Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Three Baptists 3 William Mitchel

William Mitchel (1662-1705). For many of my readers the name will be completely unfamiliar. But he is a great hero of my Baptist past. Mitchel was a tireless evangelist in the English Pennines from the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire to Rawdon in neighbouring West Yorkshire. He was born in 1662 at Heptonstall, not far from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. Nothing is really known about his upbringing. His conversion came at the age of nineteen after the death of a brother. Although he was genuinely converted, Mitchel played what he later regarded as the part of a Jonah as he sought to go into business as a clothier and become wealthy.
But God frustrated his worldly ambitions and drew him out as a preacher of the gospel. Within four years of his conversion, he began to preach as an itinerant evangelist. His cousin, David Crosley (1669-1744), a stonemason turned preacher, tells us that Mitchel’s aim in his preaching was to “chiefly set forth the exceeding rich and free grace of the gospel, which toward him had been made so exceeding abundant.” At the same time, we are told that his Christian life was one of unwearied diligence in “reading, meditation, and prayer.”
Mitchel would travel with Crosley and others over the Pennines, often during the night so as to reach preaching venues in towns and villages by early morning. Crosley remembered the toil it took to walk “many miles in dark nights and over dismal mountains.” But he also never forgot Mitchel’s “savoury and edifying” preaching that took place anywhere Mitchel could get an audience, “on mountains, and in fields and woods.” Though Mitchel was not a polished speaker, crowds would press to hear him. Many merely came out of curiosity, some came to scoff. But, later when their hearts and consciences had been impacted by Mitchel’s gospel preaching, they confessed, “the Lord is with him of a truth.”
According to the Second Conventicle Act (1670), part of the Clarendon Code designed to break the spirit of the Dissenters, what Mitchel was doing was illegal. This act forbade any one over the age of sixteen from taking part in a religious assembly of more than five people, apart from those sanctioned by the Church of England. The act gave wide powers to local magistrates and judges to “suppresse [sic] and disolve” such “unlawfull [sic] meetings” and arrest whomsoever they saw fit to achieve this end. Mitchel was twice arrested under this law during the reign of James II (r.1685-1688), who succeeded Charles II in 1685. On the first occasion he was treated with deliberate roughness and spent three months in jail at Goodshaw. On the second occasion he was arrested near Bradford and imprisoned for six months in York Castle.
The enemies of the gospel who imprisoned Mitchel might have thought they were shutting him up in a dismal dungeon. To Mitchel, though, as he told his friends in a letter written from York in the spring of 1687, the dungeon was a veritable “paradise, because the glorious presence of God is with me, & the Spirit of glory & of God rests on me.” He is, of course, quoting from 1 Peter 4:14. He had been given such a “glorious sight of [God’s] countenance, [and] bright splendour of his love,” that he was quite willing to “suffer afflictions with the people of God, & for his glorious Truth.”
In another letter, written to a Daniel Moore during this same imprisonment, Mitchel told him he had heard that James II had issued a Declaration of Indulgence, which pardoned all who had been imprisoned under the penal laws of the Clarendon Code. But he had yet to see it. Whatever the outcome, he told Moore, “the Lord’s will be done, let him order things as may stand with his glory.” This sentence speaks volumes about the frame of mind in which Mitchel had approached his time of imprisonment. He was God’s servant. God would do with him as he sovereignly thought best. And Mitchel was quite content with that, for, in his heart, he longed for his life to reflect above all God’s glory.
(For access to these letters of Mitchel, I am indebted to the Local Studies Unit Archives, Manchester Central Library. The letters are kept in the Papers of Dr. William Farrer. Thanks are also due to David J. Woodruff of the Strict Baptist Historical Society who kindly provided me with a copy of the letters.)

