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Cromwell and Charles II

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 20, 2024 12:01 am

Cromwell and Charles II

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 20, 2024 12:01 am

As civil war raged in 17th-century England, Puritan theologians met at Westminster to create documents for establishing a Reformed national church. Today, Michael Reeves outlines the changes made in this brief but influential period.

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Michael Reeves is president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in the United Kingdom. He is the featured teacher for the Ligonier teaching series The English Reformation and the Puritans. He is author of many books, including The Unquenchable Flame, Delighting in the Trinity, and Rejoice and Tremble.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Hi, this is Nathan W Bingham and before we get to today's episode, I wanted to encourage you to download the free Ligonier app if you haven't already. You can easily get the app by searching for Ligonier in your app store of choice or by visiting slash app. As a Renewing Your Mind listener, you know that most days our resource offer has a digital component, something you can stream or read, and you can access those resources in the app. The Ligonier app also makes it easy to listen to each day's edition of Renewing Your Mind, plus there's thousands of other free resources in the library that you can read, watch, or listen to. And if you're a Ligonier ministry partner, when you log in, our complete teaching series library will be unlocked so you can study on the go.

So be sure to search for Ligonier in your app store and make the Ligonier app something that you use every day. Now onto today's episode. Now, this time, the 1650s, they were really a golden age for Puritan activity in the universities, in the churches, in society. And the freedom that the Puritans now had in this commonwealth, it's hard for an Englishman to say it, the Republic of England, was simply unprecedented. After the death of the king, this was a time of special fruitfulness, giving birth to many of the Puritans' greatest achievements. Queen Elizabeth II reigned for over seven decades, the longest reigning British monarch.

King Charles III is now on the throne, but did you know that there was a period of time when there was no king or queen in England? This is the Thursday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and it's that period in history that we'll learn about today. Our guest teacher this week is Michael Reeves, and he serves as president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in the United Kingdom. So far this week, he's introduced us to Richard Sibbes and Thomas Goodwin and painted some of the picture of what life was like in the world of Sibbes and Goodwin. Today, he'll zoom out again and see what happens to reform in the church when the king is executed for high treason.

Here's Dr. Reeves. In this lecture, the camera is going to zoom out again to see the big picture. And where we left things last time was we were seeing the very beginning of the Civil War, the war between King Charles I and the parliamentarians who were going to oppose him, largely a Puritan faction, largely. But the Civil War wasn't solely about religion. And yet, as Cromwell himself would put it, religion wasn't the thing at first contested for, but God brought it to that issue at last.

The Puritans saw here was a chance to achieve what they've been fighting for ever since Elizabeth's settlement, some hundred years before almost. And it was of this time that the poet John Milton spoke when he said, God is decreeing some new and great period for the church, even to the reforming of the Reformation itself. And as the Civil War raged from 1643 to 1649, about a hundred Puritan theologians met in Westminster to write the necessary documents for the creation of a properly reformed national church. This would be now a church with no bishops and Archbishop Lord himself was executed in 1645. It would be a Presbyterian church in England, though there would be room for Congregationalists.

There had to be. Cromwell, the general, very powerful general, was a Congregationalist. There had to be room for the Congregationalists. There would be catechisms. There would be a new reformed statement of belief, the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Book of Common Prayer would be replaced with the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. Then on the 30th of January, 1649, King Charles was beheaded for high treason against the people of England.

With him died the hopes of the High Church party. And the country looked very, very different. There was no king in England.

There were no bishops. And the country was first of all ruled by Parliament and then soon by Cromwell himself as Lord Protector. This was a time of unprecedented opportunity for the Puritans. The day after the king was beheaded, John Owen was asked to preach before the House of Commons. And this was an indication of the young man's national stature. And what he said to Parliament really caught the mood of the time.

And clearly he was excited at what was happening. Owen believed all that had happened, the Civil War and the execution of the king, had been prophesied as God's plan for the last days. With the execution of the king, the defeat of his tyranny, the reign of the Antichrist was coming to an end. It was the beginning now of a triumphant millennial age being ushered in. And now the gospel could be preached unhindered.

The church could be reformed and Christ would begin to fill the world with his light and love. It was an optimistic millenarian vision and more and more people were flocking to it. Hopes were very high in 1649. And Owen's message clearly sat very well with Parliament. He was invited to preach to them again. And this time, second time, he was heard by Oliver Cromwell.

A man, he was the general of the parliamentarian army and a man deeply interested in prophecy and how the cause of parliament was the prophesied cause of God. Now Cromwell at this time was just preparing to lead an army against a Catholic uprising in Ireland and he invited Owen to come along as a chaplain. And the next couple of years saw Owen as Cromwell's chaplain, first of all in Ireland where he hoped to turn Trinity College Dublin into a seminary for gospel preachers. And then Cromwell's army turned north to Scotland and Owen went with him. But that role as Cromwell's chaplain was really the stepping stone to the big one. Cromwell enabled him in 1651 to become dean of Christchurch, Oxford and a year later he was appointed vice-chancellor of Oxford University.

