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Great Britain: I. (710–1777). 1906.

Oliver Cromwell

At the Opening of Parliament Under the Protectorate

GENTLEMEN:—You are met here on the greatest occasion that, I believe, England ever saw; having upon your shoulders the interests of three great nations with the territories belonging to them; and truly, I believe I may say without any hyperbole, you have upon your shoulders the interest of all the Christian people in the world. And the expectation is that I should let you know, as far as I have cognizance of it, the occasion of your assembling together at this time.

It hath been very well hinted to you this day that you come hither to settle the interests above mentioned: for your work here, in the issue and consequences of it, will extend so far, even to all Christian people. In the way and manner of my speaking to you, I shall study plainness, and to speak to you what is truth, and what is upon my heart, and what will in some measure reach to these great concernments.

After so many changes and turnings which this nation hath labored under, to have such a day of hope as this is, and such a door of hope opened by God to us, truly I believe, some months since, would have been beyond all our thoughts! I confess it would have been worthy of such a meeting as this is, to have remembered that which was the rise of, and gave the first beginning to, all these troubles which have been upon this nation: and to have given you a series of the transactions,—not of men, but of the providence of God, all along unto our late changes: as also the ground of our first undertaking to oppose that usurpation and tyranny which was upon us, both in civils and spirituals; and the several grounds particularly applicable to the several changes that have been. But I have two or three reasons which divert me from such a way of proceeding at this time.

If I should have gone in that way, then that which lies upon my heart as to these things—which is so written there that if I would blot it out I could not—would itself have spent this day: the providences and dispensations of God have been so stupendous.

What I judge to be the end of your meeting, the great end, which was likewise remembered to you this day; to wit, is healing and settling. The remembering of transactions too particularly, perhaps instead of healing—at least in the hearts of many of you—might set the wound fresh a-bleeding. And I must profess this unto you, whatever thoughts pass upon me: That if this day, if this meeting, prove not healing, what shall we do? But, as I said before, I trust it is in the minds of you all, and much more in the mind of God, to cause healing. It must be first in His mind: and He being pleased to put it into yours, this will be a day indeed, and such a day as generations to come will bless you for! I say for this and the other reasons I have forborne to make a particular remembrance and enumeration of things, and of the manner of the Lord’s bringing us through so many changes and turnings as have passed upon us.

Howbeit I think it will be more than necessary to let you know, at least so well as I may, in what condition this nation, or rather these nations, were, when the present government was undertaken. And for order’s sake: It’s very natural to consider what our condition was, in civils; and then also in spirituals.

What was our condition? Every man’s hand almost was against his brother—at least his heart was, little regarding anything that should cement, and might have a tendency in it to came us to grow into one. All the dispensations of God—his terrible ones, when he met us in the way of His judgment in a ten-years’ civil war, and his merciful ones: they did not, they did not work upon us! No. But we had our humors and interests; and indeed I fear our humors went for more with us than even our interests. Certainly, as it falls out in such cases, our passions were more than our judgments. Was not everything almost grown arbitrary? Who of us knew where or how to have right done him, without some obstruction or other intervening? Indeed we were almost grown arbitrary in everything.

What was the face that was upon our affairs as to the interest of the nation; as to the authority in the nation; to the magistracy; to the ranks and orders of men,—whereby England hath been known for hundreds of years? A nobleman, a gentleman, a yeoman; the distinction of these: that is a good interest of the nation, and a great one! The natural magistracy of the nation, was it not almost trampled under foot, under despite and contempt, by men of leveling principles? I beseech you, for the orders of men and ranks of men, did not that leveling principle tend to the reducing of all to an equality? Did it consciously think to do so; or did it only unconsciously practise toward that for property and interest? At all events, what was the purport of it but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord?—which, I think, if obtained, would not have lasted long! The men of that principle, after they have served their own turns, would then have cried up property and interest fast enough! This instance is instead of many. And that the thing did and might well extend far is manifest; because it was a pleasing voice to all poor men, and truly not unwelcome to all bad men. To my thinking, this is a consideration which, in your endeavors after settlement, you will be so well minded of that I might have spared it here: but let that pass.

