Joseph Alleine’s imprisonment was occasioned by the restoration of the English monarchy and the laws passed by England’s government in the 1660s. For years England had seesawed between Catholic and Protestant mandates, depending on the monarch in power. When the king was Catholic, Protestants were burned. When Protestant, Catholics died. In both situations, Puritans and non-Anglicans (Dissenters) were hunted down with such vengeance that they finally rebelled. King Charles I was beheaded, his young son fled to France, and a Puritan government was installed.
But the people missed their monarchy, and in 1658 young Charles II headed home from France promising religious liberty. He entered London on his thirtieth birthday, May 29, 1660. Twenty thousand soldiers escorted the young king through flower-strewn streets. Trumpets blared, crowds cheered, bells pealed from every tower. His love life and his dubious faith in God made him the most scandalous leader of his time. But his easy smile and approachability caused few to dislike him.
Some did. In 1661 a pack of religious fanatics known as Fifth Monarchy Men tried to overthrow him and set up a kingdom awaiting the return of Christ. They failed, but the experience left Charles more suspicious of Dissenters than ever. Such preachers as John Bunyan found themselves languishing in prison, and a series of laws put the screws to Dissenters.
Five different acts were passed: (1) the Corporation Act of 1661 excluded all Dissenters from local government; (2) the Act of Uniformity in 1662 required all ministers to use The Book of Common Prayer as a format for their services. It was this act that drove 2,000 preachers from their pulpits in a single day; (3) the Conventicle Act of 1664, aimed primarily at Baptists, forbade religious meetings by Dissenters; (4) the Five Mile Act of 1665 prohibited dissenting ministers from coming within five miles of any city or town in which they had ministered; and (5) the Test Act of 1673 excluded Catholics from civil and military positions.
Baptists, Catholics, Quakers, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists all found themselves again under the lash. In the jail. At the stake. So much for religious liberty.
We don’t want any of you to be discouraged by all these troubles. (1 Thessalonians 3:3)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 29.