committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER X.

Biographical Notices Continued—Henry Jessey, A.M.—John Canne—Vavasor Powell—Abraham Cheare

 

Henry Jessey, A.M., was a native of Yorkshire,  and the son of an Episcopal clergyman. Having been carefully prepared for University studies, he entered St. John’s College, Cambridge, in the seventeenth year of his age, and continued there six years. He was a hard student. In addition to a competent knowledge of classics and mathematics, he acquired great proficiency in Hebrew and Rabbinical lore, and was well skilled in Syriac and Arabic.

He was converted to God while at the University—a rare occurrence at that time. After his ordination, he officiated, for a short time, in a country parish, but was removed on account of his nonconformity to some of the rites and services enjoined. In 1637, he became the pastor of an Independent church in London. He had not been long there when the Baptist controversy broke out among them. Many of his congregation withdrew and joined Baptist churches. Being led thereby to study anew the points in debate, he was convinced of the unlawfulness of sprinkling, announced the fact to his people in 1642, and for two years dipped the children that were brought to him. Further thought and inquiry issued in the conviction that believers only are the proper subjects of baptism. Before he took the final step, he conferred with Dr. Goodwin, Philip Nye, and other eminent ministers of the Independent persuasion, but their arguments for infant baptism failed to give him satisfaction. He followed the dictates of conscience, was baptized by Hanserd Knollys in June, 1645, and became the pastor of a church which is supposed to have met in Woodmonger’s Hall, London. He laboured there till his death.

Mr. Jessey was a hard student. He continued to be so all his days. Biblical criticism was his principal study. A large amount of his time was devoted to a revision of our authorized version of the Scriptures. Crosby gives the following account of his labours in this department:—

“Besides his constant labours in the work of the ministry, there was another profitable work wherein his soul was engaged, and in which he took great pains for divers years, and this was no less than the making a new and more correct translation of the Holy Bible.”

“He was very industrious, in the first place, to under?stand fully those languages in which it was written: the Hebrew and Greek Testaments he constantly carried about him, frequently calling one his ‘sword and dagger,’ and the other his ‘shield and buckler.’ And besides the Hebrew and Greek, he studied the Syriac and Chaldee dialects, which the unlearned Jews spoke in their captivity. But, notwith?standing his qualifications in this and many other respects, he had not the vanity to think this a work fit for any single man to encounter with, and, therefore, sent letters to many learned men of this and other nations, desiring their assistance and joint labours with him in this great design. And, by his persuasions, many persons of great note for their learning, faithfulness, and piety, did engage in it; particularly Mr. Rowe, the Hebrew professor of Aberdeen, took great pains with him herein. The writer of Mr. Jessey’s life says that he made it the master study of his life, and would often cry out, ‘Oh! that I might see this done before I die!’”

“In that book there is a specimen given of the errors he took notice of in the present translation, the rules he observed in correcting them, and the progress that was made in this work.”

“It appears that it was almost completed, and wanted little more than the appointing commissioners to examine it, and authorize its publication, which was what he always intended, and of which he had from the first some assurances given him. But the great turn that was given to public affairs, both in Church and State, by the Restoration, caused this great and noble design to prove abortive.”1

Under the Protectorate, Mr. Jessey was appointed one of the “Triers.” He officiated also at St. George’s Church, Southwark, every Lord’s-day morning, preaching to his own people in the afternoon, and at other places during the week.

Being an unmarried man, he was able to gratify his benevolent disposition to a large extent. His charities were very liberally bestowed. About thirty families were chiefly sustained by him. Applications for aid pressed upon him daily, and, if they were deserving, he seldom refused them. On one occasion he interested himself in behalf of the poor Jews resident in Jerusalem, who had fallen into great destitution through the failure of customary remittances from Europe. He succeeded in enlisting the sympathies of London merchants and others, and remitted upwards of 300? for their relief.

