Thursday, 26 August 2021

Reading The Great Ejection Sermons

I can still remember as a teenager pulling my father’s copy of the 1962 Banner edition of Sermons of the Great Ejection off one of his study shelves and turning to Edmund Calamy’s sermon, ‘Trembling for the Ark of God.’ That sermon impacted me profoundly. But, before turning to the detail of this and other sermons, it will be helpful to explain the historical origin of the book.

These sermons were all preached in 1662, the year when 2,000 or so ministers were expelled from ministry in the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity, which required unswerving commitment to the Book of Common Prayer, episcopal ordination and rejection of the Solemn League and Covenant. This Act was designed to drive Puritan preachers from the national church, and achieved this aim on Black Bartholomew’s Day 1662. In the words of J. C. Ryle this represented ‘an injury to the cause of true religion in England which will probably never be repaired.’

However, at least one good came from the tragedy of the Great Ejection - the farewell sermons of Puritan preachers to their congregations. And this Puritan Paperback gives a selection of the best of these sermons, the parting pastoral counsel of some of the finest preachers and theologians England ever produced. After a helpful foreword from Iain Murray, each of the sermons is introduced with a brief biography of the preacher, some of whom will be well known to Banner readers (Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, Edmund Calamy) and others relatively unknow (John Collins, Thomas Lye, John Oldfield, John Whitlock). Some prayers have also been included, and the volumes concludes with the 1772 Nonconformist’s Catechism.

To give a flavour of the sermons, consider the first sermon in the volume, Edmund Calamy preaching on Eli trembling for the ark of God (1 Sam. 4:13). In many ways this is a model Puritan sermon. The context for the text is briefly expounded. A biblical theology of the ark and what it represents (fundamentally a visible sign of God’s gracious presence with his people) and what it typifies (Jesus Christ, the Church, and the ordinances of the church) is outlined. From this, Calamy proceeds to draw rich and varied spiritual lessons from the text. For example, believers are troubled when the ark (Christ, his church, the gospel) is in danger of being lost because 1) they love the ark; 2) they have a personal interest in the ark; 3) the damage that follows the ark being lost; 4) if the ark is lost it is because of our sin. This last point is so vital and so convicting. The ark is in danger, not first because of other’s sins, but because of our sins (e.g. Dan. 9:5-6): ‘Oh, beloved, it is for your sin and my sin that the ark of God is in danger.’

There is realism and a hope in Calamy’s application. He is well aware that ‘England has no letters patent of the gospel; the gospel is removable.’ Therefore, he wanted God’s people to have ‘an aching heart for the ark of God that was in danger.’ But he also wanted God’s people to have hope. As long as there was ‘an abundance of praying people’ Calamy argued the ark was safe, for ‘God will never forsake a praying people.’ There is clearly much more in Calamy’s sermon, all of it was needed in 1662, and all of it is needed today. So, take up this volume and read it.

Other sermons are of a uniformly high standard. Thomas Brooks’ ‘Pastor’s Legacies’ are wonderful; John Collins on ‘Contending for the faith’ is a much-needed word for today; Thomas Lyle beautiful covers the love of a pastor for his people and the congregation’s duty in return to ‘stand fast in the Lord’ (Phil. 4:1); Thomas Watson is as helpful as ever on the difference between the righteous and the wicked (Isa. 3:10-11) and how God’s promises stir up a pastor’s beloved people to holiness (2 Cor. 7:1); John Oldfield outlines how to respond to the sufferings of the godly (Psa. 69:6) and the final sermon of John Whitlock is a is a profound challenge to ‘remember, hold fast and repent’ (Rev. 3:3).

