Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gloomy Puritans?

Robert Robinson's notes on Jean Claude, An Essay on the Composition of a Sermon (3rd ed. 1788), Vol. 2, pp. 76-78, address a point that is often raised when moderns speak of the Puritans:

It is fashionable to account the puritans of the last age a gloomy generation: but some people are not ambitious of fashion, and to them we may be allowed to say two things in favour of these gloomy people.

1. Was it fair to persecute and ruin people, and then to reproach them for not being merry? They that wasted us, required of us mirth, saying, sing us one of the songs of Zion! Psal. cxxxvii.3. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land! Alas! the Lord's songs would give you no pleasure! The songs of Sion are not composed in your taste! If we must sing, compose our odes yourselves! Come, set the five-mile act to musick! Play away upon our liberties, and properties, and lives. Give us hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and want of all things! smite us from the sole of the foot to the top of the head! Hang our lives in doubt day and night! drive us to despair, make us mad for the sight of our eyes, and then reproach us for not being merry!

2. These people were not gloomy, on the contrary, there is a satirical vein of pointed wit, that runs merrily through all their writings, and electrifies as it runs. I do not say, their wit was as well refined as modern wit: that would be profane indeed! but it was the wit of the age, and they were cheerful in the exercise of it. I could exemplify this by innumerable extracts from their polemical writings, and even by transcribing the titles of some of them: but I will only now mention two things, which afforded these dull men some diversion. 1. The shifts made to establish the liturgy diverted them. When kneeling at the communion was first appointed in the English espiscopal church, the foreign protestants were extremely offended at it, and Beza wrote to archbishop Grindall on the subject. If, says Beza, you have rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the practice of adoring the host, why do you symbolize with popery, and seem to hold both by kneeling at the sacrament? kneeling had never been thought of, had it not been for transubstantiation. Grindall replied, that though the sacrament was to be received kneeling, yet a rubrick accompanied the service-book, and informed the people, that no adoration of the elements was intended. O! I understand you, said Beza, "There was a certain great Lord, who repaired his house, and, having finished it, left before his gate a great stone, for which he had no occasion. It seems, this stone caused many people in the dark to stumble and fall. Complaint was made to his lordship, and many a humble petition was presented praying for the removal of the stone: but he remained long obstinate; at length, he condescended to order a lantern to be hung over it. My Lord, said one, if you would be pleased to rid yourself of farther solicitation, and to quiet all parties, order the stone and the candle to be both removed."

No comments:

Post a Comment