Background to the Civil Wars:
When Solemn League and Covenant sought to replace the Church of England for a Presbyterian polity, Independents and Radicals blocked its advent by gaining control the Army. In 1649 the Army would march on Parliament, expelling the majority-Presbyterian Party. Independents feared not only a ban against Congregationalism but also felt Presbyterians would likely usher a restoration of King Charles, i.e. royalism. In the hands of the Army who feared a secret alliance with Scots, King Charles was soon executed. This would be the first regicide in European Christendom, and, almost as a foretaste of the French Revolution, Radicals and Congregationalists would then declare England a “Free State” ruled under Republican government.
Solemn League was an alliance between England’s Parliament and Scotland. The origin of Solemn League began when Archbishop William Laud ‘imposed’ 1549 Prayer Book rubrics onto the Church of Scotland. The growing conservativism of Canterbury caused Presbyterians to resist, leading to the signing of a National Covenant. The National Scottish Covenant justified armed resistance against the King’s Church and Uniformity on the grounds of Regulative Principle (RPW). Fearing eminent occupation by a Catholic-Irish army which Charles I was in the process mustering, in 1940 the Scottish Kirk launched a pre-emptive invasion into north England, defeating royalist troops at the border, forcing the King to ratify the National Covenant for Scotland. When Charles I summoned the Long Parliament to settle reparations with Scotland, Puritans made common cause with Covenanters, expelling Royalists, launching the English Civil War.
The English Civil War, 1643-49, had two tragic ramifications: 1. Introduced religious pluralism, effectively rendering meaningless all previous acts of Subscription and Uniformity, institutionalizing and rendering permanent the great disorder within the church which began (in England) with the Presbyterian (RPW) Vestment Controversy (and in Scotland over the Prayer Book). 2. Ended divine right, introducing the Presbyterian notion of constitutional monarchy if not the Independent demand for modern Republicanism. Regardless, Parliament (and the rights of the People) would emerge supreme over the Crown and Orders. The combination of constitutionalism and religious pluralism would ultimately unleash an wild democratic impulse and individualism upon Anglo society and culture, reaching an appex in late 17th century.
In 1654 Cromwell exchanged permanent Reformation for social stability imposing a Bonpartist rule over England, gradually reintroducing the moderates into the Parliament. Otherwise known as the ‘Protectorate’, Cromwell’s England would reign until 1659, until the Presbyterian Party was invited back. For the most part Independency and Radicalism had burned itself out. The public wanted their King and English Presbyterians had hopes for a Kirk. Charles II (Son of the beheaded Charles I) could return on the condition Parliament consented to Breda.
The Breda Declaration: What was the Treaty of Breda? Breda was the Solemn League and Covenant but especially committed the King and his household to it. Independents in the English Parliament had rejected Solemn League, favoring instead an open Christian pluralism under the Articles of Religion 1648. The 1643 Westminster Confession was never adopted as a standard. Instead, it was modified to say little about church polity, giving room to Radicals, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians alike. Banned, however, was episcopacy. Breda was the Scottish Kirk’s final bid for Presbyterian supremacy throughout the three realms. Charles II signed it in 1650, and in 1660 the English Parliament followed suit under the restoration of the Long MP’s.
When King Charles II returned to England in 1660, Parliament had an election. Royalists were swept into power by the public, and Puritanism—both in its Presbyterian and Independent forms— was gradually ejected. Charles II proposed a phased settlement and was somewhat committed to mediating two hardened factions, initiating talks between Presbyterians and Anglicans over polity, liturgy, ceremonies. Presbyterians lost moral ground when Fifth Monarchy Men and other Radicals (the Derwentdale Plot) sporadically attempted insurrection between 1661-1664. and though Charles II offered exemptions and indulgences to Presbyterian ministers, the Parliament nullified the King’s clemencies fearing a restoration of divine right. In the end Parliament’s Acts of Uniformity, Test Acts, etc. aka. Clarendon Codes, slowly purged the Presbyterian Party from Church and State. The sentiment was summed on St. George’s Day, 1661, when Parliament ordered a public burning of the SLC. Charles and James II had Catholic leanings (James was a roman catholic convert), so Puritans were surely not missed. Presbyterianism had been marginalized, and in the public’s eye it was synomynous with Revolution. Thus, Engagers ultimately followed Congregationalists into the ‘free church’. Puritans would not substantially return to government until 1689 when the Toleration Acts of Cromwell, as expressed in the 1648 Articles of Religion (SLC), were restored.
