of us to put our hands to an oar, and try if it be the will of our God, that such weak instruments as we, may be, in any measure, helpful to bring it at last into the safe and quiet harbor of justice and righteousness.”

  • It’s time for men to be men.

“We know not, we know not, whether we have juster matter of shame or sorrow administered to us, when we take a reflex view of our past actions, and consider the commission of what crimes, impieties, wickednesses, and unheard of villainies, we have been led, cheated, cozened, and betrayed by that grand impostor, the loathsome, hypocrite, the detestable traitor, that prodigy of nature, the opprobrium of mankind, the landscape of iniquity, that sink of sin, and that compendium of baseness, who now calls himself our Protector.”

  • (Side note: Tell us how you really feel about Cromwell.) Be careful in describing the views of 17th century men (e.g. calling them theonomists) based on their actions. The motives and motions of the leaders and people are hopelessly complicated and often misunderstood by the very participants. In other words, the reason you and your brother(s) took up arms may not have correlated with the reason that your commander(s) took up arms. And those reasons were very subject to change.

“Forasmuch as it cannot be deny’d, but that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by his Death and Resurrection, has purchased the liberties of his own people, and is thereby become their sole Lord and King, to whom, and to whom only, they owe obedience in things spiritual; We do therefore humbly beseech your Majesty, that you would engage your Royal Word never to erect, nor suffer to be erected, any such Tyrannical, popish, and Antichristian Hierarchy (Episcopal, Presbyterian, or by what name soever it be called) as shall assume a Power over, or impose a yoke upon, the consciences of others; but that every one of your Majesty’s subjects may hereafter be at liberty to worship God in such a way; form, and manner, as shall appear to them, to be agreeable to the mind and will of Christ, revealed in his Word, according to that proportion, or measure of Faith and Knowledge which they have received.”

  • Sounds a little proto-american, eh? We do not pay enough attention to the importance of liberty of conscience in Baptist (and Reformation) thought and theology. It is essential and fundamental. The progression of the confessions from Liberty of Conscience to Religious Worship and other such chapters is intentional and significant. (If I may have a Baptist moment, I often chuckle inwardly when modern Presbyterians exude an air of historical pride and superiority. Their own English/Scottish Presbyterian forefathers would have strongly rejected them. Ours would not reject us, because we confess the same confession. That doesn’t make us any better, lest we become guilty of the same mistake.)

“Some, drunk with enthusiasms and besotted with fanatic notions, do allow of none to have a share in government besides the saints; and these are called Christian Royalists, or Fifth Monarchy Men; others violently opposing this, as destructive to the liberty of the free-born people, strong contend to have the nation governed by a continual succession of parliament, consisting of equal representatives; and these stile themselves Common-Wealths-Men. A third party there is, who finding by the observation of most times, that parliaments are better physic than food, seem to incline most to monarchy, if laid under such restrictions as might free the people from the fear of tyranny; and those are contented to suffer under the opprobrious name of Levellers.”

  • I highly recommend reading Dennis Bustin’s chapters on the Particular Baptists’ struggles for legitimacy in the 17th century (in his work on Hanserd Knollys). These are just a few of the ideas running around in the political climate of the day.

“But this I shall crave leave to say, that I have often observed, that a desperate game at Chess has been recovered after the loss of the nobility, only by playing the pawns well…especially at such a time as this, when there is scarce any thing but pawns left upon the board.”

  • Where Parliament, Presbytery, Protector, and Plutocracy have failed, the Pawns will┬áprevail.