Monday, 4 July 2016

Richard Byfield c 1598-1664

Richard Byfield (1598?–1664) a Sabbatarian controversialist, a member of the Westminster Assembly and an ejected minister was 16 years of age in 1615 and 67 at his death in December 1664; he was probably born in 1598. He was a son of Richard Byfield by his second wife. Nicholas Byfield was his elder half-brother.  Richard Senior became vicar of Stratford-on-Avon in January 1597, so it is reasonable to conclude that, like his elder half-brother, Richard Junior was a Warwickshire man, though his baptism is not to be found in the Stratford-on-Avon register.
In Michaelmas term 1615 he was entered either as servitor or batler at The Queen's College, Oxford. He graduated B.A. 19 October 1619, and M.A. 29 October 1622.
He was curate or lecturer at Isleworth, probably during his brother's incumbency (i.e. before 8 September 1622), and had some other minor employments before being presented in 1627 by Sir Thomas Evelyn to the rectory of Long Ditton, Surrey. He sat in the Westminster Assembly, but was not one of the divines nominated in the original ordinance of 12 June 1643, being appointed, perhaps through the influence of his nephew Adoniram Byfield, to fill the vacancy caused by the 1645 death of Daniel Featley.
During the protectorate he quarreled with Sir John Evelyn, his patron, about the reparation of the church, and Edmund Calamy recounts their amicable reconciliation through the intervention of Cromwell. In 1654 he was appointed one of the assistant commissioners for Surrey, under the ordinance of 29 June for the ejection of scandalous, etc, ministers and schoolmasters.
He wrote a commendation of John Owen's famous work Death of death in Christ.
He held his rectory, with a high character for personal piety and zeal in the ministry until ejection in 1662. At his ejection he was the oldest minister in Surrey, i.e. probably in seniority of appointment, for he was not an old man. Leaving Long Ditton, he retired to Mortlake, where he was in the habit of preaching twice every Sunday in his own family, and did so the very Sunday before his death. He died suddenly in December 1664, and was buried in Mortlake church.
Some of the works of his brother Nicholas have been assigned to Richard; he edited a few of them. His own works are:
'The Light of Faith and Way of Holiness,' 1630.
'The Doctrine of the Sabbath Vindicated, in Confutation of a Treatise of the Sabbath written by Mr. Edward Brerewood against Mr. Nicholas Byfield,' 1631. Byfield attacks the spelling 'Sabaoth' adopted by Edward Brerewood.
'A Brief Answer to a lae Treatise of the Sabbath Day,' 1636? (given to Byfield by Peter Heylin, in The History of the Sabbath,' 2nd edit. 1636; it was in reply to A Treatise of the Sabbath Day etc, 1635, by Francis White, who rejoined in An Examination and Confutation, etc, 1637).
'The Power of the Christ of God,' etc, 1641
'Zion's Answer to the Nation's Ambassadors,' etc, 1645 (fast sermon before the House of Commons on 25 June, from Is. xiv. 32)
'Temple Defilers defiled,' 1645 (two sermons at Kingston upon Thames from 1 Cor. iii. 17; reissued with new title-page 'A short Treatise describing the true Church of Christ,' etc, 1653, directed against schism, anabaptism and libertinism)
'A message sent from ... Scotland to ... the Prince of Wales,' 1648 (letter from Byfield)
'The Gospel's Glory without prejudice to the Law,' etc, 1659 (an exposition of Rom. viii. 3, 4)
'The real Way to good Works: a Treatise of Charity.'

Thursday, 30 June 2016

William Dyer c 1632-1696

DYER, WILLIAM (c. 1632-1696). Nonconformist English minister. Little of Dyer's early life is known. He began his preaching career in Chesham, then accepted then accepted a call to minister at Cholesbury in Buckinghamshire. By 1662, he had vacated his pulpit, most likely in response to the Act of Uniformity. Dyer preached at St. Anne's, Aldersgate Street, London, in 1665, and the sermons, in which Dyer claimed the plague was God's punishment on London, were published under the title Christ's voice to London (1666). In later life, Dyer is thought to have been sympathetic to Quakers and may have converted to Quakerism. He is buried in a Quaker cemetery in Southwark. Dyer's writing has been compared stylistically to John Bunyan's and John Saltmarsh's.

