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The Passing of Black Bartholomew (3/3)

Category Articles
Date August 18, 2023

The concluding piece in Iain H. Murray’s three historical articles on the Great Ejection.

EVEN though Farewell Sermons had been preached in many parishes on Sunday, August 17, there was a widespread feeling of uncertainty throughout the nation with regard to the direction and character of coming events. Something of this uncertainty can be detected in the words of some of the sermons that were preached on that day. We find, for example, Thomas Watson saying to his people in his morning sermon, “I will not promise that I shall still preach among you, nor will I say that I shall not, I desire to be guided by the silver thread of God’s Word, and of God’s providence.” But, on the other hand, speaking on the same day in another London church, Thomas Lye said, “It is most probable, beloved, whatever others may think, but in my opinion (God may work wonders) neither you nor I shall ever see the faces of, or have a word more to speak to one another till the day of judgment.” The variation between these two statements does not mean that Lye was more resolute than Watson in his decision not to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity, on that point they were both equally firm; but there lies behind the words of the preachers a differing degree of un­certainty whether or not the Act would actually be enforced against them.

They were not without grounds for hopefulness, for although the Act had been passed by Parliament, the King could still exercise his clemency in an Act of Indulgence by which at least some of those who failed to conform might be allowed by the royal prerogative to retain their churches. For Clarendon, the King’s minister, had just promised such a favour to Manton, Bates, Calamy and other Puritans, provided they petitioned the King for it. This news would doubtless be circulated and discussed amongst the London ministers and word of it was carried to the country. The diary of John Angier, the Lancashire Puritan, carries this entry in the week preceding Bartholomew’s Day: “August 20 was a day of general seeking God in reference to the state of the Church; that very day several ministers were before some of the Council and received encouragement to go on in the ministry. A letter read to them from the King to the Bishops that no man should be troubled for Non­conformity at least till his cause was heard before the Council. The news came to Manchester by Saturday post and was that night dispersed by messengers sent to several places. By means hereof many ministers that intended not to preach fell to their work, which caused great joy in many congregations.” Similarly, Henry New­come of Manchester writes in his diary on Bartholomew’s Eve, “I received a letter from Mr. Ashurst which gave us an account that past all expectation there was some indulgence to be hoped for in some cases.”

Clarendon’s promise was not merely a device to ease the tension in the nation till Bartholomew’s Day was passed. [1] He and the King had also grounds for uncertainty. They were not sure what the political repercussions of a wholesale ejection of the Puritans might be; the number of the nonconforming clergy was still unknown, although it was evident they would include some of the most eminent names in the land; and there was the fear lest the powerful Presbyterian party might make common cause with the Indepen­dents and thus, in Clarendon’s words, “give a great shock to the present settlement.” Charles, however, was also busy with other affairs. The previous May he had married Catherine of Braganza, and Saturday, August 23, was the day appointed for her public arrival and welcome at Whitehall. Amidst a brilliant regatta of barges and boats, the King and his Roman Catholic Queen sailed down the river from Hampton Court; “music floated from bands on deck, and thundering peals roared from pieces of ordnance on shore”. “I was spectator,” wrote John Evelyn in his diary, “of the most magnificent triumph that ever floated on the Thames.” But there were many in London that day that had no heart for the festivities. Far removed in thought from the colour and pageantry of the Queen’s arrival, a great company of silent and mourning believers was gathered in the parish of St. Austin’s for the burial of Simeon Ashe. Ashe had long been one of the popular Puritan leaders and “he went seasonably to heaven,” says Calamy, “at the very time when he was cast out of the Church. He was bury’d the very even of Bartholomew-Day.” The historian’s grandfather, the veteran Edmund Calamy of St. Mary Aldermanbury, was naturally the preacher on such an occasion, and that day he preached a sermon that was to be spoken of and read over for many years to come. His text was Isaiah 57:1, “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart, and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous are taken away from the evil to come.” The sermon is one of the finest examples of Puritan preach­ing, and though it does not strictly belong to the Farewell Sermons it is not surprising that it was given a place in the volume that was shortly to bear that title. Though Calamy packs his exposition with doctrines, he so blends his teaching with illustration, and his reproofs with exhortations, that he was in no danger of losing the attention of his hearers. Take the following example:

