The Evangelical Library Lecture
I finally paid my first visit to the new location of the London Evangelical Library. It used to be in Chiltern Street, above the original location of the Banner of Truth but now it is to be found on a little industrial estate in the north of the city, just off the north circular road. It is an admirable place for the books even if the setting is rather unexpected. One tends to identify such a collection of books with a country house,, a lake with swans, a drive and oak trees (not next door to factories and office blocks) but what is far more important than my romanticism is that these rare books are delivered from the creeping damp of their earlier location.
Incidentally, the Library has a second hand book sales department and I purchased two or three books there. Gary Brady is very involved in the Library; he edits their annual newsletter and bulletin. I visited the Library on October 23rd because there was a lecture during the lunch hour. Paul Helm had encouraged the Library to reach out to London and hold some lectures during the day (the Library was in Chiltern Street at the time so it was more accessible to Christian office workers). Where it is now found is rather remote and so few people attend , less than twenty on this occasion.
Dr Lesley Rowe gave a lecture, after a gap of a few years since her first, but both were on her specialty, the Puritan preacher, Arthur Hildersham, of her county of Leicestershire. She got her PhD researching his life, and she wrote a 200 page biography which was published by Reformation Heritage Books four years ago. Gary Brady had read it and commended it so I bought a copy at the lecture Lesley and her husband had been at Cambridge earlier this year when a conference was held on the father of English Puritanism, William Perkins. Incidentally the text of the fifth volume of Perkins’ Works is with the printer now.
Recently, Dr Rowe has been working on a volume of Hildersham’s eight sermons on ‘Fasting, Prayer, and Humiliation for Sin’ and they have been published, again by Reformation Heritage Books under their Soli Deo Gloria imprint. From 1857 to 1615, Hildersham was the preacher in Ashby de la Zouch, but then, for his Puritan convictions he was prevented from preaching for ten whole years. He was at his peak then, but God closed that door of ministry. Then, when Charles I became King he was re-licensed as a minister and he preached in Ashby again for seven more years. He was almost seventy years of age when he died. His children kept the faith; his eldest son, Samuel, became a Puritan preacher and he was ejected with hundreds of others in that infamous year, 1662. Samuel published his father’s sermons, saying, ‘They are the very words my father had written and preached.’
The context of these Fast Day sermons was as follows: In 1625 and 1626, an epidemic of the plague erupted in London and forty thousand people died, resulting in a great stillness in the city. Parliament was suspended, and nobility and all who could afford it deserted the metropolis and fled to the country. Panic and looting occurred and silence reigned in formerly busy streets, broken only by the ravings of the sick and mourning of the bereaved.
In time, the King and government called for a solemn fast to be observed on monthly Wednesdays in local churches all over the land. There was a strict order of service with a required liturgy of readings, prayers, and then a sermon which was not to last more than an hour. So Hildersham took as his first text Psalm 35:13, ‘But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled myself with fasting and my prayer returned into my own bosom.’ David is portrayed by Hildersham as a type of Christ praying for his enemies , a good history of redemption approach. People in Leicestershire were not too concerned about the London plague as it had not reached the Midlands but Hildersham warns them of their complacency and the possibility of a sudden outbreak in their midst. Anyway, God’s people ought to take to heart the misery and sufferings of others. They were also evangelistic sermons: ‘By a lively faith lay hold of God’s Mercy in Christ to get his blood sprinkled on your heart…God is angry not with the Londoners only, but with us, with the whole land. It may be more with us than with them.’
Within a year of his preaching his beloved daughter, Anna, was buried in the churchyard, and soon afterwards her two children, a boy and a girl, also died. We do not know if it was the plague that caused their decease. So in this fascinating history we have a window on the Christian world in one English village four hundred years ago, and a window on powerful preaching.
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