This biographical piece from The A-Z of the Puritans is based on the following older piece
WILLIAM DYER, an eminent English Nonconformist divine, was born in 1636. He was successively minister of Cholesbury and Chesham, Buckinghamshire. He was one of the two thousand ministers who were ejected from the Establishment in the year 1662 - a year which shall be ever memorable in the history of nonconformity. After his ejectment he removed to London, where he resided during the time of the plague, meanwhile preaching and assisting in the good work, which afterwards resulted in the nonconforming party being more favourably dealt with by the State than it had previously been. During this year he preached the celebrated sermons called Christ's Voice to London, and the Great Day of God's Wrath, two powerful discourses on the pestilence then prevailing. Later in life, from conscientious motives, he became a member of the Society of Friends, with the principles of which he afterwards identified himself. After living a life of usefulness, and passing through many vicissitudes, he died in 1696, aged sixty years.
The reputation of Dyer as an author rests chiefly upon Christ's Famous Titles handled in divers Sermonsa and first published in 1663. He afterwards published a sequel to this work, entitled, A Golden Chain for Believers to hang about their necks which has maintained a popularity almost equal to that of the Famous Titles. He also wrote A Cabinet of Jewels; or, a Glimpse of Sion's Glory. The style and composition of our author resemble those of John Bunyan, although they must be acknowledged to be inferior to those of the author of the Pilgrim's Progress, being deficient in the beautiful simplicity distinguishing that work; but in intensity and sincerity they are equally excellent.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016


The number ejected is sometimes disputed. In my book I write

Estimates vary but it seems that, including those ejected before 1662 and some who jumped rather than waiting to be pushed, nearly two thousand ministers and others were silenced or ejected. There will always be some vagueness about the figure as some changed their minds. A G Matthews says that some 210 later conformed. A contemporary writer, John Walker, says of an Evan Griffiths of Oxwich in South Wales, who was ejected but then conformed, that he became as violent against dissenters as he had once been against royalists. Also, the ejection included not only ministers but also lecturers and even private tutors. Further, some such as Cornishman Francis Howell 1625-1679 present anomalies. Howell, “a man mighty in the scriptures” according to Calamy, was expelled both as Principal of Jesus College, Oxford in 1660 and as incumbent of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in North Wales in 1662.
In his Nonconformist Memorial Calamy deals with some 2,465 people altogether. Matthews and Watts say that the number unwilling to conform in 1662 was 2029, around 936 in England and 120 in Wales. Some 200 of these were university lecturers. Matthews points out that a further 129 were deprived at an uncertain date between 1660 and 1663 and with the ejections of 1660 as well, he gives a total of 1760 ministers (which is about 20% of the clergy) thrust out of the Church of England, silenced from preaching or teaching because they could no longer conform by law and so deprived of a livelihood.
Gerald Bray comments that “almost all of these were Puritans, and so the Act may be said to represent the expulsion of Puritanism from the national Church.” On the other hand, John Spurr points out that Puritans remained within the state church and others, like Quakers and General Baptists, were ejected. He quotes John Corbet 1620-1680, saying, " it is a palpable injury to burden us with the various parties with whom we are now herded by our ejection in the general state of dissenters."

Thursday, 31 March 2016

John Skinner

This plaque is found in the Old Baptist Chapel at Ryeford, Herefordshire. Put up in 1870, it memorialises the first pastor John Skinner who was ejected in 1662 from the parish church in the next village Weston Under Penyard. It includes this poem by Isaac Watts
Let Caesar's dues be ever paid
To Caesar and his throne;
But consciences and souls were made
To be the Lord's alone.

Despite its bold assertions, the idea that he was one of the ejected is refuted in an interesting article here from the Baptist Quarterly.