“Many of us deal with our Ministers as we do with a strange sight that is to be seen near our doors. We are not much concerned about seeing it, but a stranger that comes from a far country is curious and very careful to see it immediately. So do we in this city especially; I have had experience of it by being here many years. Strangers that come out of the country, many times got that good by a Minister that his own people do not, because they think their Minister is continually with them. But a stranger knows he is there but for a day and he hears so that he carries Christ home with him, and a great deal of consolation also. Beloved, this is a great fault; I beseech you remember the righteous must be gathered. Let us therefore do with them as we do with books that are borrowed; if a man borrows a book he knows he must keep it but for a day or two and therefore he will be sure to read it over, whereas if the book be a man’s own, he lays it aside because he knows he can read it any time. Remember your Ministers are but lent you, they are not your own, and you know not but God may take your Elijahs from you this night.”

Other restrained passages, similar to this, convey something of Calamy’s feelings on Bartholomew’s Eve. “God doth on purpose,” he says, “take away righteous men that they might not see the evil that is coming on a nation … thus Augustine died a little before Hippo was taken, and Pareus a little before Heidelberg was taken, and Luther a little before the wars in Germany began.” If our means of communication had existed in those times Calamy would also have been able to tell his congregation that on the very day previous to their gathering Edward Bowles, the north-country Puritan leader, had been buried at York. Calamy spent much time that August afternoon showing that the perishing of the righteous man “is nothing but his gathering to God, Christ, and the blessed company of saints and angels.” Behind his desire to emphasize that truth there lay a very practical concern; for he was not sure how soon his hearers might have need of this comfort. We can read between the lines in the following extract and appreciate something of what it meant to those who listened in the stillness of St. Austin’s church: “Whatever befalls a child of God in this life, though he be scattered by wicked men, from England into foreign countries, though he wanders up and down in deserts and wildernesses, though he be scattered from house to prison, yet there shall be a gathering time shortly. There will a time come when all the saints will be gathered to Christ, and to one another, never to part any more …. Comfort yourselves therefore with these words against the fear of death; look upon death as a gathering to Christ. You are here as Daniel in the lions’ den, as Jeremiah in the dungeon, yet there will come a gathering, and if you die in a good cause, you shall not perish but be gathered to Christ, to his saints and angels.”

With such thoughts as these in their hearts, men paid their last tribute to old “Father” Ashe, and while the Palace at Whitehall was to resound with revelry far into the night, in the Puritan homes of London there was the knowledge that Saturday evening, that not only in the parish of St. Austin’s but all over London there would be no sermons on the following day like the one that had been preached that afternoon by the rector of St. Mary Aldermanbury. At mid­night that night the Act of Uniformity came into force. As John Stoughton writes, “The feast of St. Bartholomew became a fast, as in the Valley of Megiddon, so in Puritan England, ‘The land mourned, every family apart’.” The great question in many minds was whether that 24th of August was to be the forerunner of many dark Sundays to come or whether the King would even now honour the promises he had given at Breda and grant the Indulgence of which Clarendon had spoken so confidently. Before another week had passed the uncertainty was to be finally removed.

On Wednesday, August 27, some of the London Presbyterian leaders presented their petition to the King, desiring compassion, “whereby we may be continued in our status to teach the people obedience to God and your Majesty.” The following day the Petition was laid before the Privy Council, Clarendon evidently expecting that the King would have little difficulty in imposing his will and granting the Indulgence. None of the bishops were able to attend the hastily summoned meeting, none save Gilbert Sheldon, the Bishop of London. But Sheldon was not the man to be dismayed by the lack of his fellow bishops to support him and with “a front of iron” he stood against the proposal. He knew the strength of the Puritans in London–the party “in whose jaws” he lived–and he was determined to break it. How could he unless their ministers were silenced? If the Indulgence was published, he threatened, he might choose to obey Parliament rather than the King and enforce the law despite the royal wish. The threat was too much for Charles. He had no wish to face the opposition of Parliament, on whose good-will he depended for so much of the revenue he was to exhaust upon his favourites and mistresses. As a man whose creed was that God would not damn a person for taking a little pleasure, it would be no loss to him to be rid of his Puritan clergy; and though it might have been more agreeable to the “good nature” with which he has been credited to have lessened the severity of the Act, Charles had no intention of suffering any hardship for a principle. Thus the Petition which Clarendon had urged the Puritans to present was thrown out. It only remained to be seen how they would face their defeat.