On account of the high esteem in which he was held, and his well-known learning and admirable judgment, his opinion was frequently sought on a great variety of subjects. Such demands on his time were thereby occasioned, that he affixed the following notice to his study door:—

“Amice, quisquis huc ades;
Aut agito paucis, aut abi:
Aut me laborantem adjuva.”

“Whatever friend comes hither,
Despatch in brief, or go,
Or help me busied too.”

By Henry Jessey

After the Restoration, Mr. Jessey was quickly ejected from St. George’s Church. Twice he suffered imprisonment. But he did not live to see the “great and sore troubles” of the times of Charles II. and his brother. He died September 4th, 1663, and was followed to his grave by thousands of mourners.

“He spent his last days and nights in searching his heart, humbling his soul, extolling free grace, and exhorting all about him to keep close to God, to persevere in faith, and prepare for trials; adding, for their encouragement, the long experience he had had of the goodness of the Lord in all times and conditions. The last evening but one before his departure, having a mind to walk, he was led about the room, and often repeated this expression, ‘God is good; He doth not lead me whither I would not, as He did Peter: good is the Lord to me.’ Being soon tired, he sat down on his bed, and one who sat by him said, ‘They among whom you have laboured can witness that you have been a faithful servant of Christ; making His glory your utmost end, for the good of their souls.’ But he replied, ‘Say no more of that; exalt God—exalt God.’ He spent the first part of his last night in blessing God and singing praises to His name, and fell asleep about eleven o’clock. Waking again between two and three, he fell into a wonderful strain of abasing himself, and admiring the love of God, ‘that He, should choose the vilest, the unworthiest, and the basest,’ which last word he repeated many times, and then cried out, ‘Oh, the unspeakable love of God, that He should reach me, when I could not reach Him!’ And when the cordial ordered for that night was brought, he said, ‘Trouble me not—upon your peril, trouble me not!’ He was then as if he had seen some glorious vision, or had been in a rapture . . . The last words he was heard to speak were these:—‘He counted me worthy.’ And when the sound of his words ceased, his lips were observed still to move, and he seemed to be inwardly adoring that God whom, in his health, he served, feared, and praised, and made his boast of continually; whose law he preached, and whose goodness he proclaimed. Such was his habitual sense of the goodness of God, that, when he met an acquaintance, it was a common thing for him (after the usual salutations) to say, ‘Verily God is good—blessed be His name—stick to Him.’ . . . He was so great a Scripturist, that if one began to rehearse any passage, he could go on with it, and name the book, chapter, and verse where it might be found. The original languages of the old and New Testaments were as familiar to him as his mother tongue.”2

JOHN CANNE Was another worthy champion of the truth. He was born about the year 1590, and for a short time ministered in the English Church. In 1621 he was chosen pastor of a church which afterwards met in Deadman’s Place, Southwark, and which had been formed but a little time before. The church met at first stealthily in private houses, to avoid persecution, which at length became so fierce that Mr. Canne found it necessary to withdraw from England for a time. He fixed his residence in Amsterdam, where he was chosen pastor of “the ancient English Church.” In that city he published, in 1634, his work entitled, The Necessity of Separation, justifying dissent from the Church of England, and enforcing that duty. During a visit to England in 1641, he formed the church in Broadmead, Bristol. He returned to his pastoral duties at Amsterdam, but visited his native land again after the death of Charles I., and probably spent several years, wholly or partially, in England. It appears that he was dissatisfied with the Protectorate, and as he was a man whose influence might be dreaded, he was not suffered to propagate his opinions undisturbed. He was banished from Hull, where he had been preaching for some time, and after some wanderings fixed his residence in London. Having embraced Fifth Monarchy principles, although he had no sympathy with the political schemes of their advocates, he was apprehended, in April, 1658, at a meeting held in Cole?man-street, and committed to prison, but acquitted on his trial. Once more he sought refuge in Amsterdam, and exercised his ministry there till his death, in the year 1667.