And now as to spirituals. Indeed in spiritual things the case was more sad and deplorable still; and that was told to you this day eminently. The prodigious blasphemies; contempt of God and Christ, denying of Him, contempt of Him and His ordinances and of the Scriptures: a spirit visibly acting those things foretold by Peter and Jude; yea, those things spoken of by Paul to Timothy! Paul declaring some things to be worse than the antichristian state (of which he had spoken in I. Tim. iv:1, 2, under the title of the Latter Times), tells us what should be the lot and portion of the Last Times. He says (II. Tim. iii:2–4): “In the Last Days perilous times shall come; men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful,” and so on. But in speaking of the antichristian state he told us (I. Tim. iv:1, 2) that “in the latter days” that state shall come in; not the last days, but the latter,—wherein “there shall be a departing from the faith, and a giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy,” and so on. This is only his description of the latter times, or those of antichrist; and we are given to understand that there are last times coming, which will be worse! And surely it may be feared, these are our times. For when men forget all rules of law and nature, and break all the bonds that fallen man hath on him, obscuring the remainder of the image of God in their nature, which they can not blot out, and yet shall endeavor to blot out, “having a form of godliness without the power,”—surely these are sad tokens of the last times!

And indeed the character wherewith this spirit and principle is described in that place of Scripture is so legible and visible that he who runs may read it to be among us. For by such “the grace of God is turned into wantonness,” and Christ and the Spirit of God made a cloak for all villainy and spurious apprehensions. And tho nobody will own these things publicly as to practise, the things being so abominable and odious; yet the consideration how this principle extends itself, and whence it had its rise, makes me think of a second sort of men, tending in the same direction, who, it is true, as I said, will not practise or own these things, yet can tell the magistrate “that he hath nothing to do with men holding such notions: these, forsooth, are matters of conscience and opinion: they are matters of religion; what hath the magistrate to do with these things? He is to look to the outward man, not to the inward,”—and so forth. And truly it so happens that tho these things do break out visibly to all, yet the principle wherewith these things are carried on so forbids the magistrate to meddle with them that it hath hitherto kept the offenders from punishment.

Such considerations, and pretensions to “liberty of conscience,” what are they leading us toward? Liberty of conscience, and liberty of the subject,—two as glorious things to be contended for as any that God hath given us; yet both these abused for the patronizing of villainies! insomuch that it hath been an ordinary thing to say, and in dispute to affirm, “that the restraining of such pernicious notions was not in the magistrate’s power; he had nothing to do with it. Not so much as the printing of a Bible in the nation for the use of the people was competent to the magistrate, lest it should be imposed upon the consciences of men,”—for “they would receive the same traditionally and implicitly from the magistrate if it were thus received!” The afore-mentioned abominations did thus swell to this height among us.

We may reckon among these our spiritual evils an evil that hath more refinedness in it, more color for it, and hath deceived more people of integrity than the rest have done; for few have been catched by the former mistakes except such as have apostatized from their holy profession, such as, being corrupt in their consciences, have been forsaken by God and left to such noisome opinions. But, I say, there is another error of more refined sort, which many honest people whose hearts are sincere, many of them belonging to God, have fallen into; and that is the mistaken notion of the Fifth Monarchy.

Fifth Monarchy. A thing pretending more spirituality than anything else. A notion I hope we all honor, and wait, and hope for the fulfilment of: That Jesus Christ will have a time to set up His reign in our hearts by subduing those corruptions and lusts and evils that are there, which now reign more in the world than, I hope, in due time they shall do. And when more fulness of the Spirit is poured forth to subdue iniquity and bring in everlasting righteousness, then will the approach of that glory be. The carnal divisions and contentions among Christians, so common, are not the symptoms of that kingdom! But for men, on this principle, to betitle themselves that they are the only men to rule kingdoms, govern nations, and give laws to people, and determine of property and liberty and everything else,—upon such a pretension as this is: truly they had need to give clear manifestations of God’s presence with them before wise men will receive or submit to their conclusions! Nevertheless, as many of these men have good meanings, which I hope in my soul they have, it will be the wisdom of all knowing and experienced Christians to do as Jude saith—Jude, when he reckoned up those horrible things, done upon pretenses, and haply by some upon mistakes: “Of some,” says he, “have compassion, making a difference”; others save, “with fear pulling them out of the fire.” I fear they will give too often opportunity for this exercise! But I hope the same will be for their good. If men do but so much as pretend for justice and righteousness, and be of peaceable spirits, and will manifest this, let them be the subjects of the magistrate’s encouragement. And if the magistrate, by punishing visible miscarriages, save them by that discipline, God having ordained him for that end, I hope it will evidence love and not hatred, so to punish where there is cause.