These are not antiquarian sermons. They breathe the spirit of the living word of God and will repay reading today, when, to return to Calamy’s sermon, there is as much need to tremble for the ark of God as there was in 1662.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Thomas Browning Rothwell

From The Annals of Coggeshall
Thomas Browning (c 1634-1685) was born of pious parents at Coggeshall, about the year 1634, and was sent to Oxford at sixteen years of age. Here he "chose the worst companions and despised the best instructions; and after some years left, and became tutor in Col. Sydenham's family. There was so much religion here that he quickly grew weary of it and left, and chose rather to embrace a vain and uncertain course of life." On attending Westminster Abbey, he was greatly impressed by the sermons of Mr. John Howe, the pastor; and afterwards of Mr. Thomas Weld of New England and Mr. Pinchback, assistant of Dr. Thomas Manton. About this time Mr. Sames met with him in London, and induced his parents, whom he had estranged by his former life, to invite him and his wife to reside with them at Coggeshall.
He became a member of the church, and was at length encouraged by Mr. Sames to devote himself to the ministry, and preached his first sermon on Matt. i. 20 in his pulpit in the Parish Church. Going with Mr. Sames to a commencement at Cambridge, they met with Mr. Beverly of Rothwell, who was seeking a minister for the adjoining parish of Desborough; and Mr. Browning, after preaching there, was invited to become pastor in 1657. Here he continued faithfully discharging his duties for five years.
In all his work he followed the advice once given him by Dr. Owen, " Study things, acceptable words in course will follow." He was ejected among the two thousand, preaching his farewell sermon on 2 Cor. xiii. 14. The people of Desborough and Rothwell gathered together to form one congregation under his ministry, at Rothwell, where he had licence to preach in 1672, and continued during the rest of his life.
"Some soldiers came one Lord's-day, April, 1682, to break up a meeting, and to take Mr. Browning of Rothwell. The constable advised them to be well-advised in what they did, 'for,' said he, 'when Sir was alive, he eagerly prosecuted these meetings, and engaged 8 soldiers of the country troop therein, whereof myself was one. Sir himself is dead; 6 of the soldiers are dead; some of them were hanged, and some of them broke their necks; and I myself fell off my horse and broke my collarbone in the act of prosecuting them, and it cost me 30s. to be cured. It hath given me such warnings, that for my part I am resolved I will never intermeddle with them more.' This story he repeated several times that day, which shews how readily conscience, when a little awakened, construes the Divine Providences to be acts of judgment and admonition."*
Mr. Browning was on one occasion arrested and imprisoned in Northampton Gaol; from which place he wrote the following with other letters to his church:
"My dear Brethren and Beloved,
"I salute you in the Lord, and make mention of you to him with joy, counting it my most happy lot, next interest in His love, to have so great a share in yours We have peace in the midst of trouble, and quiet in the day of war; because 'this man is our peace even while the Assyrian is in the land.' God has been a little sanctuary to us in our scatterings, and has over-ruled that which was designed for our ruin to our help. O my brethren! methinks I am with you, weeping with you, joying with you, praying with you, and hearing with you. It is true fellowship my soul has with you at a distance. I long after you much in the Lord, yet rejoicingly stay his good pleasure. I would not come out a moment before his time. I would not take a step without his direction. I am wonderfully well; better and better. The cup of afflictions for the Gospel is sweeter the deeper: a stronger cordial the nearer the bottom — I mean death itself. O the joy unspeakable the glorious and dying martyrs of Jesus have had! How full freight have been their souls in their passage to their port! I tell you, if you knew what Christ's prisoners, some of them, enjoyed in their gaols, you would not fear their condition, but long for it. And I am persuaded, could their enemies conceive of their comfort, in mere vexation of heart they would stay their persecutions. 'Therefore, my brethren, my joy and crown, stand fast in the Lord.' Rejoice greatly to run your race: fear not their fear: sit loose from the world: allot yourselves this portion which God has allotted you, through many tribulations to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Come the worst is death, and that is the, best of all ... My brethren, do not budge. Keep your ground: the scripture is your law: God is your king. Your principles are sober, your practices are peaceable. Your obedience to superiors known in those things wherein your obedience is required. If men have nothing against you but in the matters of your God, rejoice and triumph in all your persecutions. . . . I exhort you all to walk in the faith, fear, love and joy of the Lord. Study your mutual edification. Fear nothing of events till they come: only fear offending God with a neglect of your duty. There is no shadow like the shadow of God's wings; therefore keep close to God. Ps. Ivii. 1."
"T. B."
Reference to his death is made in the church-book of Rothwell:
"Mr. Thomas Browning, pastor of this church, was gathered to his Father's house in peace, in an awfully persecuting day, May 9, 1685, having served his Lord in this house with much pains and many tears, with much presence and success, about 23 years."
He was buried in Rothwell churchyard, and was succeeded by Mr. Richard Davis.

