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The Last Summer (2/3)

Category Articles
Date August 17, 2023

Iain H. Murray provides an insight into the experience of the Puritan ministers facing expulsion from the Church of England in the portentous summer of 1662. Read the previous post, on the build-up to these events.

THOUGH many of the Puritan ministers were far removed from the intrigues and disputations going on in London, they were never­theless deeply concerned in their outcome and throughout the land they waited for word from the capital. For many months before the Act of Uniformity was published rumours were circulating, and even amidst the peaceful beauties of far-off Flintshire we can hear their echoes in the diaries of Philip Henry. “Great expectations,” he writes in July 1661, “about a severe Act about imposing the Common prayer and Ceremonies passed both houses of Parliament but not signed by the King.” Again, “News from London of speedy severity intended against the Nonconformists. The Lord can yet, if he will, break the snare. If not, welcome the will of God.”

Although news of an Act of Uniformity had thus been heard of well in advance, it was not, as has already been said, until May 1662 that its terms were made known. Three months only were given the Puritans for deliberation and that in spite of the fact that the revised Prayer Book to which they must give unfeigned assent was not to be ready for publication till August 6–only three weeks before St. Bartholomew’s Day. In an age in which books had to be despatched and circulated in a manner far different from what we are accustomed to today, this meant that in certain parts of the country such as Lancashire, ministers could not obtain copies before August 22, and in some cases not even then. We hear of one ejected minister who was subsequently to complain that he was silenced for not declaring his consent to a Book which he never saw or could see.

The shortness of the interval allowed to the Puritans before the Act was enforced also hindered the assembling of any national Conference to formulate a joint decision. It is true, of course, that much correspondence circulated in these three months of trial and anxiety, and those who could do so met together for mutual con­sultation, but, in general, it was in the quietness of their own homes that they arrived by prayer and thought at the individual decisions they were to make. The diary of Oliver Heywood, the faithful minister of Coley in Yorkshire, gives us a glimpse of what was being felt within men’s hearts all over the land. After noting the threats he had already received from ecclesiastical authorities, Heywood goes on to encourage himself in the thought that he was not alone in these trials: “Hitherto God hath helped: and now I am but in the same predicament with the rest of my brethren in the ministry since the passing of this fatal act of uniformity, which we are waiting for the execution of, which commenceth from the 24th of August, which if not prevented will strike dead most of the godly ministers in England.” Heywood was in no doubt whether or not he should comply with the Act: “the conditions are too hard to be accepted. Woe be to us, if we preach not the gospel! but a double woe to us, if we enervate the gospel by legal ceremonies …. Our work is dear to us; but God is dearer, and we must not do the least evil to obtain the greatest good. There are worldly advantages enough to sway us to conformity, if conscience did not answer all the pleas of flesh and blood. The bargain will be too hard to provide a livelihood by making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. God can advance his work without our sinful shifts, and rear up monuments to his glory without our complying pre­varications: suffering may benefit the gospel as much as service, when God calls to it.”

But not all who were to arrive at the same decision as Heywood were able to determine their duty so immediately, and there were many reasons that at first inclined some to conform. Heywood’s own brother, Nathaniel, who was vicar of Ormskirk, confesses the struggle he had: “I have a loving, though poor, docible, though ignorant people; they flock in very great numbers to the Ordinances, and I have hopes of doing some good (it may be already begun) amongst them: I had some notion to Conform, but I will not change upon any account whatsoever; let me have your prayers, help me for this poor people which I love as my own child, and long after in the bowels of Christ.” The wife of Joseph Alleine of Taunton relates her husband’s similar experience: “Before the Act of Uniformity came out my husband was very earnest day and night with God, that his way might be made plain to him, and that he might not desist from such advantages of saving souls with any scruple upon his spirit. He seemed so moderate, that both myself and others thought he would have conformed, he often saying that he would not leave his work for small and dubious matters; but, when he saw those clauses of assent and consent, and renouncing the covenant, he was satisfied.” Edmund Calamy, the original historian and biographer of the ejected Puritans, tells us of Joshua Whitton, the rector of Thornhill, in Yorkshire, who being eager to know the contents of the Act of Uniformity, rode with two other ministers to York for that purpose to obtain an early sight of it, “with their cloak-bags full of distinctions, hoping they might get over it and keep their places.” But the reading of the Act silenced them, and “though they were all prudent and learned men, yet they returned with a resolution to quit their places rather than comply.”

