December 18, 2017

Sketches of Non-Conformists (2)

Mark Minnick

Part One ♦ This is Part Two ♦ Part Three

[Part One introduced the historical situation of the Non-Conformist preachers of seventeenth century England and offered our first three sketches. In Part Two, the sketches continue.]

St. Mary, Fifth-Street, Mr. Thomas Brooks. He was a very affecting preacher, and useful to many. Though he used many homely phrases, and sometimes too familiar resemblances, which to nice critics might appear ridiculous, he did more good to souls than many who deliver the most exact composures. And let the wits of the age pass what censures they please, “He that winneth souls is wise.”

Mr. Thomas Vincent, M. A. of Christ Church, Oxford. Born at Hereford in May 1634. He had the whole New Testament and Psalms by heart. He took this pains (as he often said), “not knowing but they who took from him his pulpit, might in time demand his Bible also.”

He was one of the few ministers who had the zeal and courage to abide in the city amidst all the fury of the pestilence in 1665 [an outbreak of what is believed to have been the bubonic plague; in 1665 it killed one-fifth of London’s residents], and pursued his ministerial work in that needful, but dangerous season, with all diligence and intrepidity, both in public and private.

He constantly preached every Lord’s Day through the whole visitation in some parish-church. His subjects were the most moving and important; and his management of them most pathetic and searching. The awfulness of the judgment, then everywhere obvious, gave a peculiar edge to the preacher and his auditors. It was a general inquiry through the preceding week, where he was to preach: multitudes followed him wherever he went; and several were awakened by every sermon. He visited all that sent for him, without fear, and did the best he could for them in their extremity; especially to save their souls from death. And it pleased God to take particular care of him; for though the whole number reckoned to die of the plague in London this year was 68,596, and 7 persons died of it in the family where he lived, he continued in perfect health all the while; and was afterwards useful, by his unwearied labors, to a numerous congregation, till the year 1678, when he died at Hoxton.

Mr. William Jenkyn, M. A. of St. John’s College, Cambridge. On Sept. 2, 1684, being with Mr. Reynolds, Mr. John Flavel, and Mr. Keeling, spending the day in prayer with many of his friends, in a place where they thought themselves out of danger; the soldiers broke in upon them in the midst of the exercise. All the ministers made their escape, except Mr. Jenkyn. (Mr. Flavel was so near, that he heard the insolence of the officers and soldiers to Mr. Jenkyn when they had taken him; and observes, in his diary, that Mr. Jenkyn might have escaped as well as himself, had it not been for a piece of vanity in a lady, whose long train hindered his going down stairs, Mr. Jenkyn out of his too great civility, having let her pass before him.)

Upon his refusing the Oxford-oath, they committed him to Newgate [a London prison across the street from St. Sepulchre, a church which still stands], rejecting his offer of 40 l. fine, which the law impowered them to take, though it was urged that the air of Newgate would infallibly suffocate him. He petitioned the king [Charles II] for a release, which was backed by an assurance from his physicians, that his life was in danger for his close imprisonment. But no answer could be obtained but this, “Jenkyn shall be a prisoner as long as he lives.”

He died in Newgate, January 19, 1685, aged 72, having been a prisoner there four months. (A nobleman having heard of his happy release, said to the king, “May it please your majesty, Jenkyn has got his liberty.” Upon which he asked with eagerness, “Aye, who gave it him?” The nobleman replied, “A greater than your majesty, the King of kings,” with which the king seemed greatly struck, and remained silent). Mr. Jenkyn was buried by his friends with great honor in Bunhill Fields.

St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, Mr. Thomas Watson, M. A. of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was noted for being a hard student. He was a man of considerable learning, a popular but judicious preacher, (if one may judge from his writings) and eminent in the gift of prayer. Of this the following story is sufficient proof:

Once on a lecture day, before the Bartholomew-act took place, the learned Bishop Richardson came to hear him, who was much pleased with his sermon, but especially with his prayer after it so that he followed him home to give him thanks, and earnestly desired to copy it. “Alas! (said Mr. Watson), that is what I cannot give, for I do not sue to pen my prayers; it was not a studied thing, but uttered as God enabled me, from the abundance of my heart and affections.” Upon which the good Bishop went away, wondering that any man could pray in that manner extempore [English churchmen recited their prayers from the official prayer book].

After his ejectment he continued the exercise of his ministry in the city as Providence gave opportunity for many years; but his strength wearing away, he retired into Essex, and there died suddenly in his closet at prayer.

To be continued…

Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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