A cloke of maliciousness

Arthur Middleton

On 30 January the Church of England commemorates King Charles the Martyr. On this day in 1740, Bishop Butler preached before the House of Lords in Westminster Abbey on the text from St. Peter’s First Epistle 2.16: ‘And not using your liberty as a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.’


Bishop Butler said that 30 January is a reminder of the pernicious sin of hypocrisy that rests on deceit. Hypocrisy, he tells us, results when people pretend to be doing what they do not really mean, in order to delude one another. Another word for it today is ‘spin’.

In Holy Scripture, which is concerned with our behaviour towards God and our own consciences, it amounts to deluding our fellow human beings and expresses an insincerity towards God and towards ourselves. Therefore to use liberty as a cloke of maliciousness means covering our wrong actions with a cloak, so that they do not appear in their proper colours as wrong.

In hypocrisy actions are disguised so that they are given the appearance of being right, made to look what they are not. The prime purpose of such behaviour is to deceive. It is not only a deceiving of other people, but also a deceiving of oneself and an attempt to deceive God.

January 30 reminds us, says Bishop Butler, of an unheard of hypocrisy in our country’s history. The execution of Charles I was a black design that subverted the constitution of our country. It was in defiance of all the laws of God and man and was in plain contradiction to the sacred trust and commission required of members of Parliament. It was all done under the pretences of authority, religion, liberty and a trial that was a travesty of justice. They pretended that they were carrying our Constitution in Church and State to a greater height. They used liberty as a cloke of maliciousness rather than behaving as servants of God.

The cause for which he died

When this civil strife receded King Charles was seen as a martyr who died to preserve the Constitution, having died in defence of his trust. Charles gave his life for the cause of his people and Church. Rather than consent to wrong, he died.

Bishop Mandell Creighton (1843– 1901) said, ‘Had Charles been willing to abandon the Church, and give up Episcopacy, he might have saved his throne and his life. But on this point Charles stood firm; for this he died, and by dying saved it for the future’.

Theologically the position that Charles maintained was that of Anglicanism. Bishop Stubbs said that in remembering this martyr the Church is remembering the sealing of the crown of England in the faith of the Church. Charles was convinced that the government of the Church by bishops is required by the Word of God and is of apostolic institution. From then until the present day this has been the ministerial order in Christ’s Church and he could not in conscience consent to abolish it. ND