Now don't be mislaid by that title. The title of chancellor of the university is a purely honorary one. You just dress up nicely for that role and be important in some other capacity. Vice-chancellor is the CEO. He's the guy who actually runs the university. So he's actually running Oxford University. Now the fact that Owen could be appointed vice-chancellor shows how things had really shifted since he was a student there. Not that long before and Oxford really had changed. Many of the old high church guard had been replaced by Puritans, a lot of them from Cambridge. There was still a lot to be done, but Owen was positive Oxford and Cambridge could be the seed beds for England's gospel renewal, raising up the preachers.

And they could go out to reform the rest of the country. So what was needed, he believed, was a generation of young scholars and preachers to be educated in the gospel who could then go out and educate the nation. And as a result, Owen saw his principal duties as vice-chancellor being preaching and teaching. So alongside his lectures, he gave many sermons around Oxford and he made sure that he preached at the University Church of St Mary's every second Sunday. And one of his sermon series got transcribed and put together as what is now probably Owen's most popular devotional work. The one people tend to read first on the mortification of sin.

The mortification of sin, a sermon series preached to students. Now this time, the 1650s, they were, as they were for Owen, really a golden age for Puritan activity in the universities, in the churches, in society. And the freedom that the Puritans now had in this commonwealth, this, it's hard for an Englishman to say it, the Republic of England, was simply unprecedented. After the death of the king, this was a time of special fruitfulness, giving birth to many of the Puritans' greatest achievements. One of the most prolific and foremost Puritan scholars was Richard Sibbes' old friend, the primate of all Ireland, James Usher.

Sorry, to just clarify, primate doesn't mean he's a sort of monkey. It means he's the lead bishop in Ireland. In the 1650s, Usher published his Annals of the World, a monumental history of the world that began with the now famous opening. The beginning of time, according to our chronology, happened at the start of the evening preceding the 23rd day of October on the Julian calendar, 4004 BC. And that was a date immortalized in the marginal notes of the authorized version of the Bible for generations.

Now, scholarly opinion of the time was fairly happy with the idea that the date of creation could be fixed somewhere around 4000 BC. So today, that's often laughed at, Usher's claims, but you need to know Professor Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University completely disagreed with Usher, but he agreed that Usher's work was of the highest scholarly standard of its time. So people today take that date and will laugh at it very commonly, but this was a very impressive scholarly work. Whatever you make of his conclusions.

And you read his arguments and they are strong. And I think what makes people dismiss Usher and not read the rest of the work too quickly is quite simply this. Usher believed the Bible is a reliable source of chronological information about the history of the world.

Now, you need to know that because the rest of the work then goes on. It's about more than simply calculating the date of creation. The annals were a seminal attempt at a comprehensive history of the world from creation right up to 70 AD using all available sources. It was of the highest order of the time and such mighty tomes as Usher produced there. These were the ripe fruit of Puritanism's great period.

It was great scholarship. Now, something that marked out how different the new republic or Commonwealth of England was to how things had been, was the extraordinary level of religious freedom. Now that differing openly from the Church of England was encouraged, a whole host of different sects emerged. So England became a place of mere Protestantism and differences on a vast range of theological issues now became acceptable. England had never seen such religious freedom as this. More, for the first time in nearly 400 years, Jews were allowed back into England. They'd been expelled some 400 years before. The idea was they might get converted, but they were allowed complete freedom to worship.

Now, this freedom meant that England in the 1650s played host to a horde of radical groups. So there were, for example, the Quakers with their emphasis on the inner light as opposed to the external word. There were the, oh I love these, the Muggletonians whose prophet John Reeve believed that, can I just specify, my name is Reeves, no relation to John Reeve.

John Reeve believed that Jesus alone was God. He didn't believe in a Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, and therefore when Jesus died on the cross, Moses and Elijah had to run the cosmos for a couple of days. More than those, there were the ranters. The ranters for whom sin was an illusion since Titus 1.15, to the pure, all things are pure. And now the ranters in particular, they defended adultery, they engaged in public displays of nudity and ecstatic blasphemy. They were very useful to critics of the Puritan enterprise, because critics asked, is this what being fully reformed looks like? The main thing really, though, that turned people against the Puritan government was its attempt to enforce strict Christian behavior on a nation. So the theaters were closed. Adultery became a capital crime.

Swearing, merely saying, upon my life, could merit a hefty fine. The Sabbath was legally protected, so any walking abroad except going to church on a Sabbath was illegal. And superstitious holidays such as Christmas were abolished and replaced with monthly fast days.

Now, imagine that. When soldiers could be found patrolling London on Christmas Day, summarily inspecting houses to see if there was any meat cooking there for celebration, it's hardly surprising people were put off, because ordinary citizens, regardless of their spiritual state, were being made to live as if they were the godly, and they couldn't stomach it. And it was an experience, really, that would tar Puritanism ever after in the English mind, and people began to long for the easy ways of a merry government. Now, it hadn't taken long before the English, who were always like this. The English always want a monarch, and they wanted a king again. And actually, they offered Oliver Cromwell the crown, and he refused it. When Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard was made Lord Protector, but Richard really didn't have the abilities of his awesome father, and he only lasted about six months. And with a lack of any capable successor to Oliver Cromwell, the people were quick to offer the rulership of England to Charles, the son of the king they'd executed. Charles II, who returned in glory from exile. He was the very opposite of everything England had seen for the last decade through the Commonwealth, the Republic, the merry monarch, as he became known. Well, he seemed to have as many mistresses as he had spaniels, and he managed to produce 14 illegitimate children from a mere seven of his mistresses.