* Mr. Beverly says in his Diary—"1658, May 13. Pretty cheerful till Brother Browning's return from Essex, who told me the sad news (among some other more refreshing) that there was some discord in the New England churches: Mr. Stone turned classical. O what a fountain of tears broke my heart forthwith out into, to conceive that Satan should infest those precious churches which the Lord had hitherto so gloriously carried as on eagle's wings."

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Calamy in his Continuation of the account of ministers ... ejected .... Part 2

His Account of the Plague in his Treatise call'd God's Terrible Voice in the City, is very affecting. He there tells us, that it was in Holland in the Beginning of May 1664, and the same Year began in some remote Parts of this Land, though [in London] the Weekly Bills of mortality took notice but of three. In the Beginning of May 1665, nine died of it in the Heart of the City, and eight in the Suburbs. The next Week, the Bill fell from nine to three. In the next Week it mounted from three to 14, in the next to seventeen, in the next to 43. In June the Number increas'd from 43 to 112; the next Week to 168; the next to 267; the next to 470. In the first Week of July, the Number arose to 725, the next 1,089, the next to 1,843, the next to 2,010. In the first Week in August the Number amounted to 2,817, the next to 3,880, the next to 4,237, the next to 6,102. In September a Decrease of the Distemper was hop'd for: But it was not yet come to its Height. In the first Week there died of it six thousand nine hundred eighty-eight: And though in the second Week the Number abated to 6,544; yet in the third Week it arose to 7,165, which was the highest: And then of the 130 Parishes in and about the City there were but four which were not infected; and in those there were but few People remaining that were not gone into the Country.
In the House where he lived, there were eight in Family; three Men, three Youths, an old Woman, and a Maid. It was the latter End of Sept. before any of them were touched. The Maid and two of the youths were first seiz'd with the Distemper, which began with a shivering and trembling in her Flesh, and quickly seiz'd on her Spirits. This was on the Monday, and she died on the Thursday full of Tokens. On Friday one of the Youths had a swelling in his Groin; and on the Lord's Day died with the Marks of the Distemper upon him. On the same Day another of the Youths sicken'd, and on the Wednesday following he died. On the Thursday Night the Master of the House fell sick, and within a Day or two was full of Spots, but was strangely recovered, beyond his own or others Expectations. In the fourth Week in September there was a Decrease, to 5,538. In the first Week of October, there was a farther Decrease to 4,929; in the next to 4,327, the next to 2,665, the next to 1,421 and the next to 1,031.
The first Week in Nov. there was an Increase, to 1,414; but it fell the Week after to 1,050 and the Week after to 652 and so lessen'd more and more to the End of the Year. And the whole Number of those that were reckon'd to die of the Plague in London, this Year, was 68,596. But God was pleas'd to take a particular Care of this Good Man. He continued in perfect Health all the while, and surviv'd this sad Providence, and was useful by his unwearied Labours to a numerous Congregation, till the Year 1678.

