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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
The darkest time in history of the Dissenters during this period was the interval between autumn of 1685 and the summer of 1686. Macaulay says; “Never, not even under the tyranny of Laud, had the condition of the Puritans been so deplorable as at that time.”
Never had spies been so actively employed in detecting congregations. Never had magistrates, grand juries, rectors, and churchwardens been so much on the alert. Many Dissenters were cited before the ecclesiastical courts. Others found it necessary to purchase the connivance of the agents of the government by presents of hogsheads of wine and of gloves stuffed with guineas. It was impossible for the sectaries to pray together without precautions such as are employed by coiners and receivers of stolen goods.
The places of meeting were frequently changed. Worship was performed sometimes just before break of day and sometimes at dead of night. Round the building where the little flock was gathering together, sentinels were posted to give the alarm if a stranger drew near. The minister in disguise was introduced through the garden and backyard. In some houses there were trap-doors, through which, in case of danger, he might descend.
Where Nonconformists lived next door to each other, the walls were often broken open, and secret passages were made from dwelling to dwelling. No psalm was sung; and many contrivances were used to prevent the voice of the preacher, in his moments of fervour, from being heard beyond the walls. Yet, with all this care, it was often found impossible to elude the vigilance of informers.
In the suburbs of London, especially, the law was enforced with the utmost rigour.