Three Baptists 2 Andrew Gifford

Andrew Gifford (1649−1721) a Bristol native was converted in the late 1650s, baptized in June 1659 and subsequently became a member of the Pithay Church, Bristol. He became a minsiter and ministered for 60 years. He began in 1671 and became pastor at the Pithay in 1677. He would apparently often preach in Kingswood Forest, three miles from the city. In order to evade arrest, he would also disguise himself as an officer of the law or on at least one occasion, a tinker. Soemtimes the miners there would throw a coat over him to hide him from law officers. He was imprisoned on four separate occasions. The first three were for fairly brief periods prior to the fiercest bout of persecution in the 1680s. A longer time of imprisonment in 1680 was preceded by a remarkable dream. According to a footnote by Baptist historian Jospeh Ivimey on the night before his arrest
His wife dreamed that he arose to go out to preach according to his appointment; but upon opening the door, the very first step he took was up to his knees in snow: that thereupon she dissuaded him, but in vain; that he was seized by two particular men, whose names she mentioned, and brought to the Sun Tavern, that then was without Lawford’s Gate, and there confined in a dining room, being placed behind a particular table in it; and one of them, by main force, held him down by leaning on his right shoulder and the other on his left. It made such an impression that she awaked with the fright, and told him of it, and did all she could to dissuade him. But he told her she talked like one of the foolish women; that nothing should hinder him from his Master’s business. They arose, and upon opening the door into the yard, they found there had fallen a great snow since they went to bed, with a severe frost, which had driven up to the house, so that the first step was indeed up to his knees. Upon this she repeated her importunity, but to no purpose, and the result was that he was taken according to her dream, and every particular circumstance of it was the next day exactly fulfilled.
In 1684 he wrote a letter from Gloucester Castle, where he was in oprison, to a friend called Edward Grant, who had travelled some 30 miles from Trowbridge to visit Gifford.
My dear love to you and your wife, with many and hearty thanks to God and you for the exceeding great love, both in provoking others to such liberality, and taking so great a journey to /visit, and bestowing so great a benefit on me which I can never requite; but my prayer is, and shall be, that it may be trebled to you again, and that divine blessings may descend on you and ' yours, and that you may never want any mercy either for time or eternity; but may have that grace which may keep you faithful to what you know, and enable you to do what God does require, and contentedly and cheerfully endure whatever in so doing you may suffer; your peace of conscience, the welfare of your immortal soul, the pleasure and honour of God, is to be preferred before goods, liberty, or life itself . .... consider God is able to make you stand, his grace is sufficient, his strength is made perfect in the creature’s weakness; cry to, and rely upon him; use all honest means to preserve yourself, and to prevent your enemies; use the wisdom of the serpent, but be sure to keep the innocency of the dove . . . I had rather if God is pleased to help me, abide in bonds, and in the worst that can be done by ... enemies, than do the least evil for deliverance. Pray for me, as I for you; so committing you to him wthatho is able to keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.