Though the spiritual burden of leaving their congregations was generally uppermost in the minds of the Puritans, they were also in many cases tried by the threat of the material hardships to which those who failed to subscribe were to be suddenly exposed along with their families. As the corn ripened and the summer of 1662 wore on there were many spending their last weeks in the homes ­fragrant for their memories of those happier days when, as Philip Henry put it, “godliness was on the face of the nation”–and conscious of the pressing alternative, “we must either conform or leave all this by Bartholomew’s Day.” Moreover the Act of Uni­formity was not only armed with powers to exclude any who did not conform from their churches and parsonages, but also to exclude them in great measure even from a means of livelihood. An occupa­tion in any of the learned professions, whether law, medicine, school-teaching, private chaplaincies or tutorships, was henceforth to be legally confined to conformists. The Act thus threatened not merely to silence ministers and terminate their usefulness but, as Calamy said, to bury them alive. Is it any wonder then, that we find men like Edward Lawrence, vicar of Baschurch, Shropshire, declaring, “I have eleven arguments for conformity,” meaning his wife and ten children, “but Christ hath said, ‘Whoso loveth wife or children more than me, is not worthy of me’.” When asked how he meant to maintain them all he cheerfully replied that his family must live on the 6th of Matthew, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” The Puritans had long been exponents of the doctrine of living by faith, but under the shadow of Bartholomew’s Day some of them began to plunge more deeply into the riches of that truth. When asked how he should provide for his family if he did not subscribe, John Hickes, of Saltash, replied, “Had I as many children as that hen has chickens” -pointing to one with a numerous brood-“I should not question that God will provide for them all.” In the same spirit another said, “God feeds the young ravens and He will feed my children.”

It was not, however, only in the homes of the Puritans that men spent an uneasy summer. Possibly Charles, lounging amongst his lords and mistresses at Hampton Court, was far more uneasy, and Hyde (created Earl of Clarendon in April 1661) felt that events were grave enough to give him no repose from his schemings. As August approached, the reports which agents and informers sent to the government were far from assuring. Sir Edward Nicholas, a Secretary of State, was informed that the coast towns of the south were determined not to allow the reintroduction of the Common Prayer. Another report warned that the people would not submit to the “Act of Conformity.” “The Lancashire ministers,” wrote another, “talk little less than treason, and none intend to conform.” From various parts of the country came rumours of the raising of trained bands and of gunsmiths preparing arms. In July an idea was current that Cromwell’s soldiers–Independents–were waiting to learn what the Presbyterians would do, being themselves ready to take part in a general rising. In London people began to speak of the gravity of the situation. As August 24 drew near, Pepys wrote, “I pray God the issue may be good, for the discontent is great.” De Wiguefort, the Dutch Minister, informed his government that Parliament, “which had been the idol of the nation, was now sinking in popular respect.” The Roman Catholic Signor Giaverina was even more fearful in the warning he sent the Venetian Senate:

“Things are moving exactly as they were when the war began in the time of the late King.” It was in keeping with all these reports that we find the King’s men busy in the summer of 1662 demolishing fortifications at such places as Northampton and Gloucester and circulating instructions to lieutenants of counties to take pre­cautions against rebellion.

In actual fact there was no foundation for the government’s scare.

There was no danger of the King being again sent on his travels. It was an entire misjudgment of the men with whom they were dealing for the government ever to imagine Presbyterian homes as centres of insurrection against the very monarchy which they had done so much to restore. Rather the Puritans were taken up with matters about which Charles II had never dreamt; it was not the politics of England that was the issue around Puritan firesides, but rather the affairs of that realm where, as the dying James Buchanan had once told the King’s grandfather, “few kings or great men ever come.” The days of Puritanism as a political power were over, the genera­tion of Pym and Hampden was in the grave, and the troops “who had dashed Rupert’s chivalry to pieces on Naseby field, who had scattered at Worcester the army of the aliens, who had renewed beyond the sea the glories of Crecy and Agincourt, had mastered Parliament, had brought a King to justice and the block,” [1] were now farmers and traders again with piety enough to recognize in the sad events of the Restoration their need of bowing to the inscrutable will of God, and content henceforth to be “known among their fellow-men by no other sign than their greater soberness and industry.” Cromwell’s Ironsides were never to march again.

