The Rule of Major General Charles Worsley

Charles Worsley was a Congregationalist Puritan born in Manchester and is one of my heroes. The son of prosperous cloth merchants, he sided with Parliament in the civil wars. He was appointed captain in the Parliamentary army at 22 and had become a lieutenant-colonel by 28.

As a young man he attended Birch Chapel at Rusholme, where the Rev John Wigan introduced to him ‘the Congregational way’, ie a gathered church of believers, self-governing, free from the state. A number of leading families were congregational in Rusholme, in a district where most were Presbyterian.

In 1650, he led a regiment mustering at Cheetham Hill, which had been paid for and equipped by the Congregationalists of the area. He was a firm supporter of Oliver Cromwell- when the latter shut down the Long Parliament saying ‘Take away that bauble’, it was Worsley who removed it.

When Cromwell divided England and Wales into military districts, he appointed the trusted Worsley as Major-General in charge of Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire. It was his responsibility to ensure cavalier risings were suppressed, that the decimation tax on royalists was levied and that the morality of his three counties be improved. He was particularly diligent in the pursuit of the latter. In the area around Blackburn he ordered ‘two hundred ale-houses to be thrown down’. This, however, conflicted with his need to raise revenue, and regretted that it was a ‘difficult thing to stop their trade and not weaken the revenue’. Drunkards then, like now, contributed much in tax. He also sought to remove ‘scandalous ministers’ from churches, that is, those whom he deemed ‘drunkards, swearers, gamblers, unchaste, dishonest’. He was much vexed by Quakers, with whom he didn’t know what to do, admitting ‘I shall take what course I can’.

He considered himself an agent of God in trying to improve the counties’ morals: ‘I plainly discern the finger of God going along with it which is indeed no small encouragement to me. The sense of the work and my unworthiness and insufficiency for the right management of it are my only present discouragement. Yet this is the ground of my hope and comfort, that the Lord is able to supply my wants, and will appear in weak instruments for His glory to the perfecting of His work. I shall, through the grace of God, discharge my trust in faithfulness to those who have employed me and I omit no opportunity nor avoid pains wherein my weak endeavours may be useful.’

‘I have been with ...the mayor and stir up and quicken the putting in effectual execution the laws against drunkenness, swearing, profaning the Lord’s Day, and other wickedness and I indeed find a very great seeming readiness, and I hope it is very much upon their heart to do so. But surely that which is none of the least encouraging is that God hath already put it into the least of His people a praying spirit for this great and good work and indeed I find it already in good men of different principles’ (written to the government from Preston, 1655).

He passionately wanted to make England a commonwealth in which truth, honesty, sobriety and godliness were its core.

When the major-generals were called to a meeting in London he struggled to get there, as the heavy work of reforming Lancashire’s morals had placed too heavy a burden on him, and he died on 12th June 1656 aged 35. They buried him with full honours in Westminster Abbey. He wasn’t dug up and flung away at the Restoration like so many others as no-one had actually registered the place of the burial. Had he survived, he might one day have succeeded Cromwell, and England would have been a very different place.

Yes, he was a soldier, and some would say a kill-joy. But like so many of us today, he looked out at his country and saw so much sin and pride. He believed the Lord had called him to such a time as that to build Jerusalem in those dark Satanic times.

The picture above is one that I commissioned based upon known contemporary portraits. I simply asked the artist to ensure he had a Bible in his hand. Worsley, I think, would have appreciated this.

Isaiah 3:10: Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.

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