An article recently appeared in Reformation Today as follows:
The Great Ejection of 1662
This year sees the 350th anniversary of what is known as the Great Ejection, when about two thousand ministers and others in the pay of the national church in England and Wales were silenced or ejected from their livings for failing to conform to what the Church of England required. Most of the names of the men who were ejected and their wives who suffered with them are unfamiliar to us, though names such as Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson and John Howe should mean something to you. Though some few good men did remain in the national church, Gerald Bray is right to say that almost all of the ejected “were Puritans, and so the Act may be said to represent the expulsion of Puritanism from the national Church.” It is right, therefore, that those who claim admire the Puritans should know something of this history. However, discovering good material on the subject is not easy and in an attempt to remedy this I have established an internet blog (www.greatejection.blogspot.com) and a short book that Evangelical Press hope to publish this year. We have also arranged a one day study conference at the Evangelical Library in London on March 27. Back in 1962, speaking at the Evangelical Library, Dr Lloyd-Jones said that practically all that is good in evangelicalism finds its roots in the Puritanism so fiercely persecuted then. He also declared that “the very greatness of the men themselves as men of God demands our attention”. That testimony ought to be heeded.
Take as just one example of such men, Joseph Alleine 1634-1668, the author of the posthumous bestseller Alarm to the unconverted ejected from his living in 1662 and imprisoned in Ilchester the following year. His older brother Edward had been a minister but had died aged only 26, prompting him also to go into the ministry. He worked in Taunton alongside George Newton 1602-1681, “a plain, profitable and successful preacher, eminent for meekness and prudence”, also ejected in 1662. In 1655 Alleine married his cousin, Theodosia Alleine fl 1654-1677, whose father Richard Alleine 1610-1681, and uncle William Alleine 1613/14–1677, were also ejected. Theodosia subsequently wrote of her husband that
He would be much troubled if he heard smiths or shoemakers,or such tradesmen, at work at their trades, before he was in his duties with God: saying to me often, “O how this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?”
She also tells how they were at home one Saturday evening in 1663 when
my husband was seized on by an officer of our town, who would rather have been otherwise employed, as he hath often said, but that he was forced to a speedy execution of the warrant by a justice’s clerk, who was sent on purpose with it to see it executed, because he feared that none of the town would have done it.
The warrant required Alleine to appear at the house of a justice about two miles out of town. He asked if he could eat with his family first. This was initially denied but a prominent man in the town agreed to guarantee his speedy appearance after that. Theodosia continues “His supper being prepared, he sat down, eating very heartily, and was very cheerful, but full of holy and gracious expressions, suitable to his and our present state”. After supper, having prayed with the family, he went with the officer and some friends to the justice’s house, where he was accused of breaking the law by preaching, which he denied. He was accused of “being at a riotous assembly” though involved in nothing but preaching and prayer. Then he was much abused with many scorns and scoffs from the justices and their associates, and even the ladies as well as the gentlemen often called him rogue, and told him that he deserved to be hanged, ... with many such like scurrilous passages,which my husband receiving with patience, and his serene countenance showing that he did slight the threatenings, made them the more enraged. They then urged him much to accuse himself, but in vain. Despite a lack of evidence, after keeping him until twelve with their abuse and mocking, they made out an arrest warrant committing him to gaol the following Monday. It was about two in the morning by the time he was home so he lay on his bed still dressed to sleep for a few hours before rising to pray at about eight o’clock, by which time several friends had arrived. He was not allowed to preach but was free to speak with the various groups that flocked in from the town and nearby villages and to pray with them. Theodosia continues
He was exceeding cheerful in his spirit, full of admiration of the mercies of God, and encouraging all that came to be bold, and venture all for the Gospel and their souls, notwithstanding what was come upon him for their sakes. For, as he told them, he was not at all moved at it, nor did not in the least repent of anything he had done, but accounted himself happy under that promise Christ makes ... that he should be doubly and trebly blessed now he was to suffer for his sake; and was very earnest with his brethren in the ministry that came to see him, that they would not in the least desist when he was gone, that there might not be one sermon the less in Taunton; and with the people, to attend the ministry with greater ardency, diligence, and courage than before; assuring them how sweet and comfortable it was to him to consider what he had done for God in the months past; and that he was going to prison full of joy, being confident that all these things would turn to the furtherance of the Gospel, and the glory of God.