Indeed this is that which doth most declare the danger of that spirit. For if these were but notions,—I mean these instances I have given you of dangerous doctrines both in civil things and spiritual; if, I say, they were but notions. they were best let alone. Notions will hurt none but those that have them. But when they come to such practises as telling us, for instance, that liberty and property are not the badges of the Kingdom of Christ; when they tell us, not that we are to regulate law, but that law is to be abrogated, indeed subverted; and perhaps wish to bring in the Judaical Law, instead of our known laws settled among us: this is worthy of every magistrate’s consideration, especially where every stone is turned to bring in confusion. I think, I say, this will be worthy of the magistrate’s consideration.

While these things were in the midst of us; and while the nation was rent and torn in spirit and principle from one end to the other, after this sort and manner I have now told you; family against family, husband against wife, parents against children; and nothing in the hearts and minds of men but “Overturn, overturn, overturn!” (a Scripture phrase very much abused, and applied to justify unpeaceable practises by all men of discontented spirits),—the common enemy sleeps not: our adversaries in civil and religious respects did take advantage of these distractions and divisions, and did practise accordingly in the three nations of England, Scotland, and Ireland. We know very well that emissaries of the Jesuits never came in such swarms as they have done since those things were set on foot. And I tell you that divers gentlemen here can bear witness with me how that they, the Jesuits, have had a consistory abroad which rules all the affairs of things in England, from an archbishop down to the other dependents upon him. And they had fixed in England—of which we are able to produce the particular instruments in most of the limits of their cathedrals or pretended dioceses—an episcopal power with archdeacons, etc., and had persons authorized to exercise and distribute those things, who pervert and deceive the people. And all this, while we were in that sad, and, as I said, deplorable condition.

And in the meantime all endeavors possible were used to hinder the work of God in Ireland, and the progress of the work of God in Scotland; by continual intelligences and correspondences, both at home and abroad, from hence into Ireland, and from hence into Scotland. Persons were stirred up, from our divisions and discomposure of affairs, to do all they could to ferment the war in both these places. To add yet to our misery, whilst we were in this condition, we were in a foreign war. Deeply engaged in war with the Portuguese; whereby our trade ceased: the evil consequences by that war were manifest and very considerable. And not only this, but we had a war with Holland; consuming our treasure; occasioning a vast burden upon the people. A war that cost this nation full as much as the whole taxes came unto; the navy being a hundred and sixty ships, which cost this nation above £100,000 a month; besides the contingencies, which would make it £120,000. That very one war did engage us to so great a charge. At the same time also we were in a war with France. The advantages that were taken of the discontents and divisions among ourselves did also ferment that war, and at least hinder us of an honorable peace; every man being confident we could not hold out long. And surely they did not calculate amiss if the Lord had not been exceedingly gracious to us! I say, at the same time we had a war with France. And besides the sufferings in respect to the trade of the nation, it is most evident that the purse of the nation could not have been able much longer to bear it, by reason of the advantages taken by other states to improve their own, and spoil our manufacture of cloth, and hinder the vent thereof; which is the great staple commodity of this nation. Such was our condition: spoiled in our trade, and we at this vast expense; thus dissettled at home, and having these engagements abroad.

Things being so,—and I am persuaded it is not hard to convince every person here they were so,—what a heap of confusions were upon these poor nations! And either things must have been left to sink into the miseries these premises would suppose, or else a remedy must be applied. A remedy hath been applied: that hath been this government; a thing I shall say little unto. The thing is open and visible to be seen and read by all men; and therefore let it speak for itself. Only let me say this,—because I can speak it with comfort and confidence before a Greater than you all: That in the intention of it, as to the approving of our hearts to God, let men judge as they please, it was calculated with our best wisdom for the interest of the people,—for the interest of the people alone, and for their good, without respect had to any other interest. And if that be not true I shall be bold to say again, Let it speak for itself. Truly I may—I hope, humbly before God, and modestly before you—say somewhat on the behalf of the government. Not that I would discourse of the particular heads of it, but acquaint you a little with the effects it has had: and this not for ostentation’s sake, but to the end I may at this time deal faithfully with you, and acquaint you with the state of things, and what proceedings have been entered into by this government, and what the state of our affairs is. This is the main end of my putting you to this trouble.