Not all the nonconforming Puritans who were to be silenced by the midnight preceding “Black Bartholomew’s Day” terminated their ministry on the same Sunday. Some continued in their pulpits beyond the last hour allowed by law and made Sunday, August 24, their day of farewell. Others either voluntarily or under compulsion from local authorities closed their ministry at an earlier date. Richard Baxter, for example, wishing his brethren to under­stand that he did not mean to conform, preached for the last time on May 25, anxious lest if he “stayed to the last day” some might suppose he meant to submit. Many used the intervening period before the enforcement of the Act to prepare their people for the blow from suitable Scriptures. James Creswick, rector of Fresh­water, Isle of Wight, preached for “some months” beforehand from Hebrews 10:34, “And took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in Heaven a better and an enduring substance.” Being thus armed for suffering, Creswick, who was a Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, continued in his pulpit after August 24 until the Bishop of Winchester finally had the church doors shut against him and there was no preaching at all. We read of Thomas Ford of Chesterfield that “he saw the Bar­tholomew storm arising, and therefore gave his people some warm and affecting Sermons on Isaiah 5:6, ‘And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it’.” Similarly we are told of Joseph Alleine that he finished his burning ministry at Taunton with a course of sermons on the words, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

It was one week before the feast of St. Bartholomew that most of the Puritans stood for the last time in their pulpits. The experiences of Sunday, August 17, the “Farewell Sunday” as it became known, were among the darkest which Christians in England have ever had to endure. The memory of it stayed with the ejected all their days and they regarded it as an event which believers in this land should never forget. “The dismal transactions that have befallen the Church of God this day,” declared William Lock of Maidstone in his last words to his congregation, “deserve to be engraved in deep and in indelible characters, on pillars of the blackest marble, that the ages and generations to come may read and weep and bewail England’s loss.” “No Sunday in England,” writes the Church historian John Stoughton, “ever resembled exactly that which fell on the 17th of August, 1662. In after years, Puritan fathers and mothers related to their children the story of assembled crowds, of aisles, standing-places and stairs, filled to suffocation, of people clinging to open windows like swarms of bees, of overflowing throngs in churchyards and streets, of deep silence or stifled sobs, as the flock gazed on the shepherd–’sorrowing most of all that they should see his face no more’.” [2].

Happily for us many of the words that were spoken on that Farewell Sunday have been preserved in the two volumes of Farewell Sermons, which in defiance of the King’s attempt to control the press were speedily issued after the event. The brown and worn pages of these now rare volumes bring near the thoughts of three centuries ago and by their help we can almost take our place to listen amidst the throngs that assembled on that distant summer’s day. Let us hear, for a moment, Richard Alleine ending his twenty-one years’ ministry at Batcombe, Somerset:

“The sun is setting upon not a few of the prophets; the shadows of evening are stretched forth upon us; our work seems to be at an end; our pulpits and our places must know us no more. This is the Lord’s doing; let all the earth keep silence before Him. It is not a light thing for me, brethren, to be laid aside from the work, and cast out from the vineyard of the Lord …. Since matters so stand that I must either lose my place or my peace, I cheerfully suffer myself to be thrust off the stage. And now, welcome the cross of Christ; welcome reproach; welcome poverty, scorn, and contempt, or whatever else may befall me on this account. This morning I had a flock, and you a pastor; now, behold a pastor without a flock, a flock without a shepherd: this morning I had a house, but now I have none; this morning I had a living, but now I have none. ‘The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’.”

It would be an interesting study, but beyond the scope of this present work, to examine the texts chosen for the Farewell Sermons and the main emphasis which the ejected ministers wished to leave with their hearers. Daniel Bull and John Cromwell took words of comfort and encouragement from Christ’s own farewell discourse and preached respectively from John 14:6 and John 16:33. Three eminent Puritans preached from Christ’s words to Sardis, Matthew Newcomen and John Whitlock from Revelation 3:3, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard and hold fast … ” and Joseph Caryl, a veteran of the Westminster Assembly and Rector of St. Magnus, London, from the verse which follows, “And they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” Two of the leading London ministers, Lazarus Seaman and William Bates, closed their ministries with an exposition of the glorious Benediction in Hebrews 13:20–21, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will …. ” Edmund Calamy, who was “reckoned to have the greatest interest in Court, City and Country, of any of the Ministers,” preached his farewell to the vast congregation of St. Mary Aldermanbury–which he had taught since the summer of 1639–from 2 Sam. 24:14, “And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait; let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.” Few more solemn words were heard in England that day than Calamy’s as he expounded the doctrine that sin “doth bring Nations and Persons into external, internal, and eternal straits.” The man who had refused the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry and who had not spared the King when called to preach before him [3] was certainly not the man to flatter his hearers now; having pressed home the fact that “there is no way to avoid a national desolation but by a national reformation,” he concluded with an application from which we give the following extract:

