Monday, 4 July 2016

Westminster Divine 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."
* That figure I'm sure should be 1909

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.