The government hath had some things in desire; and it hath done some things actually. It hath desired to reform the laws. I say to reform them: and for that end it hath called together persons—without offense be it spoken—of as great ability and as great interest as are in these nations, to consider how the laws might be made plain and short and less chargeable to the people; how to lessen expense for the good of the nation. And those things are in preparation, and bills prepared, which in due time, I make no question, will be tendered to you. In the meanwhile there hath been care taken to put the administration of the laws into the hands of just men; men of the most known integrity and ability. The Chancery hath been reformed—hath been reformed, I hope, to the satisfaction of all good men: and as for the things, or causes, depending there, which made the burden and work of the honorable persons entrusted in those services too heavy for their ability, it hath referred many of them to those places where Englishmen love to have their rights tried, the courts of law at Westminster.

This government hath, farther, endeavored to put a stop to that heady way (likewise touched of in our sermon this day) of every man making himself a minister and preacher. It hath endeavored to settle a method for the approving and sanctioning of men of piety and ability to discharge that work. And I think I may say it hath committed the business to the trust of persons, both of the Presbyterian and Independent judgments, of as known ability, piety, and integrity as any, I believe this nation hath. And I believe also that, in that care they have taken, they have labored to approve themselves to Christ, to the nation and to their own consciences. And indeed I think, if there be anything of quarrel against them,—tho I am not here to justify the proceedings of any,—it is that they, in fact, go upon such a character as the Scripture warrants: To put men into that great employment, and to approve men for it, who are men that have “received gifts from Him that ascended up on high, and gave gifts” for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ. The government hath also taken care, we hope, for the expulsion of all those who may be judged any way unfit for this work; who are scandalous, and the common scorn and contempt of that function.

One thing more this government hath done: it hath been instrumental to call a free Parliament, which, blessed be God, we see here this day! I say, a free Parliament. And that it may continue so, I hope is in the heart and spirit of every good man in England, save such discontented persons as I have formerly mentioned. It is that which, as I have desired above my life, so I shall desire to keep it above my life.

I did before mention to you the plunges we were in with respect to foreign States; by the war with Portugal, France, the Dutch, the Danes, and the little assurance we had from any of our neighbors round about. I perhaps forgot, but indeed it was a caution upon my mind, and I desire now it may be so understood, that if any good hath been done, it was the Lord, not we, His poor instruments.

I did instance the wars, which did exhaust your treasure, and put you into such a condition that you must have sunk therein if it had continued but a few months longer: this I can affirm, if strong probability may be a fit ground. And now you have, tho it be not the first in time, peace with Swede-land; an honorable peace; through the endeavors of an honorable person here present as the instrument. I say you have an honorable peace with a kingdom which, not many years since, was much a friend to France, and lately perhaps inclinable enough to the Spaniard. And I believe you expect not much good from any of your Catholic neighbors; nor yet that they would be very willing you should have a good understanding with your Protestant friends. Yet, thanks be to God, that peace is concluded; and as I said before, it is an honorable peace.

You have a peace with the Danes—a State that lay contiguous to that part of this island which hath given us the most trouble. And certainly if your enemies abroad be able to annoy you, it is likely they will take their advantage (where it best lies) to give you trouble from that country. But you have a peace there, and an honorable one. Satisfaction to your merchants’ ships; not only to their content, but to their rejoicing. I believe you will easily know it is so,—an honorable peace. You have the Sound open; which used to be obstructed. That which was and is the strength of this nation, the shipping, will now be supplied thence. And whereas you were glad to have anything of that kind at second hand, you have now all manner of commerce there, and at as much freedom as the Dutch themselves, who used to be the carriers and venders of it to us; and at the same rates and tolls; and I think, by that peace, the said rates now fixed upon can not be raised to you in future.