“You have had the Spirit of God seven and thirty years in the faithful ministry of the Word, knocking at the door of your hearts, but many of you have hardened your hearts. Are there not some of you, I only put the question, that begin to loath the Manna of your souls and to look back towards Egypt again? Are there not some of you having itching ears, and who would fain have preachers that would feed you with dainty phrases, and who begin not to care for a minister that unrips your consciences, speaks to your hearts and souls, and would force you into heaven by frighting you out of your sins? Are there not some of you that by often hearing sermons are become sermon proof, that know how to sleep and scoff away sermons. I would be glad to say there are but few such; but the Lord knoweth there are too many that by long preaching get little good by preaching; insomuch that I have often said it, and say it now again, there is hardly any way to raise the price of the Gospel­ Ministry but by the want of it.”

Several of the Farewell sermons sought to anticipate the danger of the sufferings of the Puritan leaders becoming a discouragement and stumbling block to believers–their afflictions perhaps being held up by the ungodly as marks of God’s disapproval. Thus John Oldfield preached on, “Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake; let not those that seek thee, be confounded for my sake, 0 God of Israel” (Psalm 69:6); the fearless William Jenkyn, later to die in Newgate prison, reminded his congregation at Christ Church, London, of the former sufferings of the Church from the words in Hebrews 11:38, “Of whom the world was not worthy”; and Samuel Shaw preached on the afflictions of believers resulting in the furtherance of the Gospel from Phil. 1:12. The eminent Thomas Manton, Rector of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, sought to strengthen his people for the coming storm by reminding them that they would not be alone in their sufferings; his text was Heb. 12:1, “Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses .… ” The burden of not a few sermons was the necessity of adhering to the truth and avoiding the danger of apostasy. Ralph Venning preached on “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith” (Heb. x. 23), John Collins on “Earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and John Cradacott on “The Great Benefit of a Godly Ministry” from Phil. 4:9. Cradacott warns his people of England’s sin in pro­curing the removal of “a conscience-ransacking, conscience ­searching ministry” which had preached close-walking with God and the necessity of getting to Heaven, and he entreats them to beware of the danger of being given over to a worldly ministry which would preach “peace, peace,” and poison the people both by doctrine and example so that, the blind leading the blind, “both may perish together everlastingly.”

As we might have expected, the most common of all the texts taken by the nonconforming ministers was the message in Acts 20 which relates Paul’s farewell to the elders of the Church at Ephesus. There are sermons extant on this passage by Daniel Bull, George Swinnock, William Lock, William Beerman and Matthew New­comen (being his second Farewell Sermon preached on August 20). Nor was it only the sermons that brought to mind the scene on the shore at Miletus; from the few records that survive we can oc­casionally gather the impression of partings hardly less affecting than that of the Ephesians with their apostle. We read of John Flavel, preacher at Dartmouth and Townstall in Devon, that “all his people followed him out of the town, and at Townstall church­yard they took a mournful farewell of each other, when the place might be truly called Bochim, for they were all in tears, as if they had been at his funeral.”

Lest we should have given an impression otherwise, it needs to be said that probably the most striking feature of these Farewell Sermons is the almost complete absence of anything inflammatory or “topical”; there is an obvious desire neither to offend the authorities nor to excite the crowds. Equally evident is a lack of resentment or vindictiveness. There is nowhere an attempt to prejudice the congregations they were to leave against conforming ministers who might fill their places within a few weeks, rather we find exhortations to hear such men provided they preach the GospeL Typical of such exhortations are the words of John Whitlock, vicar of St. Mary’s, Nottingham, who, due to the hostility of local authorities, was compelled to terminate his ministry on July 26, 1662:

“I hope that for those many praying, believing, hungry souls sake that are to be found in this place, God may provide you in His due time with some such Teachers as may give you some whole­some food, and not feed you with stones instead of bread …. If sound truth be powerfully preached, make use of and improve that, though you cannot approve everything the Minister doth. I well know while the best of men are on earth, there is likely to be variety of apprehensions; and some men of sound judgments in the main, and of holy lives, may satisfy themselves in the lawfulness of some things which others judge sinfuL And if God send such to you, though I do not bid you approve their practice, or justify what they do, yet bless God for them and improve their gifts and graces.”

