We can’t blame churchmen in England for agonizing every time a new monarch was crowned, for the religious persuasion of the kings determined who would be burned. Anxiety continued even in the days of Isaac Watts and his fellow pastor, Thomas Bradbury. During their day, Queen Anne and the parliament passed the “Schism Bill,” to take effect August 1, 1714. Many predicted it would reestablish Catholicism in England “with mighty gust,” and that Baptists and other Dissenters would again be racked and burned. A terrible storm gathered, and even the stalwart Bradbury grew anxious.
In the early hours of August 1, Bishop Burnet was passing through Smithfield in London where martyrs of previous eras had died. Seeing Bradbury there, he asked, “Why are you so buried in thought, Mr. Bradbury?”
“I have been wondering, bishop,” replied Bradbury, “whether I shall have the resolution of that noble army of martyrs whose ashes are deposited in this place. Similar times of persecution are at hand, and I shall be called to suffer.”
“Then you have not heard the news! The queen is seriously ill. I am on my way to obtain the latest particulars. I will dispatch a messenger with the earliest intelligence of her death. If you are in the pulpit when he arrives he will drop a handkerchief from the gallery.”
Later that morning Bradbury ascended his pulpit, and in the middle of his sermon a handkerchief fluttered from the gallery. For weeks he had lived in suspense. Now the news descended with the handkerchief: Anne is dead; the Schism bill, lost; the danger, past. His blood surged, but he continued his sermon without pause. Only in his concluding prayer did he reveal to his stunned congregation that God had “delivered these kingdoms from evil counsels.” He prayed for “His Majesty, King George,” then quoted Psalm 89.
For years, Dissenters regarded August 1, 1714 as a day of deliverance, the “Protestant Passover.” And the commemoration continues every time we sing the anthem Watts wrote on that occasion: O God Our Help in Ages Past, Our Hope for Years to Come.
Our Lord, I will sing of your love forever.
Everyone yet to be born
Will hear me praise your faithfulness.
I will tell them,
“God’s love can always be trusted,
And his faithfulness lasts as long as the heavens.” (Psalm 89:1,2)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 1.