Monday, 4 January 2016

John Owen Anecdote

Near the end of Orme's biography of Owen he says of his subject
His infirmities rendering a fixed residence in the country necessary, he took a house at Kensington, where he lived for some time. During this period, an accident occurred which shows the state of the times, and the hardships to which Dissenters were then exposed. On going one day from Kensington to London, his carriage was seized by two informers. This must have been exceedingly painful to the Doctor at any time, but especially when in a state of health ill capable of bearing the violent excitement of such an interference, and its probable consequences. It providentially happened, however, that Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, a justice of the peace, was passing at the time, who seeing a carriage stopped, and a mob collected, inquired into the matter. He ordered the informers and Dr. Owen to meet him at a justice's house in Bloomsbury square, on another day, when the cause should be tried. In the mean time the Doctor was discharged; and when the meeting took place, it was found that the informers had acted so illegally, that they were severely reprimanded, and the business dismissed.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Owen on indulgence and tolerance

In a letter written to "a person of honour" in 1667, John Owen wrote as follows
... Do but open the prisons for the relief of those peaceable, honest, industrious, diligent men, who, some of them, have lain several years in durance, merely in the pursuit of excommunication, and there will be testimony enough given to this state of the controversy.
This being so, pray give me leave to present you with my hasty thoughts, both as to the reasonableness, conscience, and principles of pursuing that course of severity towards dissenters which I find so many concerned persons to plead for, and also of the way of their arguings and pleas.
... It seems, therefore, that we are some of the first who ever anywhere in the world, from the foundation of it, thought of ruining and destroying persons of THE SAME RELIGION with ourselves, merely upon the choice of some peculiar ways of worship in that religion; and it is but reasonable, as was observed, for men to look well to the grounds of what they do, when they act contrary to the principles of the law of nature, expressed in so many instances by the consent of mankind. And I fear all men do not aright consider what a secret influence into the enervating of political societies such intrenchments on the principles of natural light will assuredly have; for those things which spring up in the minds of men, without arguing or consideration from without, will insensibly prevail in them against all law and constitutions to the contrary. It is in vain to turn nature out of doors; it will return. ...
See the whole letter here.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Samuel Petto c 1624–1711

In 1705, when Petto was around 80, the bookseller John Dunton produced an eccentric book that included “the Lives and Characters of More Than a Thousand Contemporary Divines, and Other Persons of Literary Eminence”. Of Petto he says that his venerable age deserves great honour from all that know him, for

... his hoary head is found in the way of righteousness. His free discourse runs back to the ages past, and recovers events out of memory, and then preventeth them by flying forwards to future things; and, by comparing one with the other, can give a verdict well near prophetical. The Dissenters of Sudbury call him their Oracle; and, considering his great age and experience, I do not know where they can find a better.1

Attention has recently been drawn to Petto by an American pastor and theologian called Michael Brown.2 Brown gives three reasons for his study, which he undertook at Westminster Theological Seminary West in California.

First, Petto's relative obscurity. He has received, unfairly Brown would argue, scant attention in the world of scholarship, especially with regard to his important work on covenant theology. Brown also argues that Petto is an example of someone who shows more direct continuity from Calvin to later covenant theologians, a continuity hotly denied by some who claim (in Paul Helm's words) that

... whereas Calvin’s presentation … was warm, exuberant and thoroughly evangelical, his ... followers presented what was introspective and legalistic. Sometimes it is held that the later Calvinists distorted ... Calvin … other times the ... more serious claim is made, that the Puritans, supposedly followers of Calvin, were actually opposed to the teaching of Calvin in its central emphases.3

Brown also believes Petto's work makes a useful contribution to ongoing debates regarding the Mosaic covenant, its relation to works and grace and whether it is a republication of an earlier covenant or not.

What Brown does in his short book is to give a brief overview of Petto's life then look at his understanding of the covenants and that of his contemporaries before analysing Petto's view of the Mosaic covenant more thoroughly and drawing out some of the implications of this view.
It is not known who Petto's parents were or where or when he was born, though it must have been some time around 1624. His early life coincided, therefore, with the tumultuous reign of Charles I, which lasted from 1625 until his beheading in January, 1649. Married to a Roman Catholic Princess, Charles worked hand in glove with William Laud (1573-1645) to oppose the Puritans at every step of the way.