Under the Commonwealth, adultery had been a capital crime. Under Charles's reign, it was chastity that was punished with scorn. And, dare I say it, Charles was very cavalier about theological differences. If anything, Charles was a Roman Catholic at heart.

And on his deathbed, he converted to Roman Catholicism. In this atmosphere, the reaction against Puritanism was popular and savage. In 1662, two years after his return, the king's return, the prayer book was reimposed. And now, to put an end to all arguments for good, all clergy were forced to declare it contains nothing contrary to the word of God, and they would not depart from it in their services. A fifth of the clergy, some 2,000 of them, refused and were thrown out of their ministries. To stop them from any further ministry, two years later, the Conventicle Act outlawed religious assemblies of more than five persons outside the Church of England. More than five people could not meet for a religious assembly outside the Church of England. The following year, the Five Mile Act stopped these banished pastors going within five miles of any town where they had previously pastored. You simply cannot pastor your people.

It's illegal to do. Puritanism was being legally gagged. Now, Puritan ministries kept going. Some ejected clergy managed to find a place somewhere else. There were some places that were more than five miles from any town, and these became Puritan strongholds. Other Puritan pastors simply braved the consequences. So, particularly in 1665 and 1666, first the plague swept through London, and then that mercifully was stopped, but only stopped by the Great Fire of London, which burned it out. Now, many of the Puritan pastors illegally stayed with their London congregations, who were suffering so badly so that they could minister to them through their suffering, and through that circumstance, they would warn of sin, that plague of plagues, and the great fire that must follow.

You could see sermon material in that. But they stayed bravely with their people. But as such brave but direct flouting of the law, the persecution grew even more intense, and over the following years, some 20,000 Puritans were sent to prison.

In Scotland, they had it even worse. The death penalty was imposed for such illegal preaching, and torture was used liberally to hunt down suspects. As an example of how things were in those days, consider how things were for a former chaplain of Oliver Cromwell's, John Owen. Now, John Owen had been a society figure well known, so he would be less likely to face the full wrath of the law in public in the way some lesser-known people might be. But a former chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, the king, was never going to warm to John Owen. Before long, Owen's house was raided by the militia. He was caught, he was prosecuted for preaching to some 30 people.

Remember, religious assemblies of more than five were illegal. He considered emigrating, and there were many universities, churches in Holland, New England, that were eager to have him, but he decided to stay. And that was important, because such a prominent theologian, a non-conformist, non-Anglican theologian, was really going to lead the way for non-Anglicans. Where he went, others were going to follow.

So he stayed, and he had connections that could help. So he couldn't keep his friend John Bunyan out of prison when he was caught illegally preaching, but he could find him a publisher for his new book, Pilgrim's Progress. Now, you might think it's a bit harsh for a government to hound a harmless theologian like John Owen, but there was a secret side to Owen's life. Behind closed doors, Owen dabbled in radical politics, and he seems to have been in on a plot to assassinate Charles II and replace him with a Protestant Duke of Monmouth. Government spies monitored Owen's activity, and one time, when his house was raided, they managed to find six or seven cases of pistols.

Not the sort of thing you find in the homes of respectable English academic theologians. Now, having then got to see a little of the big picture of what England was like, there it was, Charles clamping down on Puritanism. Having seen something of that picture, the movement from the Republic's Golden Age for the Puritans through to the dark days of Charles II's reign, having seen that and seen a little bit of John Owen in it, we're now going to zoom in again to get to know this man and his thought a load better. That was Michael Reeves on this Thursday edition of Renewing Your Mind. If you'd like to never miss an episode of Renewing Your Mind, you can enter your email address at slash email, and each morning we'll send you a link to that day's teaching. This also makes it very easy for you to forward that email on to family and friends if there's an episode that you'd like to share. Today's message was from the series The English Reformation and the Puritans, and we'll send you this 12-part series on DVD when you give a gift of any amount at or when you call us at 800 435 4343. But did you know that if you're a Ligonier ministry partner supporting us in prayer and with a monthly donation, you already have streaming access to this series and hundreds of others. You can become a ministry partner by clicking the Give Monthly button when you respond to today's offer or by visiting slash partner. And in addition to extending the reach of Ligonier Ministries and Renewing Your Mind, you'll receive exclusive access to discipleship resources to aid you and your family. Become a ministry partner or give a one-time gift today by visiting or by clicking the link in the podcast show notes. Thank you. Be sure to join us next time as Dr Reeves introduces us to John Owen. That's tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-20 12:52:59 / 2024-06-20 13:01:17 / 8

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