The inoffensive spirit of these words is general throughout the Farewell Sermons which are extant, and it needs to be remembered that what we have in the majority of cases is the verbatim shorthand notes of hearers, not the edited publications of the preachers them­selves. Very few of the preachers take any space at all to justify their nonconformity, not because it was a matter of indifference to them, but because their immediate concern was the spiritual welfare of their hearers. There is indeed a strange atmosphere of calm in the sermons; the sad contemporary circumstances which surround the preacher are hardly in view and the reader is conscious of men who were absorbed with higher cares. It is true there are occasional passages, such as the one already quoted from Richard Alleine, which express the personal feelings of the preachers, but such references are rare and brief. To the last the ejected ministers remained pre-eminently expositors of the Word of God. Many of the sermons contain practically no reference to the Act of Uni­formity at all; and when occasionally the points which made the preachers Nonconformists are mentioned, the reference is only a subsidiary part of the sermon and never the main theme. As far as their own vindication is concerned, if they refer to it at all it is in such brief words as those used by John Barret, Rector of St. Peter’s, Nottingham, “The Lord knows and will manifest to the world one day, whether it was a mere humour, or whether indeed it was not Conscience that would not suffer us to comply with the things now imposed.” Like Paul, it was with them a very small thing that they should be judged of men, yea, they judged not their own selves, and it was both their spur and their comfort to know with the apostle that “He that judgeth me is the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:3–4).

If any think of the Puritans as men with scrupulous consciences, stumbling over niceties, obsessed with forms of church government, possessing legal hair-splitting intellects, and contentious in their zeal for their party’s progress, they will meet in the pages of the Farewell Sermons men of a very different stamp. They will find, as Samuel Pepys found when he stepped into St. Dunstan’s in the West to hear William Bates deliver his farewell to his people, that instead of getting a rousing harangue they are brought under the power of a careful and convicting exposition of Scripture. Mar­velling at Bates’s seeming unconsciousness of the seething agitation of many Puritan sympathizers in London, Pepys records that the preacher merely pursued his exposition as usual, “Only at the conclusion he told us after this manner:

‘I do believe many of you expect that I should say something to you in reference to the time, this being possibly the last time I may appear here. You know it is not my manner to speak anything in the pulpit that is extraneous to my text and business; yet this I shall say, that it is not my opinion, fashion, or humour, that keeps me from complying with what is required of us; but something, which, after much prayer, discourse, and study, yet remains unsatisfied, and commands me herein. Wherefore, if it is my unhappiness not to receive such an illumination as should direct me to do otherwise, I know no reason why men should not pardon me in this world, and am confident that God will pardon me for it in the next’.”

The Farewell Sermons reveal their authors as men whose supreme concern was the salvation and sanctification of their hearers. They had their convictions and they were strong ones, as we shall later see, but the dimension of eternity kept them from being diverted in the heat of the moment to the matters which were tending to claim the foremost place, with varying degrees of sympathy or hostility, in the minds of many Englishmen in the summer of 1662. The Puritans made their hearers look well beyond August 24; indeed one would not be surprised if those listening to sermons like that preached by Thomas Watson at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, were made to feel that Eternity was more near and certain than even Black Bartholomew’s Day. “O Eternity, Eternity!” cried Watson, “all of us here are ere long, it may be some of us within a few days or hours, to launch forth into the Ocean of Eternity. Eternity is a sum that can never be numbered, a line that can never be measured; Eternity is a condition of everlasting misery or everlasting happiness. If you are godly, then shall you be for ever happy, you shall be always sunning yourselves in the light of God’s countenance. If you are wicked you shall be always miserable, ever lying in the scalding furnace of the wrath of the Almighty. Eternity to the godly is a day that hath no sun-setting; Eternity to the wicked is a night that hath no sun-rising. O, I beseech you my Brethren, every day spend some time upon the thoughts of Eternity. Oh how fervently would that man pray, that thinks he is praying for Eternity. Oh how accurately and circumspectly would that man live that thinks, upon this moment hangs Eternity. What is the world to him that hath Eternity always in his eye? Did we think seriously and solemnly of Eternity, we should never over-value the comforts of the world, nor over-grieve at the crosses of the world. What are all the sufferings we can undergo in the world to Eternity? Affliction may be lasting, but it is not everlasting. Our sufferings here are not worthy to be compared to an eternal weight of glory.”