Despite the religious turmoil of the times, Petto attended Cambridge University to study for the ministry. He enrolled in Katharine Hall, or St Catharine’s College as it became, as a “sizar” (a student granted a ration of food and lodging for free due to financial need) and graduated BA in 1647. No date is known for his Master's degree which he probably gained, though some Puritans did refuse to go further in the system. St Catharine’s was a centre for theological study. Petto would have studied under Ralph Brownrigg (1592-1659) and William Spurstowe (1605–1666), both Westminster Divines and Calvinists. This Calvinistic influence is seen in Petto's writings which favorably quote Calvin, Sibbes, Owen, William Bridge, Samuel Bolton and the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism as well as the Church Fathers and Mediaeval writers. The great John Owen (1616-1683) wrote the foreword to his work on the covenants. Petto held Owen in the very highest regard.

Petto was ordained in 1648 and became rector on the Norfolk border at St Cross (also known as Sancroft or Sancroft St George) in the South Elmham deanery, Suffolk. It seems that he was married soon afterward, eventually having five children with his first wife Mary, who died in 1655. Despite being a widower with five children his work increased rather than diminished. He often preached in neighbouring Homersfield (or St Mary) and, in 1657, he was appointed an assistant to the Suffolk commission of Triers and Objectors established by Cromwell. This body examined ministers and candidates for the ministry and their qualifications. Beginning as rector on an annual salary of £36 this went up to £50 in May 1658. (At the time an agricultural labourer would only be earning about £10 a year).4

Petto was an Independent or Non-Separating Congregationalist holding to the modified form of the Westminster Confession that appeared in 1658, the Savoy Declaration.5 Unusually for the time he accepted lay ministry and wrote The preacher sent in support of it. His co-authiors were John Martin (1596-1659) of Edgefield, Norfolk and Frederick Woodall (d 1681) of Woodbridge, Suffolk. The book, which itself sought to respond to previous published works on the subject, was answered by John Collinges (1623-1690) of Norwich and Matthew Poole (1624-1679). Petto and Woodall came back at them with a further reply in the following year, 1659, seeking to answer the objections.6

With the return of Charles II in 1660, Petto was soon ejected from his living and by 1669 was ministering in Wortwell-cum-Alburgh, South Norfolk and in nearby Denton. There are also reports of his preaching to a large congregation in Gillingham, Norfolk. In 1672, he was officially licensed as a Congregational minister under Charles II's Act of Indulgence, being registered to preach in his own house and that of John Westgate at Redenhall or Harleston in the same area.

Petto began his longest tenure as a minister in 1674, when he became the minister of a congregation in the Puritan stronghold of Sudbury, Suffolk. The congregation, one of seven congregations formed in Suffolk between 1640 and 1660, was called All Saints’ and Petto ministered there until his death. It was an independent congregation that met in a barn belonging to a man called Robert Sewell. Petto was known to some as “the preacher in the barn”.7 The congregation filled a need in the town, which had not had a regular minister for some time.

Petto corresponded with Increase Mather (1639-1723) in New England to whom he sent books by Owen, Goodwin and others. These letters reveal that he woud make regular trips to London to buy books among other things. On Auguist 31, 1677, in a letter to Increase Mather, he talks of running around London looking for a prodigal daughter determined to run away overseas. He calls it “the greatest trial I ever met with”. Apparently by the following May all was well but it was no easy time. In another letter to Mather he pleads “O beg that she and all my children may return to God through Jesus Christ ... Some of them the Lord hath owned and I, and I long to see Christ formed in all of them.”8

Evidence suggests that Petto was a highly esteemed minister among the dissenters and he was frequently in demand as a preacher at ordinations, funerals and on other occasions. In 1700, he preached the funeral sermon of Squire Samuel Baker (c 1644-1700) of Wattisfield, Suffolk, a person of notable influence. In June 1701 he preached “a very weighty sermon” at the ordination of John Beart (d 1717) in Bury St Edmund's.9 From 1707, then over 80 years of age, Petto was assisted by is son-in-law, Josias Maultby, who was made co-pastor. Maultby continued to serve the congregation until 1719, when he emigrated to Rotterdam. His death came in 1711. He was buried in the churchyard on September 21 of that year.