Calamy in his Continuation of the account of ministers ... ejected .... Part 1

Of The Account Of The Ministers, Lecturers, Masters and Fellows of Colleges, and Schoolmasters, who Were Ejected and Silenced After the Restoration in 1660, by Or Before the Act for Uniformity
Pag. 32. St. Mary Magdalen Milk Street; Mr. Thomas Vincent. Add, MA of Christ Church, Oxon. He was born at Hertford in May, 1634. He and Mr. Nathanael Vincent were Sons of the Worthy Mr. John Vincent, a Minister born in the West, but who died in the rich Living of Sedgfield in the Bishoprick of Durham. It was observed of this Mr John Vincent, that he was so narrated, and forc'd upon so many Removes for his Nonconformity, that though he had a good Number of Children, yet he never had two of them born in one County. As to the Time of the Death of this Mr. Thomas Vincent, (who was the elder Brother of the two) the Year 1671, should be chang'd into 1678.
He succeeded Mr. Case in this Living, though neither the one nor the other of them are mentioned in London, Westminster and Southwark. He is mentioned in Newcourt's Rep. Eccl. Vol. I. p. 471: Only Mr. Vincent's immediate Successor is taken notice of, Mr. Thompson, who came to the Living, Sept. 9. 1662. Mr. John Evans has added some farther Account of him, before a late Edition of his useful Treatise intituled, God's Terrible Voice in the City.
He was one of the few Ministers who had the Zeal and Courage to abide in the City amidst all the Fury of the Pestilence in 1665, and pursu'd his Ministerial Work in that needful but dangerous Season with all Diligence and Intrepidity, both in publick and private. Some Divines of the Establishment maintain'd their Station at that time with a Primitive Zeal and Fervour. Dr. Anthony Walker of Aldermanbury, through the whole Vitasition, preach'd a constant Weekly Lecture at his own Church. Mr Meriton also continu'd, and so did Dr. Thomas Hcrtcn, who was encourag'd to it by that extraordi- nary Providence which had preserv'd him, when an Infant, from the Plague, while his Nurse had it upon her. But the main Body of the Publick Ministers retir'd from the Danger, and left their Pulpits vacant. In this Case the Ministers that had been silenc'd Three Years before, and had preached only privately and to small Numbers, thought it their Duty to give the best Help they could to the many Thousands that remain'd in the City. They stay'd and preach'd to vast Congregations; and the immediate Views of Death before them, made both Preachers and Hearers serious at an uncommon Rate. Among those thus employ'd, were, Mr Chester, Mr Turner, Mr Franklin, Mr Grimes, (who came from Ireland, and sometimes went by the Name of Chambers,) and this Mr Thomas Vincent, He was for some time employ'd in assisting Mr. Doolittle at Islington in giving some Young Persons an Academical Education, for which Sort of Service he was thought well qualify'd. Upon the Progress of the Distemper in the City, he acquainted his good Friend with his Design to quit that Employment, and apply himself peculiarly to the Visitation of the Sick, and the instructing of the Sound, in that Time of pressing Necessity. Mr. D. endeavour'd to dissuade him, by representing the Danger he must run; that he thought he had no Call to it, being then otherwise employ'd; and that it was rather advisable he should reserve himself for farther Service to the rising Age, in that Station wherein he then was so usefully fix'd. Mr. Vincent not being satisfyed to desist from his intended Service, they agreed to desire the Advice of their Brethren, in and about the City upon the Case. When Mr. D. had represented his Reasons at large, Mr Vincent acquainted his Brethren, that he had very seriously consider'd the Matter before he had come to a Resolution: He had carefully examin'd the State of his own Soul, and could look Death in the Face with Comfort: He found no Timorousness and Dread in his own Temper: He thought it was absolutely necessary that such vast Numbers of dying People should have some' Spiritual Assistance: He could have no Prospect of Service in the Exercise of his Ministry through his whole Life like that which now offer'd itself: He had often committed the Case and himself to God in Prayer; and upon the whole had solemnly devoted himself to the Service of God and Souls upon this Occasion: And therefore hoped none of them would endeavour to weaken his Hands in this Work. When the Ministers present had heard him out, they unanimously declar'd their Satisfaction and Joy, that they apprehended the Matter was of God, and concurred in their Prayers for his Protection and Success.
He went out hereupon to his Work with the greatest Firmness and Assiduity. He constantly preach'd every Lord's Day through the whole Visitation, either at Aldgate-Church, or Great St. Hellens in Bishopsgate-Street, or Allhallows in Thames Street, or some other Church. His Subjects were most moving and important; and his Management of them most pathetick and searching. It was a general Inquiry through the preceding Week where he was to preach: Multitudes follow'd him where- ever he went: And he preach'd not a Sermon by which there were not several awaken'd, and as far in London, Westminster and Southwark. As far as Men could judge brought home to God. Besides this, he without the least Terror visited everyone that sent for him, doing the best Offices he could for them in their last Extremities : Being instant in Season and out of Season to save Souls from Death.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Calamy on the Plague in his Nonconformist memorial

