Friday, 14 October 2011

Coleman Anecdote 15 Bristol

In the published records of the Broadmead church, in the city of Bristol, we see the spirit of their persecutors, the sufferings undergone, and the contrivances to which they resorted to elude their adversaries. "In the year 1664, at a week-day meeting, a guard of musketeers was sent to take them into custody; but having been apprised of their coming, and the darkness of the night proving favourable, they withdrew into an underground cellar, which had a communication with Baldwin Street, and so they escaped, and left their persecutors disappointed.
"Soon after, on a Lord's day, the mayor and aldermen, with their officers, broke open Mr [Thomas] Ellis's house at the back door, and came in. But while these housebreakers were effecting an entrance, Mr Ellis contrived to hide a garret door, by placing a large cupboard before it, and by that means sent away most of the men. Still, many necessarily remained behind, of whom the mayor and Sir John sent 31 to Bridewell for a month, preparatory to ultimate banishment.
"In November, 1665, a troop of horse were sent to the city to suppress the conventicles, and very abusive they were at all the meetings they could discover.
''The first Lord's day after the 10th of April, when the 'Conventicle Act' first came into operation, the informers were on the alert, and because the church could gain no information of their intended plan of proceeding, they closed their meeting-house door. The informers immediately fetched constables, broke open the door, went in, and took down the names of those whom they knew, who were in consequence brought before the magistrate and convicted. But persecution sharpened their invention. The next Lord's day they broke a large hole in a high wall, which enabled them to hear the preacher in the next house, without being present with him. Yet the bishop's informers went again, and not recognising such a nice distinction, took down the names, and some of them were again taken before the mayor and convicted.
"The scene was also enacted on the third Lord's day, and on the fourth the mayor went himself, with his officers and several of the aldermen; but finding these means to be utterly ineffectual, they resorted to another expedient. On the Saturday evening they raised the trained bands, some of whom, to prevent the church from meeting, nailed up the doors, and put locks upon them. Being thus ejected by force and power, they met in the public lanes and highways."
At another time, when all their ministers were removed - one dead, three imprisoned, and their deaths apprehended - the bishop's men and Helliar, a lawyer, being in hot pursuit and woefully successful, so that the extinction of the churches seemed almost inevitable, the members proved themselves men of the right stamp. They animated each other's hearts, and, notwithstanding all their discouragements, so far from forsaking the assembling of themselves together, they clung with greater tenacity to a privilege difficult of attainment, and exercised all their ingenuity to accomplish with impunity this one desire of their hearts.
When they could again meet in their place of worship, in order to disappoint spies who might be present as hearers, and yet not to exclude strangers who might attend without any evil design, they contrived that a curtain should be hung all across, the space behind it being so arranged as to accommodate the preacher and his confidential friends. Consequently, if there were spies present, they could not see the preacher so as to give any certain information against him; and lest any should intrude behind the curtain, some of the members were especially appointed to prevent all from this whom they did not know to be the friends of Christ and his cause. When the time was come for commencing this curtain was drawn close, and the stairs completely filled with female friends. Sentinels were also appointed without, who, on seeing the approach of the informers, passed the word with telegraphic despatch and secrecy; the preacher sat down, the curtain was undrawn, the whole room exposed to view, and the people began simultaneously to sing a psalm. To prevent confusion, the psalm which was to be sung on the entrance of the informers was previously annoiinced; and to avoid the inconvenience of reading it, all brought their Bibles and read for themselves. By these means when the mayor came he was disappointed, they were all singing, and whom to take up for preaching he could not tell. When the informers were gone] the singing ceased, the curtain was drawn, and the preacher resumed his discourse until they returned, which they sometimes did three times during one meeting. Then again the preacher retired, the curtain was drawn aside, and singing resumed as before. "This," they say, "was our constant practice in Olive's mayoralty, and we were in a good measure edified, and our enemies often disappointed." Laus Deo.
One of their ministers, Mr [Thomas] Hardcastle [1636-1678], ejected from a living in Yorkshire, had been imprisoned eight months in York Castle, from thence conveyed to Chester Castle, where he was detained a close prisoner fifteen months more. For preaching Christ in London he was again apprehended, and continued a prisoner six months. Twice also at Bristol did he pay this penalty for Christ and a good conscience, each imprisonment lasting six months; "still preaching," say the records, "as soon as ever he came forth, and so continued till his death."

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