Three Baptists 1 Abraham Cheare

One of the first Baptist leaders arrested was Abraham Cheare (1626−68), the pastor of the Baptist congregation in Plymouth, who was jailed in Exeter for three months in 1661, probably as a consequence of the Venner uprising.
Michael Haykin has written of him
The early years of Abraham Cheare are obscure. One recent writer names his father as a John Cheare, who leased a couple of fulling mills built by the Elizabethan naval captain Sir Francis Drake at Plymouth [C. E. Whiting, Studies in English Puritanism from the Restoration to the Revolution, 1660-1688 (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1968), 568-569]. Cheare himself described his parents as “mean,” that is lowly in social standing, “yet honest” [“Post-script” to his Words in Season (London: Nathan Brookes, 1668), 293]. Nathan Brookes, the publisher of one of his books, notes that his parents were also believers who took care to nurture their son in God’s ways [“The Publisher to the Reader” in Words in Season, (6)].
Apart from a journey to London in the 1650s, Cheare appears to have spent the entirety of his life in the vicinity of Plymouth where he was born and raised. During the tumult and turbulence of the civil wars in the British Isles during the 1640s and 1650s he was able to avoid fighting with any of the armies, but he did serve for a time in the local militia at Plymouth (“Post-script” to his Words in Season, 293). This was possibly during the long siege of Plymouth by the Royalist armies in 1643, a siege that failed to drive the Parliamentary troops out of the town or bring about its fall. At one point he also served as an army chaplain, but he was able to obtain a discharge after a few weeks (“Post-script” to his Words in Season, 293-294).
Around 1648, Cheare says that he was convinced “of his Duty to the Lord, by evidence of Scriptural Light” and he “joyned himself in an holy Covenant, to walk in all the Ordinances of the Lord blameless, to the best of his Light and Power, in fellowship with a poor and despised People” (“Post-script” to his Words in Season, 294). This “poor and despised People” were the Plymouth Calvinistic Baptists.
If this congregation had a preacher before Cheare, his name has not come down to us. Cheare is the first known pastor of this congregation. Though Cheare rarely left Plymouth, he was involved in the nation-wide church planting of the Calvinistic Baptists during the 1650s. He was in correspondence, for example, in January 1655 with a certain Robert Bennet about the organization of Calvinistic Baptists in the neighbouring county of Cornwall. And he was present as the pastor of the Plymouth Church at an important meeting of the Western Association of Baptist Churches in May, 1658, in Dorchester. On that memorable occasion some individuals who were sympathetic to the “Fifth Monarchy” movement—these were individuals who believed in using military violence to prepare for the establishment of Christ’s messianic kingdom—failed to convince the representatives of the churches in the Association, including Cheare, to publicly espouse the ideals and goals of this party.
Cheare proved to be a man with a wide knowledge of the Scriptures. This is well seen in Sighs for Sion, a tract that was published in London in 1656 by Livewel Chapman. (By the way, how typically Puritan is this man’s personal name! In other books that he printed, his first name is spelt “Livewell”). A second printing followed in 1657, which was also done by Livewel Chapman. Written mostly by Cheare, but with the help of four other Baptist leaders—Henry Forty, Robert Steed, John Pendarves (1622-1656) and Thomas Glasse—this tract essentially pled with the churches to which it was sent to overlook their differences of opinion regarding eschatology and to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit which the authors deemed vital if they were to see their churches quickened and strengthened (p.10-11).
Cheare and his co-authors cited examples of faithful praying from the Old Testament—such men as Nehemiah, Ezra, and Daniel—to stir up their readers to be fervent in prayer (p.12-13). In fact, the writers felt that God had already given the churches a taste of “this glorious blessing of the Spirit of grace and supplication”—a reference to Zechariah 12:10—and done great works on behalf of his people (p.15-16). But there had been defections from within their churches and “vain men,” in the words of Cheare and his colleagues, had attacked the Baptist position (p.17). Ongoing prayer for Christ’s cause to be honoured among them was thus still needed.
In a powerful exhortation the churches were urged to reflect on what kind of congregations they ought to be like. Were they the sort of people they should be, then, Cheare and his fellow authors wrote,
“the zeal of the Lord’s house would eat us up, and love of it would crucifie us more unto, and wean us from those interests of earth, and men, whereupon we have been apt to lean, and whereunto we have been deeply and dangerously engaged: causing us also to wait to be with Jesus, which is best of all; and in the mean time to pant, and thirst uncessantly, for that holy Spirit of promise, that alone can present us with the ravishing glory of that expected day, and raise up our spirits to a sweet and suitable disposition, according to the will of God, to wait and act aright toward it” (p.18-19).
The Exeter jail was described by a contemporary as ‘a living tomb, a sink of filth, profaneness and profligacy’. Entering the jail in January 1661 he was set at liberty at Easter that year. On August 24, 1662, he was forced to leave his church by the Act of Uniformity and subsequently re-arrested. He spent the next three years in prison in Exeter. From this second imprisonment he was released in August 1665, but re-arrested when he resumed preaching in Plymouth. This time he was incarcerated on Drake’s Island in Plymouth Sound where he died after some months of illness in 1668.
Though so many things have changed between Cheare’s day and ours, our need is ultimately no different from that of the Baptists being addressed by Cheare and his friends. May the Lord grant us “to pant and thirst” without ceasing for the same Spirit of supplication that we might live for the glory that is to come!