Oath Breaker? Did Charles II have a right to break the Solemn Covenant he signed in 1650? I want to avoid arguing divine right vs. constitutionalism. The complaint of Radicals and Puritan alike was the King was bound by His own law? If this be true, then isn’t Parliament also bound? The Scottish Convention which negotiated Solemn League by tradition could not pass a permanent law. Moreover, when Westminster Assembly drafted the Articles/Confession of Faith, this was done without the consent of the King causing the Anglican divines present during the first 15 weeks of negotiations exit the Assembly, concluding the revisions were not only a breach of the 39 Articles but legally ‘null and void’. Even if King Charles II assented to Solemn League, he only did so because his Kingdom was held hostage by wild men, SLC being a document forged by an unlawful, armed rebellion. If Charles II signed a unlawful declaration with no legal authority whatsoever, then can a false or foolish oath bind a magistrate?
Legitimacy of Public vows: Anabaptists refused all oaths on the grounds of Christ saying, “let your Yes be a Yes and your No be a No. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matt. 5:33-37). Yet the Puritans understood as world as fallen, and oath-taking was a practice carried forward from the OT as a concession for restraining sin, especially permissable upon sundry times where serious or lawful interests were involved and an appeal to the witness of God necessary to secure confidence and end strife. It was under these circumstances the National Covenant and Solemn League were drawn. Scriptural examples and principles of national covenanting justify such extraordinary occasions: Neh. 9.38; Deut. 29. 10-13; Jonah 1. 16; Rom. 6. 13; Deut. 26. 15-19; and 2 Kings 11. 17. Moreover, public vows are binding. Those who break them are surely cursed, a sin not only due to disobedience but perjury and blasphemy (since the vow is sealed in the Name of God). Jer. 2.4, 11. For more on public oaths and covenants, see: http://www.truecovenanter.com/
Breaking Rash Vows: But what if someone swears to perform a duty that is contrary to the Word of God? According to G.I Williamson,
“an oath is binding only if the thing promised is good and just, that is, agreeable to the Word of God. The reason for this is evident: that which is contrary to the word of God is sin, and it is man’s duty not to sin; therefore, sweraing to sin cannot justify or obligate sin. Thus when one discovers that he has promised a solemn oath to sin, his only recourse is to ask forgiveness for having made such a promise in the first place adn then to renounce the oath (Matt. 14:1-12). It was wrong to take the oath in the first place. It would be doubly wrong to keep it after discovering it was sinful.” p. 229 WCF study.
Calvin in his Institutes says men are not to vow beyond the measure of grace or vocation given (i.e, beyond their lawful duties or inner capability). Furthermore, vows offend God, especially if for superstitious ends or ficticious worship, and such are “empty and nugatory”. (Institutes, IV.13.7)
Conclusion: We cannot know the heart of Charles II. His moral life was not a paragon of purity. However, at the time of Breda, 1650, did he know the Solemn League and Covenant was unscriptural, contrary to the Word of God, and therefore sinful? We cannot absolutely say. If Charles II signed Breda knowing his oath was to a false, then he committed a detestable act, i.e., perjury (in contrast to his father, Charles I, who died before denying his own convictions, i.e., surrendering the Episocpacy). The SLC was a rash given the extra-biblical and fanatical nature of RPW. English and Scottish reformers had no right to resist the Laudian Prayer Book (the reason d’etre for civil war). Moreover, the English and Scottish delegations represented ‘bandit parliaments’, sic. a people’s conventions, which had no authority to pass permanent law. If Charles committed perjury then perhaps he stood condemned. Otherwise he had every right to restore the Prayer book, epsicopacy, and even later deprive Presbyterian and Independent ministers, given the Kings vow contradicted his lawful duty.
Next PostingGoing a little deeper with SLC and its RPW underpinnings, I’d like to discuss ‘the black rubric’ or kneeling at the altar. However, this will require a leave of absence as I not only edit earlier posts (where there is much poor grammer) but give time to understanding the complicated trinitarian and christological arguments behind the mode of Supper.
Future posts might deal with Knoxian ‘active resistance’ vs. Anglican ‘passive obedience’. When the particulars of RPW (anti-vestments and anti-adoration) were combined with Knox’s peculiar “active resistance”, Presbyterianism betrayed its Magesterial orgins embracing the Anabaptist spirit alongside Levellers, Ranters, Lollards, Quakers. The Black Rubric and Active Resistance must be next. Other subjects related to SLC are: reduced episcopacy, baptismal grace, apocryphra and canon, and aborted synods.