But it was not in the spirit of a defeat that the Puritans accepted the enforcement of the Act of Uniformity. Out-manoeuvred in a contest in which they claimed no skill, they knew at last where they stood, and with their hopes of relief from an earthly monarch smashed, they looked with surer confidence to Him in Whom “all the promises of God are Yea, and Amen.” The comfort of Baxter was one in which they all knew how to share:

Must I be driven from my books?

From house, and goods, and dearest friends?

One of Thy sweet and gracious looks

For more than this will make amends.

My Lord hath taught me how to want

A place wherein to lay my head;

While He is mine, I’ll be content

To beg, or lack my daily bread.

When the number of ministers who had not conformed to the Act gradually became known it was evident that the solidarity of the Puritan ranks had not broken in the crisis. A few who had been expected to come out had conformed, but the vast majority had never hesitated, and from all the counties of England there came news of the results of the Great Ejection. If we include the names of men who were silenced prior to the enforcement of the Act, the numbers of the ejected in the strongest Puritan areas reads thus:

In London, 76; in Essex, 99; in Kent, 62; in Lancashire, 61; in Norfolk, 60; in Devonshire, 121; in Yorkshire, 110 ; in Suffolk, 79; in Somerset, 62; in Wiltshire, 60; in Sussex, 65. These figures by no means convey a complete impression of the magnitude of the spiritual consequences involved in the Ejection. In Shropshire, for example, where only 36 men were silenced, we read that “almost all the more important towns of the county were left without ministers. From Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Bridgnorth, Wem, Ludlow, Whit­church and Newport the ministers were ejected.” [2]

The traditional figure of the number of ministers who ‘were ejected or silenced by the Act of Uniformity or by local authorities in the months preceding the legal and national enforcement of conformity was generally given as between 2,000 and 2,500. Recent scholarship has shown this estimate to be substantially correct; A. G. Matthews lists 1,760 ejections from churches in England, plus 149 Nonconformists–many of them preachers–from the two Universities and various schools; to this must be added the names of ministers who suffered in the same way in Wales–87 according to Calamy, 106 according to a later writer, Thomas Rees. The total is thus clearly over 2,000. Moreover Matthews’ figure do not include the number of Nonconformists who were not ministering in parish churches but who were nevertheless silenced by the terms of the law. These men belong spiritually to the number of the ejected (though they cannot strictly be given that description), for they belonged to a Puritan group whose considerable spiritual influence the authorities were equally determined to terminate. It included Independent ministers like the late Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, Dr. John Owen, and “working-class” Puritans who were not ministers of congregations but who sometimes possessed preaching gifts of no mean worth. Among the latter was John Bunyan, of whom Owen once declared to Charles II, “could I possess that tinker’s abilities for preaching, I would most gladly relinquish all my learning.”

None of the ejected ministers attempted to publish a list of their number and it was not until 1702 that Edmund Calamy, the younger (1671-1732), was provoked by the misrepresentations of opponents who took “a liberty strangely to diminish” the number of the ejected, to prove that the number was in fact above 2,000. [3] Even so, Calamy’s concern, as he says in his Preface, was not in numbers–they being of little account “in a case of this nature”­–but in giving a true record of the men of 1662 in answer to writers who had laboured to blacken their memory, “bespattering these worthy men whose names rather deserved embalming.”

Concerning the character and worth of the ejected ministers there has been much written in former days, the evaluation being frequently determined by the viewpoint of the writer. John Walker, the Anglican historian who attempted to answer the publication of Edmund Calamy, regarded not a few of the ejected as “Mechanicks, and Fellows bred to the meanest Occupations”; many of them, he believed, had never been at either of the Universities and had no degrees, “Besides which, some of them had run in with, and vented many of the distinguished Enthusiasms, Errors, Heresies, and other monstrous Opinions (not to say Blasphemies) of the Times.”