Audio from American Conference

I think I was nodding back in the Spring when a mini-conference on 1662 was held at the Andrew Full Centre. The audio for the conference, “Religious Liberty and the Cross: 1662 and the Persecution of the Puritans,” is now online on here. The mp3 audio files can be linked to as below.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Wesley on Charles II

Monday January 11 1768
... Oh, what a blessed Governor was that good-natured man, so called, King Charles the Second! Bloody Queen Mary was a lamb, a mere dove, in comparison to him!
Works 22, Journals and Diaries V
Charles was far worse than Mary because so many died in squalid and infested prisons. Mary never distrained goods either, in the way Charles did.

Interview about the book Part 2

Interview about the book Part 1

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

John Corbet on Nonconformity Part 2

The idea that their principles of government had a palpable inconsistence with the welfare of governors is also refuted when we offer an appeal concerning it to the whole Christian Church, both of the present and former ages.
Being a nonconformist he calls a grievance and distress that was not in the power of our own wills to help. He goes on to reiterate what he said at the beginning.

We affect not singularity, disunity or dissent from others, and so far as we are constrained to it, we take it for our infelicity. We grudge not at the liberty of others, but are so far glad on the behalf of able and faithful men, as they are in a capacity of more public service for God and his church; and though we are dissatisfied in the way wherein they have gained it, yet we retain charity and peace towards them and are willing to concur with them in the common interest of true religion.

His next concern is to refute the idea that these men had chosen not to conform for reasons of expediency. No, they question the truth of some things asserted, the lawfulness of some things laid down and fear the dangerous tendency of some forms and rules of ministration. He admits that some of these matters may be comparatively minor. But this argument cuts both ways as if they are minor things then their opponents should be willing to let the nonconformists differ. They for their part are convinced that it is not right to allow lesser evils for the greater good and they cannot do what they know to be contrary to God's will.
The further problem is that even if these are minor matters, what is desired is

an unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained in large human volumes, imposed by our superiors, who acknowledge they are not infallible.

We have not so much he says as our internal judgement and choice left to us about a multitude of human ordinances and determinations.

Some argued that all the church wanted was a general submission but for Corbet and others that was clearly not what was being asked. Another writer (Joseph Read in Mr. Read's case: published for prevention of scandal to his brethren & people, 1682) says

There is a great deal of difference (let us note here) between All and Some - between reading the ordinary Lord's Day 'Service and approving the book, and all that is in it. Mr Baxter in his Plea for Peace, gives no less than thirty particular instances of several things in the Common-Prayer-Book which the Nonconformists cannot declare their assent and consent to.

Corbet goes on to refer briefly to the whole matter of re-ordination and the almost complete lack of discipline that existed in the national church but does not go into these matters. He again reasserts too that episcopacy and the King's civil and ecclesiastical supremacy were not the issue.
The desire is not to have ministers domineer over their churches but that they should be free to serve the congregations to which they are sent, disciplining only those that voluntarily submit to such discipline. He denies that discipline by the church necessarily demands punishment by the civil magistrate. Nonconformists are keen to learn the lessons of history and have no desire for the sort of church tyranny that we associate with the Church of Rome.
He then talks about the fact that he is not giving all the reasons why he and others do not conform. It has not really been expedient to do even what he does do here until this point. He emphasises that if some way could be found to conform then they would take it. Why would they needlessly suffer as they do? If it is suggested that they are simply ashamed of retracting he asserts that “if our consciences were well secured, we would trust God with our reputation”. He also cites a number of titles setting forth the position that were submitted to the ecclesiastical powers before the Act of Uniformity.
He believes that there should be no animosity between those who differ on the question and cites Charles II's speech to the House of Commons on his return to England saying that the presbyterians were peaceable and arguing that there was no reason why there should not be changes in their favour. Some took the view that it would be unwise to give the nonconformists even an inch. They spoke, he says, “as if our exclusion, not our conformity were desired”. He also complains of the way they seized on some things said unwisely by nonconformists (or even by others with no real right to the title) that seemed ridiculous and odious and unfairly tarred everyone with the same brush.
He moves on then to a reassertion of their orthodoxy as Bible believers, rational and plain preachers and those who seek genuine conversions not merely the recruitment of disciples to their cause. He rejects preparationism and assures his readers, importantly, that the people he represents are no antinomians. He says, sounding every inch a Puritan,

