Many insightful thinkers today are calling for a return to the wisdom of our Founding Fathers to restore our moorings as nation. This is great news. But what was the framework upon which the founders were building? The foundations of the world’s most free and prosperous republic began 200 years before the U.S. Constitution was written. They began at kitchen tables in the midlands of England, around Sherwood Forest.
Two powerful movements were colliding in Europe in the 16th-17th centuries as the forces of tyranny and liberty faced off in a struggle to the death. Only one would claim the future. A grassroots freedom movement like no other in history then or since, was beginning in homes throughout the British Isles. The weapon of choice for the lovers of true liberty was the newly published Geneva Bible. For 1,000 years the people were kept in spiritual darkness without a Bible in their own language. Suddenly, yeomen all over England were beginning to teach the Word of God to their families for the first time in history. They learned the eternal truths of Scripture directly from God’s Word. They were growing in wisdom and a love of liberty. The family was a little church and a mini republic.
At the age of 16, John Robinson, son of a yeoman, entered Cambridge University. Truths he learned at home were confirmed during his 11 years at Cambridge, where he became the Dean of Corpus Christi College. Cambridge was the central place in England where the “hot minds” gathered to discuss the Biblical truths of freedom. He was part of a mighty brain trust, one of the intellectually best equipped movements in history.
But up against this spiritual and intellectual awakening, the old tyranny of the “divine right” kings was clamping down. Queen Elizabeth, contrary to her film image as a misunderstood monarch, was a demagogue, especially in religious affairs. She sent her Archbishop Whitgift to Cambridge to end any free expression. She had Parliament pass a severe law in 1582 making it treason to worship, even in homes, in any way other than through forced attendance at her government Church.
Robinson stood with John Penry, a Cambridge classmate, who said, “Truth, being found, hold it we must, defend it we must!” Soon Penry and other independent thinkers were being imprisoned, hanged or drawn and quartered.
In 1602, John Robinson made a heart wrenching decision to leave the corrupt state church and become a Separatist. He resigned from Cambridge in 1603, lost his licensed career and returned to the midlands in poverty and began teaching at the underground church at Scrooby.
When Elizabeth died in 1603, her heir to the throne, James I, was even more intolerant. James blasphemed God Almighty in 1604 and declared himself to be virtually god on earth. He began persecuting all dissenters like John Robinson and the Scrooby believers.
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