Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Stoughton's Heroes 05

Some, indeed, may look on them as fictions; but those who thoroughly believe the assurance of the Divine Redeemer, that if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all needful things shall be added unto us, will readily allow the probability, the verisimilitude of such statements; nor can any fair suspicion be entertained respecting the veracity, the means of information, the good sense, and habits of careful inquiry possessed by the men who have related these incidents. If we believe (and who that reads the New Testament can disbelieve it?) that a special providence watches over those who strive to do God's will, and rest upon his promises, we shall be prepared to admit remarkable interpositions on behalf of men who signalized themselves by their religious integrity? Instead of there being an antecedent improbability against such facts, they are the very facts which Divine revelation stamps with a striking likelihood.
The pecuniary difficulties, however, in which the Act of Uniformity involved so many devoted men, were only the beginning of sorrows: their reputation, their personal liberty and their lives were soon in jeopardy. For these silenced ministers to preach to their late parishioners and friends, for them even to pray with a few devout spirits like themselves, was deemed a crime. Their words were often caught up, and with diabolical ingenuity construed into treason. If some quaint preacher spoke of the devil as a king who courts the soul, and speaks fair till he has obtained his throne, the metaphorical language was grossly perverted, and there were informers ready to declare that the good man said the King was like the Evil One. Treason, heresy, schism, were unscrupulously charged upon this proscribed class and the malicious were never at a loss for pretexts to compass their purposes. Ruffians were ready to execute the bidding of inhuman magistrates and informers, and would rush into the houses of ejected ministers while they were praying with their families, and, levelling a pistol at the back of the suppliant, command him in the King's name to rise and surrender himself. Dragged before prejudiced justices of the peace to answer charges equally vague and false, these Puritans were treated with a brutality which in the present day appears incredible. When, for example, one of these confessors was pleading his own cause, an alderman rose from the bench, tore off the satin cap worn by the accused and boxed his ears. The ejected ministers were sometimes conducted through the streets by constables after the manner of criminals and compelled to walk long distances to prison, till their feet were pierced through their worn-out shoes and stained with blood.
A memorable story is told of one of these worthies, illustrative of the inhumanity of his persecutors and of his own beautiful Christian spirit. Thomas Worts was Curate of Burningham in Norfolk. Being apprehended after his ejectment by a writ De excommunicato capiendo, he was brought from Burningham to Norwich Castle with his legs chained under the horse's belly. Entering that old wall-girt city through St Augustine's Gate, which with its square tower guarded one of the northern entrances, he was watched by a woman looking from a chamber window, who exclaimed in derision, as he passed close by her, "Worts, where's now your God?" "Turn," said the injured man, "to Micah vii 10: Then she that is mine enemy shall see it, and shame shall cover her which said unto me, "Where is the Lord thy God? Mine eye shall behold her: now shall she be trodden down as the mire of the streets.'" It is added, that the woman, touched by this allusion, ceased from her enmity and became a kind friend to the man whom she had insulted. Worts had a brother named Richard, who in like manner was apprehended and was imprisoned for seven years. Part of this time was spent in Norwich Castle, in a miserable cell containing six prisoners beside himself, with wickets looking into the felons' yard, which were constantly kept open, or the inmates would have been stifled with the fumes of the charcoal burnt in that cold damp place. "If his wife came to see one of the captives, he was called down to the door; and the keeper used to set his back against one side of the doorway, and his foot against the other, so as to prevent her entrance any farther." The plague was raging at the time; the filth and stench of the prison were alone enough to create a pestilence. The close confinement of the prisoners seriously affected their health; one was in imminent danger; and under these circumstances application was made for at least a temporary release - but in vain.

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