“The Puritans were burning and shinning lights.” George Whitfield
The conflict between the Puritans and the English government intensified when Charles I (1600 –1649) became king in 1625. He attempted to re-introduce Catholic liturgy and prayer books back into Puritan Churches in England and Presbyterian Churches in Scotland. King Charles did not care about personal piety in the churches, but only about order and respect given to the king.
Persecution of the Puritans intensified under Charles trusted advisor William Laud (1573-1645). In 1628, Laud reintroduced many Catholic forms of worship into the churches. When King Charles dissolved Parliament and assumed personal and total rule in 1629, Laud let loose a bitter persecution against the Puritans. He prohibited the biblical doctrine of predestination, required all clergy to use the Catholic prayer book, wear vestments, and make congregations knell when taking Communion as an acknowledgment that the bread and wine were in actuality the body and blood of Christ.
Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. At this time, Laud opposed the Puritans’ observance of the Sabbath demanding that instead of biblical preaching, all pastors must read The Book of Sports from the pulpit. This would be like all pastors today being required to read aloud Sports Illustrated from the pulpit instead of preaching from the Scriptures. Come to think of it, that’s what many pastors today are coming close to doing.
Instead of submitting to Laud’s demands and edicts, hundreds of Puritans emigrated to either the Netherlands or to New England. As one author notes, “In 1630 John Winthrop (1588-1649) lead the first great Puritan exodus to Massachusetts aboard the Arabella as part of a seven-ship flotilla. During the next decade, some of the most esteemed preachers in England, including John Cotton, Thomas Hooker and Thomas Shepard, joined 13,000 emigrants who sailed to New England.”
For those Puritans who remained in England, persecution became rampant. Puritan nonconformists, such as William Prynne (1600-1669), were branded and had their ears cut off. This brought back many memories of persecution under Queen Mary. Increased attacks by Laud against Scottish Presbyterians resulted in 1638 of the National Covenant which affirmed Reformed Theology and freedom of the Church in Scotland.
Charles refusal to work with either the Puritans, or Parliament, ultimately resulted in Charles fleeing London in 1642. Parliament rejected Charles’ claim of the Divine Right of Kings. This resulted in the English Civil War (1642-1648).
Charles’ Cavalier Army were defeated by the Puritan’s New Model Army of Soldiers under the brilliant leadership of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). Parliament arrested Laud and executed him for treason in 1645. Charles was eventually tried, convicted and executed on January 30, 1649.
What would follow would mark a significant and enduring legacy left by the Puritans.
Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)
Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson
Thomas Hooker was born in Leicestershire around 1586. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and became Rector of Esher in Surrey in 1620. In the will of Thomas Williarnson, a churchwarden of Chelmsford Parish Church (now the Cathedral), money was left to finance monthly sermons, to be preached in the town, six shillings (30p) to be paid for each. These sermons were very popular and were held on the first Friday of each month, which was market day. In 1623, Alice Bird a widow of Chelmsford, gave to buy ‘a fair new pulpit to be set in a fit place in the church…. where people may hear God’s word’.
Thomas Hooker was appointed Town Lecturer of Chelmsford, ‘a good bigge town’, in 1625. He was a popular and powerful preacher and seemed to get on well with the Rector, John Michaelson. However, Laud, Bishop of London, in whose diocese Chelmsford then was, did not approve of his outspoken views. He placed the greatest emphasis on ceremonies in church: the communion table, not the pulpit, was to be the central feature. On the other hand, Hooker and his friends claimed the right to preach the word of God, as set forth in Holy Scripture, according to their consciences.
By 1628, Bishop Laud was determined to silence Hooker, who faced charges in the church courts. In 1630, he fled to Cuckoos Farmhouse in the small nearby village of Little Baddow, where he founded a school to teach young ministers.
In 1632 he was persuaded by his friends to flee with his family to Holland. The following year, he set sail to Boston. The family settled in New Town, which later became Cambridge, Massachusetts, but two years later he led a group of people a hundred miles into the Connecticut River valley where they established a new colony at Hartford and Hooker established his first church.
Thomas Hooker was the first minister of Center Church and led the original settlers to Hartford in 1636 from Newtowne (Cambridge), Massachusetts. In 1638 he preached a sermon to the General Court as they prepared to develop a plan for self-government for their colony. He shared his vision that “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.” His vision was incorporated into the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which is known as the first written constitution in the world and was a model for the United States Constitution.
He died at Hartford Connecticut, in 1647 and his statue in front of the Old State House.