Though Mr. Canne was a “baptized man,” as he is styled in the records of the Broadmead Church, he maintained and practiced open communion. The Rev. Charles Stovel, of London, who edited The Necessity of Separation, for the Hanserd Knollys Society, says, in a letter to the author, recently received:—“I see nothing in his works to indicate a very decided baptistical zeal. I should judge that he was, separating from all hierarchies, a free communionist, in the widest meaning of that designation that could comport with fellowship in vital religion.”

Believing that “Scripture is its own best interpreter,” he prepared an edition of the Bible, with marginal references, judiciously selected, and excellently adapted to assist thoughtful enquirers in the search for truth. It was first published in Amsterdam in 1644, and afterwards, repeatedly, both in that city and in England. The Rev. Christopher Anderson says:—“The first English Bible, with Scriptural references on the margin throughout, was prepared and printed in that city [Amsterdam] by John Canne. He proceeded on the principle, that ‘Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture,’ and his parallels, therefore, are parallels of sense, and not of sound, as too many have been since his day . . . A good reprint would a very valuable and saleable book.”3

VAVASOR POWELL has not been inappropriately termed “the Whitfield of Wales.” This excellent man was born at Knocklas, in Radnorshire, in the year 1617. He received a good education, and was well skilled in the learned languages; but he was such a wild youth that even his young associates called him dux omnium malorum—leader in all mischief. Nevertheless, he was considered in those times good enough for a clergyman, and was accordingly ordained, and admitted to a curacy, although, as he afterwards confessed, he “slighted the Scriptures, and was a stranger to secret and spiritual prayer, and a great profaner of the Sabbath.” But he did not long continue in this state. God “called him by His grace.” The books and sermons of Puritan ministers were blessed to his conversion. Having left the Established Church, and joined the Nonconformists, he engaged in ministerial labour with great zeal. He was an eloquent and popular preacher, and had the honour to be persecuted with no small malice. On one occasion, when he had been preaching at a house in Brecknockshire, he was seized, together with sixty or seventy of his hearers, by a rude mob, who placed their prisoners in the church, as it was too late at night to take them to a magistrate. Mr. Powell improved the opportunity, and preached in the church at midnight from Matthew 10:28. Next morning they went to the magistrate, who was not at home when they arrived. Mr. Powell thought that time ought not to be wasted, and there?fore preached again, greatly to the chagrin of his worship, who found his house so unceremoniously turned into a con?venticle. His daughter was impressed by the sermon, and interceded for the release of the prisoner, which was reluc?tantly granted.

The opposition was so violent that, in 1642, Mr. Powell went to London, where he preached to many congregations with much acceptance. Next year he settled at Dartford, in Kent, and was “blessed with great success in his labours, being instrumental in bringing many souls to Christ, and gathering a congregation in that town.” After remaining there nearly three years, he was strongly urged to return to Wales, the number of faithful ministers in that country being then very small. He went accordingly, in 1646, and spent fourteen years in his native land, traveling from place to place, preaching incessantly, and planting churches. “He frequently preached in two or three places in a day, and was seldom two days in a week throughout the year out of the pulpit,—nay, he would sometimes ride a hundred miles in a week, and preach in every place where he might have admittance, either night or day; so that there was hardly a church, chapel, or town-hall in all Wales where he had not preached, besides his frequent preaching in fairs and markets, upon mountains and in small villages; for, if he passed at any time through any place where there was a concourse of people, he would take the opportunity of preaching Christ and recommending to them the care of their souls, and another world.”4

In 1649 he was appointed one of the Commissioners, under authority of an Act passed “for the better propagation and preaching of the Gospel in Wales, for the ejecting of scandalous ministers and schoolmasters, and redress of some grievances.” He discharged his duty in that office honestly and conscientiously, though it occasioned him much ill-will. The good effects were apparent in every part of the principality.

After the Restoration, Vavasor Powell became a marked man. Such representations were made against him, that in August, 1660, orders were issued by government to suppress his congregations. In the following January, immediately after Venner’s insurrection, he was thrown into prison, with many more, and continued there nine weeks, when, at the coronation, a general pardon was granted, and he was released.