We teach none to call themselves godly, merely because they hear sermons, frequent lectures, and meet together for prayer and other religious exercises; yet our aim is that men should make religion their business, and we encourage their diligence in attending on God's ordinances, and redeeming the time, and helping each other forward in the way to heaven.

He then returns to his earlier assertions of not wanting to decry the conformists. Rather a godly conformist than a merely opinionative nonconformist. Far from refusing to enter the Parish church they would greatly rejoice if every parish had a godly minister, conformist or not. Their argument is not with the articles if faith, which they accept. They would love a better public settlement, which at this point was still seven years away. They prize unity enough to “dread the weakening or shattering of it by needless schisms”. He disavows the view that if Christians part the other party must be considered impious. He says

If by scruple of conscience we cannot join in one church communion, yet we ought to keep the unity of faith and love.

He also points out that before the restoration many presbyterians were for moderation and is only seeking the same moderation from the conformists now they hold the cards.
And so he concludes

We have here set forth our principles that all may take notice how we are misrepresented by those that make other representations of us. And we are ready to clear our selves against those that accuse us of contradicting them in our practice.

He says that were there enough conforming ministers preaching nonconformists like himself would be happy to desist from preaching. He goes as far as to say

If we live where the public authority hath set up worthy ministers, our duty is to promote their reputation with the people and to farther the success of their labours and to attend on their ministry when we are not necessarily hindered. And our labours in concurrence with them can be no grievance to any to whom it is not a grievance that their Lord's service and the success of their own endeavours should be farthered by their fellow-servants.

London, for example, was a place where there was plenty of room for more ministers.
He goes on to say that

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 and to make us responsible for them all.

Nonconformists can surly not be held responsible for all that might be done in their name by a small handful.
His plea then is for indulgence and toleration, something that Corbet never saw in his lifetime but that came, eventually, in 1689.

John Corbet on Nonconformity Part 1

The book Principles and practises of several nonconformists was published in London in 1682. Its tagline says that it is a book Wherein it appears that their religion is no other than what is profest in the Church of England. The modern historian Professor N H Keeble says of the Account that it is
a classic defence of the nonconformists' faith as conscientious and practical protestantism, of ‘healing principles’ and the same ‘Catholick Spirit’ as the established church (23), against caricatures of it as ‘a mixture of folly and villany … turbulent and seditious’ .
It is marked he says “by succinctness, lucidity, and accessibility”.
The small sized book is not a long one consisting of only just over 30 pages. On the title page it says that it is written by nonconformists