You have a peace likewise with the crown of Portugal; which peace, tho it hung long in hand, yet is lately concluded. It is a peace which, your merchants make us believe, is of good concernment to their trade; the rate of insurance to that country having been higher, and so the profit which could bear such rate, than to other places. And one thing hath been obtained in this treaty which never before was since the Inquisition was set up here,—that our people which trade thither have liberty of conscience,—liberty to worship in chapels of their own.

Indeed, peace is, as you were well told today, desirable with all men, as far as it may be had with conscience and honor! We are upon a treaty with France. And we may say this, that if God give us honor in the eyes of the nations about us, we have reason to bless Him for it, and so to own it. And I dare say that there is not a nation in Europe but is very willing to ask a good understanding with you.

I am sorry I am thus tedious: but I did judge that it was somewhat necessary to acquaint you with these things. And things being so, I hope you will not be unwilling to hear a little again of the sharp as well as of the sweet! And I should not be faithful to you, nor to the interest of these nations which you and I serve, if I did not let you know all.

As I said before, when this government was undertaken, we were in the midst of those domestic diversions and animosities and scatterings; engaged also with those foreign enemies round about us at such a vast charge—£120,000 a month for the very fleet, which sum was the very utmost penny of your assessments. Aye; and then all your treasure was exhausted and spent when this government was undertaken: all accidental ways of bringing in treasure were, to a very inconsiderable sum, consumed,—the forfeited lands sold; the sums on hand spent; rents, fee-farms, delinquents’ lands, king’s, queen’s, bishops’, dean-and-chapters’ lands, sold. These were spent when this government was undertaken. I think it is my duty to let you know so much. And that is the reason why the taxes do yet lie so heavy upon the people—of which we have abated £30,000 a month for the next three months. Truly I thought it my duty to let you know, that tho God hath dealt thus bountifully with you, yet these are but entrances and doors of hope, whereby, through the blessing of God, you may enter into rest and peace. But you are not yet entered!

You were told to-day of a people brought out of Egypt toward the land of Canaan; but through unbelief, murmuring, repining, and other temptations and sins wherewith God was provoked, they were fain to come back again, and linger many years in the wilderness before they came to the place of rest. We are thus far, through the mercy of God. We have cause to take notice of it that we are not brought into misery, not totally wrecked, but have, as I said before, a door of hope open. And I may say this to you: If the Lord’s blessing and His presence go along with the management of affairs at this meeting, you will be enabled to put the top-stone to the work and make the nation happy. But this must be by knowing the true state of affairs! You are yet like the people under circumcision, but raw. Your peaces are but newly made. And it is a maxim not to be despised, “Tho peace be made, yet it is interest that keeps peace”;—and I hope you will not trust such peace except so far as you see interest upon it. But all settlement grows stronger by mere continuance. And therefore I wish that you may go forward and not backward; and in brief that you may have the blessing of God upon your endeavors! It is one of the great ends of calling this Parliament that the ship of the commonwealth may be brought into a safe harbor; which, I assure you, it will not be, without your counsel and advice.

You have great works upon your hands. You have Ireland to look unto. There is not much done to the planting thereof, tho some things leading and preparing for it are. It is a great business to settle the government of that nation upon fit terms, such as will bear that work through. You have had laid before you some considerations intimating your peace with several foreign states. But yet you have not made peace with all. And if they should see we do not manage our affairs with that wisdom which becomes us,—truly we may sink under disadvantages, for all that is done. And our enemies will have their eyes open, and be revived, if they see animosities among us; which indeed will be their great advantage.

I do therefore persuade you to a sweet, gracious, and holy understanding of one another and of your business, concerning which you had so good counsel this day; which as it rejoiced my heart to hear, so I hope the Lord will imprint it upon your spirits,—wherein you shall have my prayers.

Having said this, and perhaps omitted many other material things through the frailty of my memory, I shall exercise plainness and freeness with you; and say that I have not spoken these things as one who assumes to himself dominion over you; but as one who doth resolve to be a fellow servant with you to the interest of these great affairs and of the people of these nations. I shall trouble you no longer; but desire you to repair to your House, and to exercise your own liberty in the choice of a Speaker, that so you may lose no time in carrying on your work.