In addition to being an Independent minister, Petto was also a well-respected theologian. His first work The voice of the Spirit was on pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) and with its appendix (Roses from Sharon, or Sweet Experiences reached out by Christ to some of his beloved ones in this wilderness which was a record of his relationship with Christ, using the language of the Song of Songs) it dealt primarily with the doctrine of assurance of salvation and the Spirit’s work of sealing. Following the thought of Perkins, Preston, Sibbes, Goodwin and Baxter, Petto believed that the sealing of the Spirit was a separate act from the indwelling of the Spirit. The sealing of the Spirit granted to individual believers the confidence that God was their Father and that they were truly converted. Later in life Petto seems to have shifted in his view and like John Owen began to see that sealing and indwelling were more closely related, and that both were given to believers at the beginning of the Christian life.10

While at Sudbury he wrote two catechisms, A Short Scriptural Catechism for Little Children and A Large Scriptural Catechism. The catechism answers were quotations of various biblical passages and were designed to encourage memorisation of the Bible. At some point after the death of his first wife Mary he had, in what sounds like an excellent example of balance, married Martha, who was the mother of a further seven children in addition to the five he already had. They lived at the vacant All Saints manse but some local people were unhappy about this and made efforts to have Petto prosecuted for nonconformity. These efforts, however, were unsuccessful.

Petto seems to have had some ties to the Fifth Monarchy movement, though it is not clear how close these were. This is the group that looked for some sort of theocracy in line with the fifth kingdom mentioned in Nebuchadezzar's dream in the Book of Daniel, where four kingdoms are represented and a fifth, which is the kingdom of Christ. It was expected that this fifth kingdom would be established by political means around the year 1666. Petto's fellow author Frederick Woodall was associated with this group as was John Manning (d 1694) with whom Petto published Six Several Treatises of John Tillinghast n 1657. John Tillinghast (1604-1655) was a leading member of the Fifth Monarchy movement. Petto also published another nine of Tillinghast's sermons in 1658 with Manning and his neighbour at Syleham, Samuel Habergham (1626-1665).

As busy as he no doubt was in his ministry at Sudbury, Petto found time to reflect on subjects other than theology. In 1699 a short extract from a letter of his written the previous November was published in the Royal Society journal Philosophical Transactions concerning parhelia, the phenomenon of mock suns or “sundogs” visible at certain times on either side of the sun. His interest in astronomy also comes out at certain points in his correspondence with Mather. He also wrote works on infant baptism (against the General Baptist Thomas Grantham, 1633-1692), the Book of Revelation (in which he argued that the period of the Antichrist was 1050-1716) and witchcraft too (1693) but his greatest theological influence came through his highly regarded book on covenant theology. In this work Petto skilfully navigated and addressed the many contemporary debates concerning covenant theology, showing an exceptional, detailed understanding of the subject. He explored the relationship of the Mosaic covenant with the covenant of grace, making an important connection between the covenants and the Protestant doctrine of justification.

The book was republished in 200711 and it may give you an idea of the contents if I say that he begins by looking at the idea of covenant first and “the distribution of the Covenant into that of works and of grace”. He then argues for the oneness of the covenant with Jesus Christ and us, expounding on Christ as the sum of the covenant in Chapter 3 and “the date of Covenant Mercies” in Chapter 4. Chapter 5 draws some general inferences from the whole. He then describes the old and new covenants and in Chapter 7 writes of the nature of the covenant at Mount Sinai, considering whether it has ceased or is continuing, in Chapter 8. Chapter 9 is “of the good that was in the Sinai Covenant” and Chapter 10 on the differences between the Old and New Covenant, stressing the excellency of the new over the old. Chapter 11 is on “the time of first coming into Covenant” and Chapter 12 on “evidences of interest in the New Covenant”. Finally come chapters on “the use of Absolute Promises” and of conditional ones.

It is widely agreed that Calvin was the forerunner of covenant and federal theology. His contemporary reformers and the reformed theologians who followed them developed his ideas and, while remaining within the bounds of received orthodoxy, developed a diversity of opinions with regard to the details of the theology. Brown says that Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus, John Ball, David Dickson, Edmund Calamy, Anthony Burgess, Ames, Rutherford and Turretin all took the view that “the works principle” in the Mosaic covenant “pertained only to the outward, legal administration and 'accidents' of the covenant of grace as expressed in the Mosaic economy”. Others took the view that a republication of the covenant of works as distinct from the covenant of grace was made at Sinai. This was the view of men such as Caspar Olevianus, Robert Rollock, Amandus Polanus, Johannes Wollebius, William Strong, James Ussher, Perkins, Sibbes and Owen. The third way was taken by men such Samuel Bolton, who saw the Mosaic covenant as another type of covenant, neither of works nor grace.

