Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
How the Presbyterians Grew Strong
By Thomas Hobbes (15881679)
IT was not their own art alone that did it, but they had the concurrence of a great many gentlemen, that did no less desire a popular government in the civil state than these ministers did in the Church. And as these did in the pulpit draw the people to their opinions, and to a dislike of the Church government, Canons, and Common-Prayer book, so did the other make them in love with the democracy by their harangues in the Parliament, and by their discourses and communication with people in the country, continually extolling liberty and inveighing against tyranny, leaving the people to collect of themselves that this tyranny was the present government of the state. And as the Presbyterians brought with them into their churches their divinity from the universities, so did many of the gentlemen bring their politics from thence into the Parliament; but neither of them did this very boldly in the time of Queen Elizabeth. And though it be not likely that all of them did it out of malice, but many of them out of error, yet certainly the chief leaders were ambitious ministers, and ambitious gentlemen; the ministers envying the authority of bishops, whom they thought less learned; and the gentlemen envying the privy-council, whom they thought less wise than themselves. For it is a hard matter for men, who do all think highly of their own wits, when they have also acquired the learning of the university, to be persuaded that they want any ability requisite for the government of a commonwealth, especially having read the glorious histories and the sententious politics of the ancient popular governments of the Greeks and Romans, amongst whom kings were hated and branded with the name of tyrants, and popular government (though no tyrant was ever so cruel as a popular assembly) passed by the name of liberty. The Presbyterian ministers, in the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, did not, because they durst not, publicly preach against the discipline of the Church. But not long after, by the favour perhaps of some great courtier, they went abroad, preaching in most of the market-towns of England, as the preaching friars had formerly done, upon working-days in the morning; in which sermons, these and others of the same tenets, that had charge of souls, both by the manner and matter of their preaching, applied themselves wholly to the winning of the people to a liking of their doctrines and good opinion of their persons.
And first, for the manner of their preaching; they so framed their countenance and gesture at their entrance into the pulpit, and their pronunciation both in their prayer and sermon, and used the Scripture phrase (whether understood by the people or not), as that no tragedian in the world could have acted the part of a right godly man better than these did; insomuch that a man unacquainted with such art, could never suspect any ambitious plot in them to raise sedition against the state, as they then had designed; or doubt that the vehemence of their voice (for the same words with the usual pronunciation had been of little force) and forcedness of their gesture and looks, could arise from anything else but zeal to the service of God. And by this art they came into such credit, that numbers of men used to go forth of their own parishes and towns on working-days, leaving their calling, and on Sundays leaving their own churches, to hear them preach in other places, and to despise their own and all other preachers that acted not so well as they. And as for those ministers that did not usually preach, but instead of sermons did read to the people such homilies as the Church had appointed, they esteemed and called them dumb dogs.
Secondly, for the matter of their sermons, because the anger of the people in the late Roman usurpation was then fresh, they saw there could be nothing more gracious with them than to preach against such other points of the Romish religion as the bishops had not yet condemned; that so receding further from popery than they did, they might with glory to themselves leave a suspicion on the bishops, as men not yet well purged from idolatry.
Thirdly, before their sermons, their prayer was or seemed to be extempore, which they pretended to be dictated by the spirit of God within them, and many of the people believed or seemed to believe it. For any man might see, that had judgment, that they did not take care beforehand what they should say in their prayers. And from hence came a dislike of the Common-Prayer book, which is a set form, premeditated, that men might see to what they were to say Amen.
Fourthly, they did never in their sermons, or but lightly, inveigh against the lucrative vices of men of trade or handicraft; such as are feigning, lying, cozening, hypocrisy, or other uncharitableness, except want of charity to their pastors and to the faithful: which was a great ease to the generality of citizens and the inhabitants of market-towns, and no little profit to themselves.
Fifthly, by preaching up an opinion that men were to be assured of their salvation by the testimony of their own private spirit, meaning the Holy Ghost dwelling within them. And from this opinion the people that found in themselves a sufficient hatred towards the Papists, and an ability to repeat the sermons of these men at their coming home, made no doubt but that they had all that was necessary, how fraudulently and spitefully soever they behaved themselves to their neighbours that were not reckoned amongst the saints, and sometimes to those also.
Sixthly, they did, indeed, with great earnestness and severity, inveigh often against two sins, carnal lusts and vain swearing; which, without question, was very well done. But the common people were thereby inclined to believe, that nothing else was sin, but that which was forbidden in the third and seventh commandments (for few men do understand by the name of lust any other concupiscence, than that which is forbidden in that seventh commandment; for men are not ordinarily said to lust after another mans cattle, or other goods or possessions): and therefore never made much scruple of the acts of fraud and malice, but endeavoured to keep themselves from uncleanness only, or at least from the scandal of it. And, whereas they did, both in their sermons and writings, maintain and inculcate, that the very first motions of the mind, that is to say, the delight men and women took in the sight of one anothers form, though they checked the proceeding thereof so that it never grew up to be a design, was nevertheless a sin, they brought young men into desperation and to think themselves damned, because they could not (which no man can, and is contrary to the constitution of nature) behold a delightful object without delight. And by this means they became confessors to such as were thus troubled in conscience, and were obeyed by them as their spiritual doctors in all cases of conscience.