But the term of freedom was short. Preach he would, notwithstanding all prohibition. It was impossible to stop him unless he was shut up in jail, and there was no difficulty about that in the days of Charles II. Upon a vague charge of “sedition, rebellion, and treason,” preferred by the High Sheriff of Montgomeryshire, he was arrested. The Sheriff had no evidence to produce, and the prisoner ought to have been released at the Sessions, but a pretext was found for detaining him, because he refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. Soon after he was taken to London, and appeared before the King and Council, by whom he was committed to the Fleet Prison, where he remained nearly two years. For twelve months he was not allowed to leave his chamber, under the window of which was a dunghill. His health was so impaired by the noisome effluvia, that he never thoroughly recovered. From the Fleet he was conveyed to Southsea Castle, near Portsmouth, and was confined there five years more. At the end of that time he obtained his liberty by a writ of habeas corpus. Crosby remarks that this took place “upon the removal of Chancellor Hyde” [Lord Clarendon], implying that the imprisonment was altogether illegal, and that the Chancellor had illegally prevented the victim, as well as many others, from regaining their liberty.

Mr. Powell repaired immediately to Wales, and recommenced preaching. He was not permitted to labour long. One George Jones, an episcopal clergyman, and a man of infamous character, lodged a false information against him, to the effect that several of his congregation went armed to their meetings, as if for the purpose of resisting the authorities. This was levying war! Again the minister of Christ was shut up in jail. The charge could not be substantiated. Then they tendered the oaths. He refused to take them, and offered to give bail for his appearance at the next Sessions. His request was denied, and he was remanded to prison. A writ of habeas corpus was again obtained, and he was taken before the Court of Common Pleas, in London: yet, although the court unanimously decided that “the return was false and illegal,” they committed Mr. Powell, in defiance of all law and justice, to the Fleet Prison, where he lay till his death, October 17th, 1670.

The Lord was with him there, and gave him “songs in the night.” Nor was he even there wholly useless. He had opportunities for intercourse with his brethren, and he could use his pen for the advancement of the cause. One of the last acts of his life was a correspondence with the Broadmead Church, respecting Mr. Hardcastle, who afterwards became their pastor. It was singularly illustrative of the hardness of the times. Vavasor Powell, a prisoner, recommends to the church a ministering brother, himself a prisoner!

“We are appointed and commanded,” he observed, “to be partakers of the afflictions of the Gospel (1 Thess. 3:3). To be some of the forwardest therein is an honour, which I perceive God is calling you to; therefore rejoice, and so much the more as tribulations abound (2 Cor. 7:4). Our trials are like to be sharp, but it is to be hoped so much the shorter. However, what are the worst and greatest we can endure here, in comparison of the weight of glory, and crown of righteousness, prepared and reserved for those who continue faithful to the end? An interest in God through Christ, His presence with, power under, Spirit in, and promises to us, are sufficient to carry us comfortably through fire and water; herein let us remember one another, and all the Israel of God, who are in several countries now intended by men to be sheep for the slaughter, though the thought of the Lord may be otherwise.”5

“During the time of his last illness,” says Crosby, “though his physician ordered he should be kept from speaking much, yet so zealously was he affected for the glory of God, and with the love of Christ, that neither his pains, bodily weakness, nor the tender advice of friends, could possibly restrain him; but he would, notwithstanding all, break forth into high and heavenly praises, sometimes by prayer, and sometimes by singing.”

“His patience under all his pains was very great. He would under the greatest pain bless God, and say, he would not entertain one bad thought of God for all the world. The sight of the pardon of sin, and reconciliation with God, was so clear, and without interruption, even to the last, that it was as a fire in his bosom till he spake of it: and very hardly would he be restrained at any time: and when he had spent his strength in speaking, then would he compose himself to get a little more strength, that he might go on to speak further of the grace of God towards him, and to give reasonable advice to all about him; and so continued till God took away his strength and speech from him.”6

Among the publications issued by him were two, which were probably written in jail. One was entitled, “The Bird in the Cage, Chirping;” the other, “The Sufferer’s Catechism.”