Not wanting to leave his people without some final words, he met with them in the small hours of the following morning. Several hundred gathered to hear him preach and pray for about three hours. At about nine, again with friends accompanying him, he set out for Ilchester. The streets were lined with people on either side. Many followed him out of the town for several miles, earnestly lamenting their loss. Alleine was very moved by all this but did his best to look cheerful and say something to encouraging. He carried his arrest warrant himself, and had no officer with him. When he came to the prison the gaoler was not there so he took opportunity to preach one final time before entering, which he was later vilified for. When the gaoler came, he delivered his warrant and “was clapped up in the Bridewell chamber, which is over the common gaol”. On arriving, Alleine found there his friend John Norman 1622-1669 from Bridgwater, imprisoned a few days before. Norman's great fear was ending up as an indentured labourer on one of the plantations of the West Indies, a realistic fear for a nonconformist at that time. Alleine spent the next four months in this hole. At that time the gaol held 50 Quakers, 17 Baptists and about 12 others who, like Alleine, had been arrested for preaching and praying. Through the summer months, the heat inside the low ceilinged prison was quite unbearable. There was little privacy and nowhere to eat. Night and day they could hear the singing, the cursing and the clanking chains of the criminals in the cells below. The professed Quakers could be a nuisance too. Alleine and his companions took it in turns to preach and pray publicly once or twice a day. There were usually crowds from the villages around listening at the bars of the prison. The rest of the day was spent speaking to those who thronged to him for counsel and instruction. He would spend much of the night studying and in prayer. He was allowed to curtain off a corner of the room big enough for his bed, where he could pray in private. Theodosia bravely chose to share imprisonment with him. After some weeks he was allowed to walk in the countryside, if the gaoler was willing. Friends supplied him with food and money and he stayed healthy in body and mind. On 14 July he was taken to court in Taunton and indicted for preaching. Despite a lack of evidence he was returned to prison where he and his companions would soon have to face the cold of winter, every bit as trying as the heat of summer. It was a whole twelve months before he was released. He kept busy writing books including an exposition of the Shorter Catechism. There were also weekly letters to his people, a number of which were later collected and published. He also sent out catechisms for distribution among poor families. When the gaol chaplain fell ill, he dared to take his place, and, until prohibited, preached to the criminals in the gaol and helped them in other ways. He was much in prayer throughout his time in prison. Once free again Alleine set about his work with alacrity but some three years on he was re-arrested, along with his wife, her aged father, seven other ministers and 40 others. Alleine was not well when he entered prison this second time and it greatly weakened him so that after returning to Taunton in February, 1668, his health broke down completely. Nine months later, at the age of only 34, weary from hard work and suffering, he died. How such a story should stir us up to zeal for serving the Lord in our generation. This is only one example among hundreds of such faithfulness.
As Spurgeon once said, these were men who counted nothing their own. They were driven out from their benefices, because they could not conform to the Established Church, and they gave up all they had willingly to the Lord. They were hunted from place to place ... they wandered here and there to preach the gospel to a few poor sheep, being fully given up to their Lord. Those were foul times; but they promised they would walk the road fair or foul, and they did walk it knee-deep in mud; and they would have walked it if it had been knee-deep in blood too.
The events that lay behind all this
What led up to Alleine's ejection, imprisonment and eventual death was a series of far reaching events in the political sphere. Firstly, in May 1660, the monarchy was restored. Charles II, heir to Charles I, who had been executed in January 1649, was recalled. Although many good men were keen to see the monarchy re-established they did not realise what it would lead to. For a while things were moderately bearable for the Puritans but a series of acts were passed against them between 1661 and 1665, acts that since the 19th century have together been known as the Clarendon Code, after the Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde, the first Lord Clarendon.