in vindication of themselves and others of their persuasion, against the misrepresentation made of them and an hearty desire of unity in the church and of peace and concord among all true Protestants for the strengthening of their common interest in this time of their common danger.
Richard Baxter wrote the foreword to it but the author is a lesser known man called John Corbet (1620-1680). Let me say something about Corbet here. He was the son of a Gloucester shoemaker and was born in 1620. He went from the grammar school in Gloucester to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, in 1636, getting his BA three years later. He then took up a lectureship at St Mary-de-Crypt in Gloucester in 1640, also working as an usher or assistant in the free school attached to the church. When Gloucester was garrisoned for the parliament, he was appointed chaplain to Colonel Edward Massey, the governor, and preached strongly anti-royalist sermons, saying that “nothing had so much deceived the world as the name of a king, which was the ground of all mischief to the church of Christ.” He was an eye witness of events in this period and apparently wrote about them without bias and straightforwardly. At the close of the war he became a preacher at Bridgwater, Somerset and later went to Chichester, before moving on to Bramshot, Hampshire.
It is from Bramshot that he was ejected for nonconformity in 1662. Now in his forties he retired to London, where he lived without preaching until the death of his first wife. He then lived, probably as chaplain, in the house of Sir John Micklethwaite, president of the College of Physicians. In order to be nearer to Richard Baxter he joined the household of Alderman Webb at Totteridge, Hertfordshire. About this time he married again, a daughter of Dr William Twiss. Baxter says of Corbet that they never once ‘differed in any point of doctrine, worship, or government, ecclesiastical or civil, or ever had one displeasing word.’ He was able to gain a licence to preach when Charles issued his indulgence in 1672 and was invited to return to his congregation in Chichester. While there he took part in a debate with Bishop Gunning, who was apparently very unfair and discourteous. Later in life Corbet suffered with stones but carried on preaching until very near to the end of his life which came in 1680.
He died in London, where he had gone hoping to have an operation. He was buried in St Andrew's, Holborn. Baxter preached his funeral sermon, declaring him to be ‘a man so blameless in all his conversation’ that he never heard any one ‘accuse or blame him except for nonconformity.’ Baxter also spoke of him as ‘a man of extraordinary judgement, stayedness, moderation, peaceable principles and blameless life, a solid preacher, well known by his writings’ Calamy called him 'a great man, every way'.
He was the author of several works and his literary remains were gathered together and published after his death, this work being among them.

Summary of Principles and Practices
Corbet writes representing a group that is under attack and that he feels is being misrepresented as foolish, wicked, troublesome and seditious. Their views are said to be frivolous, confusing and most dangerous. In defence he says that they wish firstly to cast themselves on the Lord and to be patient and learn from their experience. However, they also feel it their duty to make clear their principles and practices before all for the sake of truth and so that their opponents will not be in any doubt about their position. “The bare stating of our case” he believes “will be our sufficient defence”.
He begins by arguing in a very Baxterian way for mere Christianity. His concern is not to defend some little sect or some obscure set of idiosyncratic beliefs. Rather, his concern is for Christianity itself. He is arguing for Christianity not for what had sometimes been seen “as an impertinent trifling sect”. The Nonconformists are not chiefly against the Church of England standards such as the 39 Articles and the Homilies, most of which they are quite happy with. Indeed he believes that they are more genuinely committed to them than some Anglicans are in truth. It is the Word of God, however, that is their absolute standard. He makes clear that they are not opposed to the use of a set liturgy as such but to the confinement of a minister to this one form allowing no extemporary prayer or exhortation.
In his Second plea for peace Baxter says the same thing
We are far from condemning all forms of prayer and public liturgies as unlawful,of which we have his Majesty's Testimony in his Declaration about Ecclesiastical Affairs much more are we far from condemning all the ancient and present churches of Christ that have used such, or yet use them, throughout the Christian world and yet far more are we from separating from them on that account (for using Liturgies) and from encouraging such a separation.

Even John Owen, who in his Discourse of the work of the Spirit in Prayer, writes against the making or composing of forms of prayer for private use nevertheless notes that this does not prevent a congregation agreeing to a prescribed form by common consent, if they judge it best for their own edification.
Corbet moves next to the matter of bishops and, as we have intimated, he is not opposed to bishops per se. Most nonconformists were happy with the modified episcopalianism that had been proposed by Archbishop Usher many years before. The chief concern is that there should be faithful preaching in every place and proper discipline sin the churches. He is opposed to simony, absenteeism and pluralism, as the Reformers were.
Nonconformists were often accused of being guilty of schism for breaking with the national church. He defends them, of course and says that all they plead for is conformity to what God's Word actually says. He is nevertheless willing to admit that a higher standard must be accepted from ministers than from others and also the importance of “public peace and order, and the general good.”
He then comes to the matter of church and state and it is probable that here many of us will be disappointed. He is a true Constantinian and sees no problem with Supreme Magistrates having a civil supremacy in all ecclesiastical matters, calling synods, making canons, etc. He says
We acknowledge the King's supremacy in all causes, and over all persons, civil and ecclesiastical, in these his Majesty's realms and dominions.