Petto's contribution was to see the Mosaic covenant as being a covenant of works for Christ that he fulfilled in order to bring in the covenant of grace. Brown argues that although, like others, Petto uses different language to Calvin, he maintains the view that there is one way of salvation throughout.
1 John Dunton, The errors of John Dunton etc, 764
2 Michael Brown, Samuel Petto (c 1624-1711): A Portrait Of A Puritan Pastor Theologian
3 Paul Helm, “Calvin and the Covenant: Unity and Discontinuity”, Evangelical Quarterly 55 (April 1983) 65-81
4 Gregory Clark The Long march of history: Farm Laborers wages in England 1208-1850 See here (accessed November 29 2013)
5 See here
6 See here for the series of books
7 William Walter Hodson, The Meeting House and the Manse, Or, The Story of the Independents of Sudbury 55
8 Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections 38 341-350
9 Thomas John Hosken, History of Congregationalism and memorials of the churches of our order in Suffolk 145
10 Joel Beeke, Mark Jones Puritan Theology
11 Samuel Petto, The mystery of the covenant of grace

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Thomson on John Owen 04

Owen's church-book presents the names of some of the chiefs of Nonconformity as members of his flock, and "honourable women not a few." Among others, there have been found the names of more than one of the heroes of the army of the Commonwealth, - such as Lord Charles Fleetwood and Colonel Desborough; certain members of the Abney family, in whose hospitable mansion the saintly Isaac Watts in after times found shelter for more than thirty years; the Countess of Anglesea; and Mrs Bendish, the grand-daughter of Cromwell, in whom, it is said, may of the bodily and mental features of the Protector remarkably reappeared. Some of these might be able at times to throw their shield over the head of Owen in those changeful and stormy years. And there were other persons more powerful still, - such as the Earl of Orrery, the Earl of Anglesea, Lord Berkeley, Lord Willoughby, Lord Wharton, and Sir John Trevor, one of the principal secretaries of state; who, though not members of Owen's church, were religiously disposed, and Owen's friends, and inclined, as far as their influence went, to mitigate the severities against the Nonconformists generally.
Owen's intimacy with these noblemen probably accounts for that interview to which he was invited by the King and the Duke of York, and which has been faithfully chronicled by all his biographers. Happening to be at Tunbridge Wells when his majesty and the duke were also there, he was introduced to the royal tent. The king freely conversed with him on the subject of religious liberty, and expressed his wish to see the Dissenters relieved of their disabilities.
On his return to London, he invited Owen to repeated interviews, uttering the same sentiments as he had done during the first conversation, and at length intrusted him with a thousand guineas, to be employed by him in mitigating the sufferings of his poorer brethren. The general policy of Charles sufficiently accounts for these gleams of royal sunshine.
But the importance of those friendships is not seen by us until we have marked the use which Owen made of them in the cause of his suffering brethren. It is well known that when the Parliament again assembled, it expressed its strong displeasure at the king's indulgence, and never ceased its remonstrances until the licenses to places of worship had been withdrawn. A disposition, it is true, began to show itself to distinguish between the Protestant Nonconformists and the Romanists, and to point restriction more particularly against the latter; but the act, which was professedly intended to bear against them was so clumsily constructed as to be capable of reaching all who did not conform, and Churchmen were not slow in giving it this direction. The Nonconformists were exposed anew to the persecuting storm; informers were goaded by increased rewards; and among thousands of less illustrious sufferers, Richard Baxter suffered joyfully the spoiling of his goods, and was condemned to what his ardent spirit did indeed feel bitterly, - a year of almost unbroken silence.
Owen, however, appears to have been left comparatively unmolested, - probably owing to the influences we have specified; and it is interesting to learn from an adversary with what zeal and constancy he employed his advantages to warn and succour the oppressed. "Witness his fishing out the king's counsels, and inquiring whether things went well to his great Diana, liberty of conscience? - how his majesty stood affected to it? - whether he would connive at it and the execution of the laws against it? -- who were or could be made his friends at court? - what bills were like to be put up in Parliament? -- how that assembly was united or divided? And according to the disposition of affairs he did acquaint his under officers; and they, by their letters each post, were to inform their fraternity in each corner of the kingdom how things were likely to go with them, how they should order their business, and either for a time omit or continue their conventicles."