ABRAHAM CHEARE was not a scholar, but he was one of the working, suffering men of the seventeenth century, whom the Lord honored and blessed. He was a native of Plymouth, and was by trade a fuller. Whether he had been a minister in one of the P?obaptist denominations, or whether his preaching abilities showed themselves immediately after his conversion, we are not able to decide. This only is recorded, that he was invited to the pastorate of the church at Plymouth in the same year in which he was baptized, viz. 1648. Though the Baptists in that town were “a poor despised people,” they were respectably numerous, the invitation of Mr. Cheare being signed by one hundred and fifty members. It is probable that many of them resided in the neighboring villages, and that Mr. Cheare had a somewhat extensive diocese. He was a diligent and faithful observer. After thirteen years of peaceful labours, during which many souls were converted, and a good degree of religious prosperity was enjoyed by the church, Mr. Cheare entered on his course of sufferings. In 1661 he was confined for three months in Exeter jail, for “encouraging religious assemblies.” Referring to this imprisonment, in a letter written some time afterwards, he says:—“Some from our neighboring parts are sent to the place of ancient experience [the prison], where they have a stock of prayers and presence to begin upon; they begin on straw, learning to endure hardness as good soldiers. The Lord make that Word good to them which often hath been, in that dace, sweet to me (Ex. 23:25; Eccl. 4:14.).”

The Act of Uniformity was the death-knell of Christian freedom. Not only the ejected ministers, but all others who refused obedience, were subjected to persecution. Mr. Cheare became again an occupant of Exeter jail, and lay there three years, “enduring great inhumanities from merciless jailors,” yet enjoying the consolations of religion in an eminent degree. Writing to a friend, who had known something of persecution, he says:—“I received yours of the 11th of the seventh month, and in it a testimony of teaching and supporting grace and presence continued to you abroad, which He is pleased not to deny His poor worms here, in these holes of the earth, where violence hath thrust us in as so many slaughter-houses of men; but over-ruling grace makes them as the presence-chambers of the great King, where He brings and feasts His favorites with the best things, and proclaims among them, ‘Thus shall it be done to them whom the King delights to honour.’ This honour have not all, that yet are saints; much less have any this mercy, who either through the fear or formality of their unconverted souls are enforced shamefully to put off that profession which hypocritically they did put on in a day of seeming prosperity; not but these walls, as a draw-net, do enclose bad and good; but at length a discovery is made more manifest; he chooseth in this furnace of affliction, a week in a prison giving plainer discovery of a man’s spirit than a month in a church.”

He was released in 1665, and returned to his work, but had scarcely entered on it when his enemies obtained an order for his perpetual banishment. He was placed on the small island of St. Nicholas, whence he had a full view of his former abode, and doubtless often gazed on it with sadness. But he was not alone. Other Christian friends shared his exile. Their discomforts were many; the military guard which was constantly in attendance prevented them from engaging in religious exercises; and Mr. Cheare had the additional trial of a severe attack of illness, which lasted nine months, and brought him to the brink of the grave. Yet, though “cast down,” he was not “destroyed.” Divine comforts sustained him, and the sympathy of his brethren on the mainland was practically shown in contributions for his support. They were not long needed Another illness came on, under which he rapidly sank. At even-tide it was light. His dying experience afforded a beautiful illustration of the power of the Gospel. It cheered those who watched around his bed, and the published record edified many. He exchanged exile for a heavenly home, March 5, 1668.7

 

1  History, i. p. 313.

2  Palmer’s Nonconformist’s Memorial, i, p. 133.

3  Annals of the English Bible, ii. p. 559.

4  Crosby, i. 376.

5  Broadmead Records, p. 108.

6  History, i. p. 380.

7  Ivimey, ii. pp. 103-116.

 
 
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