December 14, 2017

Sketches of Non-Conformists (3)

Mark Minnick

Part OnePart Two ♦ This is 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 and now Part Three, the sketches continue.]

St. Hilary, Mr. Joseph Sherwood. Soon after his ejection he was cited to the spiritual court for not going to church. He appeared, and gave for a reason, that there was no preaching, and that he could not, with any satisfaction, attend there only to hear the clerk read the prayers, but promised to go the next Lord’s-day if there was a sermon.

Finding upon enquiry that there was no minister then, any more than before, he went not, and so was cited again, and gave the same answer. The Lord’s-day following great multitudes came to church out of novelty to see Mr Sherwood; who, being informed by the churchwarden, who was his friend, that there would be no sermon, went into the church, and seated himself in the clerk’s desk all the time of prayers, and then went up into the pulpit and prayed and preached from those words, “I will avenge the quarrel of my covenant” [Leviticus 26:25].

He was then carried to a petty session of justices, where one Mr. Robinson sat as chairman, who greatly reviled Mr. Sherwood and called him a rebel, etc., which he bore patiently with this reply, “That as he was a minister of the gospel, and at the church where there was so great an assembly, he could not but have compassion on the multitude and give them a word of exhortation.” Mr. Robinson said, “But did ever man preach from such a rebellious text?” “Sir,” (replied Mr. Sherwood) “I know man is a rebel against his Creator, but I never knew that the Creator could be a rebel against his creature.” Mr. Robinson cried out, “Write his mittimus for Launceston jail.” And then turning to Mr. Sherwood said, “I say, Sir, it was a rebellious text.” Mr. Sherwood looked him full in the face, and addressed him in these words: “Sir, if you die the common death of all men, God never spake by me.”

He was sent to prison, where he found favor with the keeper and had liberty to walk about the castle and town. Mr. Robinson returned home; and a few days after, walking in the fields, a bull that had been very tame came up to a gate where he stood, and his maid before him, who had been milking, and turning her aside with his horns, ran directly upon Mr. Robinson and tore out his bowels. This strange Providence brought to mind what had passed at the sessions. And in a little time, Mr. Sherwood getting leave to return home, he was sent for to Penzance, where some justices met. When he came there, Mr. Godolphin came out, and took him into another room, and said, “Sir, I sent for you to know how you came to express yourself in such a manner, when we committed you; you know, Sir, what has since befallen Mr. Robinson.” Mr. Sherwood, replied, “Sir, I was far from bearing any malice against Mr. Robinson and give no other answer than that “when we are called before rulers for his name’s sake,” whom we serve, “it shall be given us in that very hour what we shall say.” To which Mr. Godolphin replied, “Well, Sir, for your sake, I will never more have a hand in prosecuting Dissenters.” And he was as good as his word. [This extraordinary story is well attested.]

Mear. Mr. Ralph Hall. Mr. Hall was committed to the North-gate prison, upon the 5-mile-act [a further harsh ruling of Parliament prohibiting the ejected ministers from coming within 5 miles of any town in which they had previously pastored]; and during his imprisonment was an instrument, in the hand of God, for the conversion of a soldier, who had been a very loose profligate man, and was concerned with others in a drunken riot, in which a poor man lost his life. Mr. Tong observes, when the man came to die, he made such a declaration of the manner of God’s working upon his soul, and of the benefit he had received from Mr. Hall’s instructions and prayers, as very much affected all that heard him, and filled the whole city with wonder. The good man thought his six months imprisonment abundantly compensated by being an instrument of so much good to a precious soul, that was in so much danger of perishing forever.

Stoke (South). Mr. Henry Staples. Some time after his ejectment he removed to Ireland, where he was a diligent, constant, and faithful preacher. His ordinary discourses were short sermons, and his holy life was the application of them.

Once at an inn, which he often used in Ireland, a sturdy butcher had his stall under the window of his room. Mr. Staples hearing him swear, opened the casement, and having given him a reproof, shut it again; but the butcher continuing to multiply his oaths, Mr. Staples set the casement open, that he might the more readily continue his reproofs, which the man received with all imaginable contempt both in words and gestures. However, Mr. Staples persisted, and he did so to good purpose, for there not only was some present reformation, but the man was led into close reflection on his ways, and a change was produced. When Mr. Staples afterwards came to the same place, the butcher used to treat him with all respect, often acknowledged his past folly, thanked Mr. Staples for his reproof, and told another person, “This good man has saved my soul from hell.”

Mr. Staples in his last visit to England, came to the house of his good friend, the worthy John Lee, esquire; of Plaistow where he spent his last Sabbath on earth. Next morning his horse, soon after he was mounted, raising himself up, cast his rider backward, fell upon him, and killed him, August 1, 1686. He was buried at Green.

Kirk-Heaton, Mr. Christopher Richardson. After his ejectment, he retired to his own house at Lassell Hall. Besides preaching on Lord’s-days, he had a lecture in his house once a month, in which several of his brethren joined with him. He afterwards went to Liverpool, preaching one day in Tuxtoth Park chapel, and the other day in the town. His preaching to the last was very neat and accurate, but plain and popular. He had an healthful constitution, which continued till old age. He died in December, 1698, aged about 80.

He was a man mighty in the scriptures, being able on a sudden to analyze, expound, and draw useful observations from any chapter he read in any of the pious families into which he came. When he lived in Yorkshire, his preaching was much followed. A neighbouring minister, whose parishioners used to go to hear him, complaining once to him that he drew away his flock, Mr. Richardson answered, “Feed them better, and they will not stray.”

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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