When times are tough, the great temptation of nations is to leave the tested and true path and follow emotions and charismatic leaders who promise to save them. We are entering a difficult time such as this in America. Our liberties, our heritage and our prosperity are hanging in the balance. What will we do? The good news is that we need look no further than our own cultural heritage to find the brave stories of our ancestors. Against all odds they turned back to the documents of liberty, the universal laws of history and the Bible. They then were able to stop their unaccountable leaders in their tracks. The story of the incredible transformation of England in the 17th century is a lesson for the ages and their strategy of liberation is timeless.
At the start of the 17th century, the English were filled with hope that their new young, “Christian” leader would bring real change. The English believed he would bring reform and solve their problems. But instead, King James I used his “Christianity” as a cover for even further economic, religious and political corruption. He was like many of today’s seemingly unaccountable leaders in America. James I proceeded to bankrupt his nation. He spent the nation’s wealth on fighting foreign wars and giving money and lands to his lovers, insiders and special interest groups.
When James I finally died in 1625, his son, Charles I, continued his father’s ways and was even more intolerant of true believers than his father. He used the Star Chamber, a kangaroo court with no jury or appeal, to persecute biblically sound Christians such as the Puritans, Presbyterians, and Independents. In Scotland, Charles simply sent his assassins to kill the faithful ministers of the land. (He and his sons tortured and martyred 18,000 ministers and their wives.) In England, the king used the Star Chamber to persecute believers, bypassing the Parliament and the courts.
On June 30, 1637, John Bastwick and two of his friends were found guilty of criticizing the Arch-Bishop. These godly men were condemned in the Star Chamber. Before all of London, they were pilloried, beaten and had their ears cut off while they were hanging helplessly in the stocks. While Bastwick was being tortured, his wife took a ladder and ascended the scaffold. She gathered the tattered pieces of her husband’s ears in a cloth and then kissed him. The bishop in charge of the torture raged, “What do you think of your husband now?” She said, “I have never been more proud of him than I am at this moment.” They dragged him away for a life sentence in jail and exile. (Parliament later released John Bastwick and he went on to fight for freedom in the English Civil War.)
That day in 1637 was a wake-up call. After centuries of being controlled by the terror of tyrants, the people of England stopped passively cowering while the innocent were tortured. They treated the three prisoners as heroes as they were taken from the scaffold and threw flowers at their feet as they were led away. By this time, the English Parliament had been deeply impacted by the biblical truths of the Reformation. They remembered their forgotten freedom documents. Magna Carta and English Common law were based upon the Bible’s teaching that civil authority is limited. The rulers were accountable to obey God’s law as well as the people.
Three years after the mutilation of Bastwick, the Parliament abolished the Star Chamber by law. It called the king to obey the laws of the land or lose his throne. The king raised an army to defend his right to be a dictator and a five year English Civil War ensued.