Whatever men may think of such words as these, they are a far cry from the caricature we previously mentioned. It was not the external allegiance of men to their party that the Puritans cared for; they earnestly warned their hearers not to judge the state of their souls, nor of the souls of others, by their adherence to forms or opinions of church order. “We need to have more to show for our Christianity,” said Richard Alleine, and he spoke for his fellow Puritans, “than that we are Presbyterians, Independents, Ana­baptists, Episcopals, or Erastians.” “Labour for oneness in love and affection with everyone that is one with Christ,” exhorted Thomas Brooks, “let their forms be what they will; that which wins most upon Christ’s heart, should win most upon ours; and that is His own grace and holiness. The question should be, What of the Father? What of the Son? What of the Spirit shines in this or that person?”

One last quotation and we must leave the contents of these Farewell Sermons; it is taken from the sermon of a comparatively unknown Puritan, Robert Seddon, Rector of Kirk Langley, Derbyshire, and it illustrates the kind of evangelism of which not only London but all England was deprived by the Act of Uni­formity:

“And are we parting? Suffer, I beseech you, this word of Exhortation. ‘In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink,’ John 7:37. The Apostle at Troas ready to depart on the morrow, preached long at his parting; how fervently did he preach and pray! Acts 20. Two of Luther’s wishes were, That he might have seen Christ in the flesh, and have heard Paul preach. But my Brethren, what tongue can express the worth of their Farewell-Sermons! … And am I leaving you? My Beloved and longed-for, how gladly would I leave you all in the arms of Jesus Christ! Shall I leave any of you wedded to your sins and lusts? Shall I leave any of you glued to the world, and not espoused to one Husband, even Jesus Christ? Shall my liberty to preach Christ to you cease before you can all say of Him, ‘My Beloved is mine and I am His?’ Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer for you is that you may be saved. My earnest request and suit to you this day is that you will come to Jesus Christ, and be married to Him for ever. Have pity upon me, o my people, have pity upon your afflicted, grieved, dying pastor. And this is the pity I crave at your hands, that you would none of you rest in a Christless condition, but expect blessings and blessed­ness only through Christ, that whether I come again to you, or be absent, I may hear of your affairs that ye prize and love Christ fervently, that ye obey Him sincerely, constantly, and universally, having respect to all His commandments …. O that this my dying sermon, might shake the rotten pillars on which souls have built their hopes of Heaven short of Christ; that more sins might be mortified, and more souls quickened and converted than ever by any sermon in the course of my ministry; that now at the end of the liberty of my public ministry, you might all be the seals thereof, being pricked to the heart, and feeling the weapons of our warfare mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds …. O that my civil death might minister occasion of your spiritual and eternal life! O that this divorcing day betwixt you and me, might be the day of your espousals to Christ!

“My loving people, I am this day going the way of all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, the way of tribulation. I charge you, keep the Lord’s way; as you expect any blessing and prosperity, look for them only through Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life. I charge you before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge both quick and dead, that ye rest not without interest in Christ; and I leave this sermon (as Joshua did the pillar) as a memorial, that I admonished and besought you to come to Christ and become His servants. O let not the Word I have spoken, to keep myself pure from your blood, condemn you in the day of Christ. You cannot plead, ‘We were not bidden to the Wedding-Feast, we were not called to Christ.’ No, if you will be found out of Christ at that great day, how will it torture you to consider, ‘How have we hated instruction and have not obeyed the voice of our teachers!’ In vain may you wish, O that we had the day of grace once again!”

When the Puritans left their pulpits for the last time on that August afternoon, it was the end of an age. The harvest was past, the summer was ended, and a winter, not of months but of many long years, was to be endured before England again heard the Gospel as it had heard it before Black Bartholomew’s Day, 1662.

 

Citations

1 John Richard Green, A Short History of The English People, p. 604.

2 Religion In England, vol. III, p. 267.

3 On August 12, 1660, he had preached before Charles II on the text, “To whom much is given, of him much is required.”

 

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 Eduardo Goody on Unsplash

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