In the year 1665, the plague broke out, which carried of about an hundred thousand persons in the city of London. The ejected ministers had, till this time, preached very privately, and only to a few : but now, when the clergy in the city-churches fled, and left their flocks in the time of their extremity, several of the Nonconformists pitying the dying and distressed people, who had none to help them to prepare for another world, nor to comfort them in their terrors, when about 10,000 died in a week; were convinced that no obedience to the laws of man could justify their neglecting men's souls and bodies in such extremities. They therefore resolved to stay with them, to enter the deserted pulpits, and give them what assistance they were able, under such an awakening providence; to visit the sick, procure what relief they could for the poor, especially such as were shut up. The persons that determined upon this good work were Mr. T. Vincent, Mr. Chester, Mr Janeway, Mr Turner, Mr Grimes, Mr Jackson, Mr Franklyn, and some others. The face of death so awakened preachers and hearers, that the former exceeded themselves in lively fervent preaching; and the latter heard with a peculiar ardour and attention. Througli the blessing of God, many were converted, and religion took such hold on their hearts, that it could never afterwards be efaced. While God was consuming the people by this judgment and the Nonconformists were labouring to save their souls, the parliament, which sat at Oxford, was busy in making an act to render their case incomparably harder than it was before, by putting upon them a certain oath, which if they refused, they must not come (unless upon the road) within five miles of any city or corporation, any place that sent burgesses to parliament, any place where they had been ministers, or had preached after the act of oblivion ....

Daniel Neal on the plague

The next judgment which befell the nation was the most dreadful plague that had been known within the memory of man. This was preceded by an unusual drought; the meadows were parched and burned up like the highways. insomuch that there was no food for the cattle, which occasioned first a murrain among them, and then a general contagion among the human species, which increased in the city and suburbs of London until eight or ten thousand died in a week.
The richer inhabitants fled into the remoter counties; but the calamities of those who stayed behind, and of the poorer sort, are not to be expressed. Trade was at a full stand; all commerce between London and the country was entirely cut off, lest the infection should be propagated thereby. Nay, the country housekeepers and farmers durst not entertain their city friends or relations till they had performed quarantine in the fields or outhouses. If a stranger passed through the neighbourhood, they fled from him as an enemy. In London the shops and houses were quite shut up, and many of them marked with a red cross, and an inscription over the door, Lord, have mercy upon us! Grass grew in the streets; and every night the bellman went his rounds with a cart, crying, Bring out your dead. From London the plague spread into the neighbouring towns and villages, and continued near three quarters of a year, till it had swept away almost one hundred thousand of the inhabitants. Some of the established clergy, with a commendable zeal, ventured to continue in their stations, and preach to their parishioners throughout the course of the plague, as Dr. Walker, Dr. Horton, Dr. Meriton, and a few others, but most of them fled, and deserted heir parishes at a time when their assistance was most wanted; upon this some of the ejected ministers ventured to preach in the vacant pulpits, imagining that so extraordinary a case would justify their disregard to the laws.
The ministers who embarked in this service were, the Reverend Mr Thomas Vincent, Mr Chester, Mr Janeway, Mr Turner, Grimes, Franklin and others. The face of death, and the arrows that fled among the people in darkness at noonday, awakened both preachers and hearers: many who were at church one day were thrown into their graves the next; the cry of great numbers was, “What shall we do to be saved?” A more awful time England had never Seen. But it will amaze all posterity, that in a time both of war and pestilence, and when the Nonconformist ministers were hazarding their lives in the service of the souls of the distressed and dying citizens of London, that the prime minister and his creatures, instead of mourning for the nation's sins, and meditating a reformation of manners, should pour out all their vengeance upon the Nonconformists, in order to make their condition more insupportable.
One would have thought such a judgment from Heaven, and such a generous compassion in the ejected ministers, should have softened the hearts of their most cruel enemies; but the Presbyterians must be crushed, in defiance of the rebukes of Providence. Bishop Kennet and Mr Echard would excuse the ministry, by alleging that some of the old Oliverian officers were enlisted in the Dutch service, which, if true, was nothing to the body of the Presbyterians, though Lord Clarendon did what he could to incense the Parliament, and make them believe they were in confederacy with the enemies of the government. ....
*** Dr. Grey has introduced here a full and affecting narrative of the progress of this calamity, and of the mortality it produced; drawn up by the pen of Mr. Vincent, one who charitably gave his assistance at that time, as copied by Dr. Calamy, in his Continuation, p. 33. It was usual for people, as they went about their business, to drop down in the street. A bagpiper, who, excessively overcome with liquor, had fallen down and lay asleep in the street, was taken up and thrown into a cart, and betimes the next morning carried away with some dead bodies. At daybreak he awoke, and, rising, began to play a tune: which so surprised those who drove the cart, and could see nothing distinctly, that in a fright they betook them to their heels, and would have it they had taken up the devil in the disguise of a dead man. —Sir John Reresby's Memoirs, p. 10, 11
De Foe has recorded this awful visitation in a most graphic volume.
Baxter's Life, part iii., p. 2. Baxter, in another place, says, “It is scarcely possible for people that live in times of health and security to apprehend the dreadfulness of the pestilence! How fearful were people, even a hundred miles from London, of anything bought in a draper's shop there, or of any person that came to their houses! How they would shut their doors against their friends, and if men met one another in the fields, how they would avoid each other.” Baxter says that only three Nonconformist ministers died of the plague.--Baxter's Life, part it. to. 448

