Extract from pages 203-4 of Christopher Hill's
God's Englishman, Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution

So when, in the early 1640s, men found themselves unexpectedly and unwillingly facing a revolutionary situation, a situation which demanded new thinking, they were ill-equipped for the task.

They had to improvise. What was to hand was the Bible, available for a century in English translation, which men had been encouraged to study as the source of all wisdom.

There are dangerous doctrines in the Bible: denunciations of the rich by Old Testament prophets, suggestions of human equality in the New Testament.

The Lutheran doctrine of the priesthood of all believers itself contains explosive possibilities, for there was no certain means of identifying visible saints.

During the post-reformation century social stability in England had been safeguarded against the logic of protestant Christianity by the episcopal hierarchy and its courts, by ecclesiastical control of education and the censorship, and by the doctrine of the sinfulness of mass of mankind.

In the 1640s the institutional restraints collapsed with the fall of the bishops, and the attempt to build up a Presbyterian disciplinary system in their place failed almost as totally.

Only sin remained. But religious toleration and the lack of an effective ecclesiastical censorship allowed wholly unorthodox groups claiming to be visible saints to propagate their subversive ideas; even the fundamental doctrine of the sinfulness of the majority of men and women could be challenged.

Levellers demanded a wide extension of the suffrage, regardless of whether 'the multitude' was godly or ungodly; other religious radicals - Ranters and Antinomians - were led by the spirit to reject many traditional moral restraints; Quakers saw the spark of the divine in all men, and rejected outward forms of social subordination in the name of Christian equality: Diggers demanded heaven for the poor on earth now. No wonder all conservatives rallied to oppose toleration.