He also asserts their right to act independently of what the churches may say. In a typically Mediaeval and Renaissance way he sees it to be their duty to retrain atheists and heretics.
This leads him onto the important matter of the conscience. He differentiates between the way God's law binds the conscience and the way that human laws bind it. Obviously, when there is a contradiction between God's laws and man's it is the latter that must give way. With us, then, he argues, it is no controversy whether the King or Conscience be the Supreme Governor. Conscience is in fact not a governor but a discerner of duty. When it sees a conflict therefore it undoubtedly has to follow what God says. There is no excuse for doing otherwise. If the law is sinful
It is the subject's duty in these cases first to lay by his error and then to act according to truth and right and for that end to use the best means for his own true information.
This is what the nonconformists had done at the time. Many had had doubts about what to do, however. In such cases, he says, many would say it is best to obey the authorities. However, that does not follow as it would still be sinful to obey the magistrate if he commanded a sin. Surely, it is better rather to err on the side of not sinning against God. Obeying is perhaps more dangerous than refusing. Certainly, it may prevent the greater sin being committed. This was the conclusion that nonconformists came to – better to refuse the magistrate, which may be a sin, than to do what was against God's law.
He is not saying that if the magistrates make a thing indifferent to be a law then it is unlawful, rather that if they demand something indifferent it becomes a duty.
We boast not of such principles as make men of ductile consciences, obsequious to all designs and interests he adds but we embrace such as will keep the church and world in order.
And so he says
When the higher Powers command what God forbids, though we are bound not to perform it, yet we must be subject, and not resist, but patiently submit to suffering.
This resistance must not be armed resistance. Like most presbyterians at the time he is very eager to distance himself from the execution of Charles I. Indeed, he does not want to get into the question of civil government and the whole question of royal prerogatives and the privileges of parliaments at all.
What Corbet says so very carefully here is typical of the views held at the time. The story is told of how someone once said to the northern nonconformist Oliver Heywood 1603-1702, “Ah, Mr Heywood, we should gladly have you preach still in our church”. He replied “Yes, I would as gladly preach as you can desire it, if I could do it with a safe conscience”. The man honestly replied “Oh, sir, many nowadays make a great gash in their consciences: cannot you make a little nick in yours?” Heywood clearly could not.
In his farewell sermon Joseph Caryl 1602-1763 says

The heart or conscience is a busy faculty, and hath many offices, it records what we do, and comes as a witness. The conscience is judge of what we do, and accordingly reproves what we do amiss; therefore saith Job, “I will take care of this:” I am more afraid of the reproach of conscience, than ofany man whatsoever; therefore I will not do any thing that may cause my conscience to reproach me as long as I live. This is upon the heart of God's people, they are resolved, let men reproach and rail against them as much as they will, their hearts shall not reproach them.
Samuel Birch 1620/21–1680 of Bampton in Oxfordshire wrote for himself
I am at thy footstool - I may not do evil that good may come – I may not do this great sin against my God and the dictates of my conscience. I therefore surrender myself, my soul, my ministry, my people, my place, my wife, and children, and whatsoever else is here concerned, into thy hand, from whom I received them. Lord, have mercy upon me and assist me for ever to keep faith and a good conscience.
Corbet sums up the first part of his book, then by saying
We doubt not but this free and open dealing will be our defence against those licentious tongues and pens that have proclaimed the religion of the Non-Conformists to be a foolish religion, when indeed it is no other than the religion professed by the Church of England.