Thomas Vincent 1665

The great plague in London, in the year 1665, gave occasion for the display of the piety and zeal of several of the ejected ministers, and of the providence of God in preserving them from the contagion, when prosecuting their ministerial labours in the midst of it.
The Rev Thomas Vincent was at this period tutor of an academy at Islington, but determined to leave his situation, and devote himself to the spiritual instruction of the people in London, where many of the pulpits were deserted. His friends vainly endeavoured to dissuade him from the dangerous enterprise. He agreed, however, to follow the advice of his reverend brethren in and about the city. When they were assembled, he told them his resolution, and assured them that it had been the result of much serious thought. He had carefully examined the state of his own soul, and could look death in the face with comfort. He thought it absolutely necessary that the vast numbers of people then dying, should have some spiritual assistance, and that he could never again have such a prospect of ministerial usefulness as now presented itself. He added, that he had solemnly devoted himself to God and souls upon this occasion; and that, therefore, he hoped none of them would endeavor to weaken his hands in this work.
Encouraged by the ministers, who prayed for his protection and success, he entered on his labors with fortitude and diligence. During all the time of the plague, he preached every sabbath in some of the parish churches. He chose the most moving and important subjects, and treated them in the most pathetic and searching manner.
The awfulness of the judgment then before the eyes of all, gave great force to his addresses, and a very general inquiry was always made where he would preach the next sabbath. Many learned from him the necessity of salvation, and the way to heaven through the blood of Christ. He visited all who sent for him, and it pleased God to take especial care of his life; for though in this year there died in London, of the plague, 68,596, including seven persons in the family in which he lived, he continued in perfect health all the time, and was a useful minister to a numerous congregation at Hoxton for upwards of twelve years afterwards. Thus were the promises in the ninety-first psalm fulfilled to this servant of God.
From Anecdotes. Originally published 1841 by the Religious Tract Society of London.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Appleby on the Nonconformists and the Plague 1665 Part 2