Surely this was being able to find nothing against him, except as concerning the law of his God. There was no sufferer in whose behalf Owen exerted his influence more earnestly than John Bunyan. It is well known that, as a preacher, Bunyan excited, wherever he went, an interest not surpassed even by the ministry of Baxter. When he preached in barns or on commons, he gathered eager thousands around him; and when he came to London, twelve hundred people would be found gathered together at seven on the dark morning of a winter working-day, to hear him expound the Word of God. Among these admiring multitudes Owen had often been discovered; - the most learned of the Puritans hung for hours, that seemed like moments, upon the lips of this untutored genius. The king is reported to have asked Owen, on one occasion, how a learned man like him could go "to hear a tinker prate;" to which the great theologian answered "May it please your majesty, could I possess the tinker's abilities for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning."
For some years Bunyan's confinement in the prison of Bedford had, through the kindness of his good jailer, been attended with many mitigations; but towards the latter part of it, its severities had been greatly increased, and Owen used every effort to engage the interest of his old friend and tutor, Dr Barlow, for his release. Some of the details of this matter have been questioned by Southey, and its date is uncertain; but the leading facts seem above reasonable suspicion, and it is pleasing to know, that after some perplexing delay, Owen's interposition was successful in obtaining Bunyan's enlargement.
During these chequered and anxious years, Owen's untiring pen had been as active as ever. In 1669 he had published "A brief Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity; as also, of the Person and Satisfaction of Christ;" a little treatise, containing the condensed substance of his great controversial work against Biddle and the Continental Socinians, - the "Vindiciae Evangelicae." There was wisdom in thus supplying the church with a less controversial manual on those vital questions. ...
In 1672 he had published "A Discourse concerning Evangelical Love, Church Peace and Unity," etc.; a work combining enlarged and generous sentiment with wise discrimination, and in which Owen enters at great length into the question respecting the occasional attendance of Nonconformists on the parish churches, - a question which found him and Baxter once more ranged on opposite sides. And there were other works whose origin dated from this period, ... "Treatise on the Sabbath" ... "The Nature and Punishment of Apostasy Declared, in an Exposition of Hebrews vi. 4-6." It was emphatically a book for the times; when the multitudes who had merely played a part in religion in Cromwell's days had long since thrown off the mask, and taken amends for their restraints in the most shameless excesses; when to be sternly moral was almost to incur the suspicion of disloyalty; when to be called a Puritan was, with many, more discreditable than to be called a debauchee; and when the noon-day licentiousness of Charles' court, descending through the inferior ranks of life, carried every thing before it but what was rooted and grounded in a living piety.
But the greatest work of Owen at this period was one which we leave its elaborate title to describe, -- "A Discourse concerning the Holy Spirit; in which an account is given of his name, nature, personality, dispensation, operations, and effects. His whole work in the Old and New Creation is explained; the doctrine concerning it vindicated from opposition and reproaches. The nature and necessity also of Gospel holiness, the difference between grace and morality, or a spiritual life to God in evangelical obedience and a course of moral virtues, is stated and explained." ...
Few glimpses are given us of Owen's domestic history; but it appears that, in January 1676, he was bereaved of his first wife. One of his early biographers says that she "was an excellent and comely person, very affectionate towards him, and met with suitable returns." He remained a widower for about 18 months, when he married a lady of the name of Michel, the daughter of a family of rank in Dorsetshire, and the widow of Thomas D'Oyley, Esq. of Chiselhampton, near Stadham. This lady brought Dr Owen a considerable fortune; which, with his own property, and a legacy that was left him about the same time by his cousin, Martyn Owen, made his condition easy, and even affluent, so that he was able to keep a carriage during his remaining years. On all which Anthony Wood remarks, with monkish spite, that "Owen took all occasions to enjoy the comfortable importances of this life."