The Corporation Act
he first of the four acts was the Corporation Act of December 1661. It required three things from all municipal officials - mayors, aldermen, councillors, borough officials. These were an oath of allegiance to the throne, a formal rejection of the Solemn League and Covenant and the taking of communion in the parish church within a year of taking office. Its effect was to exclude nonconformists from public office and some conscientious dissenters lost important posts. Further, some unscrupulous corporations took advantage of the situation and voted such men into office then fined them when they declined to serve!
The Act of Uniformity
Obviously with the ascent of a new ruler a new Act of Conformity was expected. Once Charles's new Parliament was in place they brought in such a bill. The bill was so strict that it was almost impossible for even the least dogmatic of the Puritans to accept it with a clear conscience. The act received royal assent on 29 July, 1662. It gave all ministers of the Church of England, university fellows, school teachers and private tutors too, until 24 August, St Bartholomew’s Day, to conform to its demands or be ejected. Ministers were expected to affirm the supremacy of the monarch in all things ecclesiastical and spiritual and to signify ‘unfeigned assent’ to everything in the forthcoming Book of Common Prayer. Most were unable to see this book in time, as it was not out until 6 August. Those who had not been ordained by a bishop were also expected to be re-ordained. Further, there was again the need to repudiate the hated Solemn League and Covenant and to acknowledge that the oath taken to maintain it involved no moral obligation. A declaration was further required that it was unlawful under any pretence whatever to take up arms against the King.
The Great Ejection
Estimates vary but it seems that, including those ejected before 1662 and some who jumped rather than waiting to be pushed, two thousand were silenced or ejected. There will always be some vagueness about the figure as some changed their minds. A G Matthews says some 210 later conformed. Edmund Calamy's Nonconformist Memorial Calamy deals with some 2,465 people altogether. Matthews and Michael Watts say that the number unwilling to conform in 1662 was 2029. Some 200 of these were university lecturers. Matthews points out that a further 129 were deprived at an uncertain date between 1660 and 1663 and with the ejections of 1660 as well, he gives a total of 1760 ministers (about 20% of the clergy) thrust out of the Church of England, silenced from preaching or teaching because they could no longer conform by law and so deprived of a livelihood. Many preached farewell sermons the week before their ejection and some of these are still in print. Robert Adkins, ejected from St John's, Exeter, spoke for many when he said in his farewell sermon Let him never be accounted a sound christian that doth not fear God and honour the king. I beg that you would not suffer our nonconformity, for which we patiently bear the loss of our places, to be an act of unpeaceableness and disloyalty. We will do anything for his majesty but sin. We will hazard anything for him but our souls. We hope we could die for him, only we dare not be damned for him. We make no question, however we may be accounted of here, we shall be found loyal and obedient subjects at our appearance before God's tribunal. Iain Murray has written of the day itself that the atmosphere “was electric and charged with emotion; the popular discontent was great and strong guards stood ready in London”. Of the sermons, however, he rightly says that they seem far removed from all that. There is a calmness, and unction and a lack of invective. Great though their sorrow was for their flocks and for their nation, they had a message to preach which was more than equal to the strain of the crisis. An eternal God, an Ever-Living Saviour and a glorious hope of heaven, carried them through this heaviest trial.
he years 1660 to 1689 saw great variation in the levels of persecution and understandably things varied from place to place. The persecution launched against the ejected also swept into its net others already outside the national church. John Bunyan is the most famous example. He was imprisoned in 1660 and remained there for the best part of the next 12 years. His congregation had previously been meeting in the parish church in Bedford but that all came to an end with the Restoration. Their conscientious stand for the truth and their great courage and wisdom in the face of persecution give an example that ought to be known and emulated. Conventicle Act
In 1664 a third act was passed banning religious gatherings of more than five people over the age of 16, apart from the family members, unless using Church of England rites. Penalties for breaking this law were very strict. A first offence merited three months in prison or a £5 fine. A second offence saw the penalty doubled, a third would meet with transportation to America for seven years or a fine of £100.