... In some cases the courage of certain Nonconformists drew praise even from Anglicans. When the impeccably royalist third Earl of Devonshire, Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, received a request 
that the ejected minister Thomas Stanley be expelled from his residence at Eyam, the Earl replied 'that it was more reasonable, that the whole Country should in more than Words testifie their Thankfulness to him, who together with Isis Care of the Town had taken such Care, as none else did, to prevent the Infection of the Towns adjacent. If Nonconformist clergy had demonstrated their worth by preaching and pastoral work in the affected areas, the plague had also worked to their disadvantage. The finances of many merchants who had previously provided financial support for the Nonconformist ministry had been badly affected. Meanwhile, the ecclesiastical authorities were 
stung by pamphlets deriding those Church of England clergy who had fled from their livings in panic, allowing Nonconformists to take their places. Even a pamphlet such as A Friendly Letter to the Flying Clergy, which praised Archbishop Sheldon for remaining at his post, gave a damaging impression of Anglican pusillanimity. This public perception was later reinforced by Daniel Defoe in his fictitious Journal of the Plague Year, and even more so by Richard Baxter's published memoirs. The appropriation of the vacant London pulpits, however, was not in itself responsible for the Five Mile Act. Among the items that had been occupying Sheldon's attention even before the Great Plague marooned him in Lambeth Palace had been the results of a questionnaire that he had sent to his subordinate bishops in order to ascertain the state of the ministry within the Church of England. The responses that he received in return included alarming appraisals regarding the potential scope of Nonconformist activities and the extent to which the ejected ministers continued to exercise influence over their former congregations. The various concerns of the Lords and Commons meeting at Oxford in October 1665 also served to fuel their anxieties regarding Dissent, and in particular the need to restrict the movements of ejected ministers. Michael Wafts has opined that it is possible to justify the Conventicle Act by reason of the Cavalier Parliament's fear of rebellion, but no such excuse can be offered in defence of the Five Mile Act of 1665 In fact, a deteriorating military situation coupled with political and economic dislocation caused by the worst plague for three hundred years had rendered a fragile state more vulnerable to sedition than ever before. The Cavalier Parliament probably had more excuse for anxiety in 1665 rather than less. As ever, Clarendon recoiled from such indiscriminate repression, and so joined the earls of Manchester and Southampton, and Lord Wharton, in opposing the bill. The preamble to the Five Mile (or 'Oxford') Act declared that many clergy who had refused to subscribe to the various declarations required by the Act of Uniformity had nevertheless continued to preach illegally, and conducted worship at meetings in contravention of the law. Such people were now to be required, as from 24 March 1666, not to live or approach within five miles of any city, corporate town or borough of England, Wales or Berwick-on-Tweed, unless passing through whilst travelling to another destination. The ejected ministers were in addition forbidden to live or come within five miles of any parish, town or place where they had had a ministry since the Act of Oblivion (1660), unless they first took the oath of non-resistance detailed in the Act of Uniformity, with the additional clause that they would not seek any change of government, either in church or state. This became known as the 'Oxford Oath'. The fine for each transgression was to he £40. Any cleric or lay person refusing to take the oath was further forbidden to teach or take on boarders to instruct, on pain of a fine of £10 for each offence. Any two or more justices were henceforth empowered to imprison any found guilty of such offences for  aperiod of six months without bail.

Appleby on the Nonconformists and the Plague 1665 Part 1

From David J Appleby's essay in The Great Ejectment of 1662: Its Antecedents, Aftermath, and Ecumenical Significance editor Alan P F Sell