John Richard Green, the English secular historian, reached a very different conclusion in his assessment of the ejected. “The rectors and vicars who were driven out,” he writes, “were the most learned and the most active of their order. The bulk of the great livings throughout the country were in their hands. They stood at the head of the London clergy, as the London clergy stood in general repute at the head of their class throughout England. They occupied the higher posts at the two Universities. No English divine, save Jeremy Taylor, rivalled Howe as a preacher. No parson was so renowned a controversialist, or so indefatigable a parish priest, as Baxter. And behind these men stood a fifth of the whole body of the clergy, men whose zeal and labour had diffused through­out the country a greater appearance of piety and religion than it had ever displayed before. But the expulsion of these men was far more to the Church of England than the loss of their individual services. It was the definite expulsion of a great party which from the time of the Reformation had played the most active and popular part in the life of the Church. It was the close of an effort which had been going on ever since Elizabeth’s accession to bring the English Communion into closer relations with the Reformed Communions of the Continent, and into greater harmony with the religious instincts of the nation at large.” [4]

Among Nonconformist writings there is perhaps no better description of the men who went out than that given by Dr. John Taylor. “The Bartholomew divines, or the ministers ejected in the year 1662,” he writes, were “men prepared to lose all, and to suffer martyrdom itself, and who actually resigned their livings, which with most of them were, under God, all that they and their families had to subsist upon, rather than sin against God, and desert the cause of civil and religious liberty; which, together with serious religion, would, I am persuaded, have sunk to a very low ebb in the nation had it not been for the bold and noble stand these worthies made against imposition upon conscience, profaneness, and arbitrary power. They had the best education England could afford; most of them were excellent scholars, judicious divines, pious, faithful, and laborious ministers; of great zeal for God and religion; undaunted and courageous in their Master’s work; keeping close to their people in the worst of times; diligent in their studies; solid, affectionate, powerful, lively, awakening preachers; aiming at the advancement of real vital religion in the hearts and lives of men, which, it cannot be denied, flourished greatly wherever they could influence. Particularly, they were men of great devotion and eminent abilities in prayer, uttered, as God enabled them, from the abundance of their hearts and affections; men of divine eloquence in pleading at the throne of grace, raising and melting the affections of their hearers, and being happily instrumental in transfusing into their souls the same spirit and heavenly gift. And this was the ground of all their other qualifications; they were excellent men, because excellent, instant, and fervent in prayer.”

It was because the Nonconformists of 1662 had commended their cause and persons to God in prayer that they could be so little con­cerned about how their reputations fared in the hands of men. Many of them had left this world before Calamy’s defence had appeared forty years after “Black Bartholomew’s Day.” If a man like Thomas Watson had cared to write an Apologia for the Non­conformists, what a sparkling book we might have had, but Watson, who died while engaged in secret prayer many years after 1662, was content to leave these things unchronicled on earth. Old Richard Sibbes had long since spoken counsel which they were happy to follow: “Let us commit the fame and credit of what we are or do to God. He will take care of that: let us take care to be and to do as we should, and then for noise and report, let it be good or ill as God will send it …. If we seek to be in the mouths of men, to dwell in the talk of men, God will abhor us …. We should be carried with the Spirit of God and with a holy desire to serve God and our brethren, and to do all the good we can, and never care for the speeches of the world …. We shall have glory enough, and be known enough to devils, to angels, and men, ere long. Therefore as Christ lived a hidden life–that is, He was not known what He was, that so He might work our salvation–so let us be content to be hidden ones. There will be a Resurrection of Credits, as well as of bodies. We’ll have glory enough by-and-by.”

Citations

1 John Evelyn’s Diary reflects something of the tension in London. On August 20 he writes, “There were strong guards in the City this day, apprehending some tumults, many of the Presbyterian Ministers not conforming.”

2 T. Gasquoine, who gives an outline of some of the ejected in Salop and Northants in his book John Penry and other Heroes, pp. 113-46.

3 An Abridgement of Mr. Baxter’s History of His Life and Times, the sub-title gives a truer idea of the main contents of the book, “With an Account of many others of those Worthy Ministers who were Ejected, after the Restoration of King Charles the Second.” Calamy’s work is much more than an abridgment of Baxter’s Autobiography (Reliquize Baxterianre) which had been published posthumously in 1696. Calamy later revised and enlarged his work; it was reprinted, with modifications and additions, by Samuel Palmer (1741-1813) under the new title The Nonconformist’s Memorial and has reached probably its final form in the carefully edited edition by A. G. Matthews, Calamy Revised, 1933. The latter volume is unfortunately out of print, but the valuable Introduction to it was reprinted separately in 1959, Introduction To Calamy Revised.

4 A Short History of the English People, pp. 622-3.

 

This article first appeared in the June 1962 edition of the Banner of Truth Magazine (Issue 26).

The Banner of Truth is pleased to publish a selection of the ‘Farewell Sermons’ of the Great Ejection divines as a Puritan Paperback.

Photo by Rob Wicks on Unsplash

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