Five Mile Act
In 1665 a particularly cruel law was passed. Known as the five mile act, this act forbade the ejected from living within five miles of their former place of abode. The idea was to try and cut them off from their former congregations, who usually remained loyal. It is this act that now drove ministers into obscure and isolated places and that necessitated long, secret journeys in order to circumvent the law. This is when secret meetings began to take place and when tricks such as having the minister preach in one room while the congregation listened in another began to come in. The act expired on 1 March, 1669. Along with Clarendon's fall in 1667 this meant some relief for the dissenters. It was short lived, however, as in July 1669, prompted by Parliament, Charles made a proclamation urging magistrates to continue to use the outstanding laws against nonconformists.
The Second Conventicle Act
In 1670 a second conventicle act was passed. Famously described by Andrew Marvell as ‘the quintessence of arbitrary malice’, it reduced penalties for ordinary worshippers but fines for preachers and the owners of places where conventicles were found went up to £20 for a first offence, £40 for a second. The idea of distraint was also introduced, the seizure of a person’s property in order to obtain payment. If the minister could not pay, wealthier members of the congregation could lawfully be plundered.
Indulgences and waves of persecution
In 1672 and 1683 Charles then James decreed indulgences but, unsupported in Parliament by law, these did not last and the pattern of persecution continued in most places. The Broadmead Baptists wrote of some eight waves of persecution altogether and it is clear that, as is often the case to this day, persecution did come in waves. Typically again, it varied in form and intensity, from minor harassment to mass imprisonment. Various factors were involved such as one's willingness to adapt to the situation and the attitude of local magistrates. Matthews suggests that 12.4% of the ejected men, some 215 altogether, were imprisoned between 1662 and the death of Charles II in 1685. Most were in for short periods but others were in prison for lengthy terms. Some seven ministers actually died in prison.
There was a Bible taught confidence among dissenters that their sufferings were working for them “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”. When Joseph Oddy was taunted by a Cambridge wit with the doggerel lines Good day, Mr Oddy, Pray how fares your body; Methinks you look damnably thin? He shot back with That sir's your mistake, 'Tis for righteousness' sake; Damnation's the fruit of your sin. Dissenters were not slow to see in various providences God's hand encouraging them and dealing with their persecutors. What else could one make of the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London and the war with the Dutch, too, for that matter? “Nonconformist writings abound” says Michael Watts “in stories of disasters which befell individual persecutors”. Positively, Philip Henry, father of Matthew, observed in old age that though many of the ejected were brought very low, had many mouths to feed, were greatly harassed by persecution and their friends were generally poor and unable to support them, yet, in all his acquaintance, he never knew, nor could remember to have heard of any nonconformist minister being in prison for debt. Toleration
Relief from direct persecution finally came for the nonconformists with the Toleration Act of 1689, when King William and Queen Mary came to the throne. In that year Particular Baptists finally felt free to publish their confession of faith, of course, the work having been completed back in 1677. Nonconformists continued to be treated as second class citizens, even then, being practically barred from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, for example, until as late as 1828. At least the worst of the persecution was over.
Lloyd-Jones says of the men we have been considering that above all, they have left us this noble, glorious, wonderful example of holy living, patient endurance in suffering, and loyalty to the Word of God and its message, even at the cost of being “fools for Christ's sake” and being regarded as “the offscourings of all things”. A consideration of these men and the stand that they took should, at the very least, stir us to holiness, patience when we suffer and a strong commitment to being ruled by God's Word. Their example calls upon us to examine ourselves and to see where we stand. What is the state of the church? What about my own part in it? How can we expect God to bless us if we are not willing to ask ourselves serious questions about such things?