In 1665 plague crossed the Channel, bringing perhaps the worst visitation since the Black Death of 1348. Over the next two years it spread across England and Wales, mainly through the cloth trade routes. As London citizens began to die in droves, the wealthy and well connected fled. King and Parliament removed to Oxford, leaving George Monck, Duke of Albemarle and his army in charge of London. England was by now at war with the Dutch and, with the economic and political life of the capital seriously disrupted, the authorities were understandably more nervous than usual. The traditional ties between English religious dissenters and the Netherlands gave rise to suspicions of treasonable collaboration, and Albemarle kept his soldiers busy rounding up both Quakers and more conventional Nonconformists. Many of these unfortunate individuals subsequently died of plague in the unhealthy environs of London's prisons; including Richard Flavell, a minister who had come to London after having been ejected from his Gloucestershire living, only to perish in Newgate. Hundreds of arrests were also made in the provinces. Charles appointed his brother, James. Duke of York to supervise operations in the areas so recently affected by the Northern Rising. Predictably, little effort was made to distinguish been radicals and moderates, with the result that peaceable Presbyterian ministers such as Philip Henry found themselves caught in the net.
Whatever else he may have been, Gilbert Sheldon was no coward. He remained working in Lambeth throughout the epidemic. Similarly, at least nineteen Anglican clergy stayed to comfort their London congregations, and eleven of them paid for this devotion with their lives. Several of their colleagues, however, deserted their parishes in panic. Nonconformist clergy who had remained in the city promptly climbed into the empty pulpits, or held prayer meetings in private houses to bring spiritual solace to people by now desperately afraid that judgement day was approaching. Calamy records the names of fourteen such ministers who preached in London during these troubled times, the best known being Thomas Vincent, formerly of St. Mary Magdalen, Milk Street. Several more ministers are known to have been living in London and may also have participated in the work. A number of others, Richard Baxter among them, moved out of the city, taking the plague with them in some cases. Relatively little work has been done to investigate the conduct of Nonconformist clergy (and 
their episcopalian counterparts, for that matter) in provincial areas affected by the Great Plague, although it has been suggested that matters in the grievously afflicted cloth-working town of Colchester in Essex followed a similar course to London. The former Colchester minister Owen Stockton may well have engaged in pastoral work in the plague-ridden town, for example, and Obadiah Grew certainly did so in Coventry. ....

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

John Oldfield c 1627-1682

This ejected minister, father of Joshua, was born near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, about 1627. He was educated at the grammar school of Bromfield, Cumberland. Though of no university, he was a good scholar and mathematician. He held the rectory of Carsington, Derbyshire, having been appointed in or before 1649. His parishioners, according to Calamy, were 'very ticklish and capricious, very hard to be pleased in ministers,' but he suited them; and, though the living was worth but 70l., he refused a better offer of the perpetual curacy of Tamworth, Warwickshire. He was present, as a member, at the first known meeting (16 Dec. 1651) of the Wirksworth classis, of which he was a most regular attendant (15 times moderator) till its last recorded meeting (17 Nov. 1658). His sermon before the classis on 17 July 1655 was 'well approved' as 'orthodox and seasonable.' On 15 Jan. 1656, by appointment of the classis, he delivered the fifth of a series of doctrinal arguments directed against the errors of Socinians, his thesis being 'that the name Jehovah is incommunicable.' In the minutes, as in the Carsington parish register, his name is always written Otefield or Oateield (twice). By the Uniformity Act (1662) he was ejected from Carrington. After this he moved from place to place, sometimes attending the established church, and often preaching in conventicles. Latterly he settled at Alfreton, Derbyshire. Once a fortnight he preached at Road Nook, Derbyshire, in a house belonging to John Spateman, and was informed against for so doing. It was proved that he was 10 miles off on the specified day; the informers were prosecuted, and one of them pilloried at Derby.
For some time before his death he was disabled. He died on 6 June 1662, 'ætat. 55,' and was buried in Alfreton Church, where there is a brass plate to his memory. He married Ann, sister of Robert Porter (d. 1690), vicar of Pentrich, Derbyshire. Four of his sons entered the ministry:
(1) John (b. 1 Nov. 1654), who received Presbyterian ordination in September 1681, and afterwards conformed;
(2) Joshua (see previous post);
(3) Nathaniel, Presbyterian minister (1689-96) at Globe Alley, Maid Lane, Southwark (d. 31 Dec. 1696, aged 32);
(4) Samuel, who received Presbyterian ordination on 14 April 1698, and was minister at Woolwich, Kent, and from 1719 at Ramsbury, Wiltshire (living in 1729).
John Oldfield published
‘The First Last and the Last First . . . substance of . . . Lecture in the Country,' &c., 1666, 12mo (addressed by ‘J. O.’ to the 'parishioners of 'C. and W. in the county of D.') 
Calamy mentions that he published 'a larger piece about prayer.'
His last sermon at Carsington is in 'Farewell Sermons,' 1663, 8vo (country collection).
His ‘soliloquy’ after the passing of the Uniformity Act is abridged in Calamy; some striking sentences from it are noted in 'North and South,' 1855, vol. i. ch. iv., by Mrs Gaskell.