Life of Dr. John Owen. Part Three
But it is remarkable, that all the leading men among the
Puritan clergy were such as, even in the matter of external grace and polish,
might have stood before kings. The native majesty of John Howe, refined by
intercourse with families of noble birth, and his radiant countenance, as if
formed "meliore luto", linger even in his portraits Philip Henry, the playmate
of pincer, bore with him into his country parish that "unbought grace of life,"
which, in spite of his sterner qualities, attracted towards him the most
polished families of his neighbourhood. Richard Baxter was the chosen associate
of Sir Matthew Hale; and, contrary even to the popular notions of those whose
sympathies are all on the side of Puritanism, Owen bore with him into public
life none of the uncouth and lumbering pedantry of the recluse, but associated
with his more solid qualities all the lighter graces of courtesy and taste. He
is described by one contemporary as "of universal affability, ready presence
and discourse, liberal, graceful, and courteous demeanour, that speak him
certainly (whatsoever he be else) one that was more a gentleman than most of
the Clergy." And Dodwell says, "His personage was proper and comely, and he had
a very graceful behaviour in the pulpit, an eloquent elocution, a winning and
insinuating deportment, and could, by the persuasion of his oratory, in
conjunction with some other outward advantages, move and wind the affections of
his auditory almost as he pleased. It is with such a manner that we can
conceive him to have addressed the assembled heads of colleges, when he assumed
the helm at Oxford with tremulous hand, yet with firm determination to do his
utmost to discharge his high stewardship.
"I am well aware," said he, "gentlemen of the university, of the grief you must feel that, after so many venerable names, reverend persons, depositaries and preceptors of the arts and sciences, the fates of the university should have at last placed him as leader of the company who almost closes the rear. Neither, indeed, is this state of our affairs, of whatever kind it be, very agreeable to myself, since I am compelled to regard my return, after a long absence, to my beloved mother as a prelude to the duties of a labourious and difficult situation. But complaints are not remedies of any misfortune. Whatever their misfortune, groans become not grave and honorable men. It is the part of an undaunted mind boldly to bear up under a heavy burden. For, as the comic poet says,--
The life of man is like a game at tables. If the cast Which is most necessary be not thrown, That which chance sends, you must correct by art."
"The academic vessel, too long, alas! tossed by storms,
being almost entirely abandoned by all whose more advanced age, longer
experience, and well-earned literary titles, excited great and just
expectations, I have been called upon, by the partiality and too good opinion
of him whose commands we must not gainsay, and with whom the most earnest
entreaties to be excused were urged in vain, and also by the consenting
suffrage of this senate; and, therefore although there is perhaps no one more
unfit, I approach the helm. In what times, what manners, what diversities of
opinion (dissensions and calumnies everywhere raging in consequence of party
spirit), what bitter passions and provocations, what pride and malice, our
academical authority has occurred, I both know and lament. Nor is it only the
character of the age that distracts us, but another calamity to our literary
establishment, which is daily becoming more conspicuous, the contempt, namely,
of the sacred authority of law, and of the reverence due to our ancestors; the
watchful envy of Malignants; the despised tears and sobs of our almost dying
mother, the university (with the eternal loss of the class of townsmen, and the
no small hazard of the whole institution); and the detestable audacity and
licentiousness, manifestly Epicurean beyond all the bounds of modesty and
piety, in which, alas! too many of the students indulge. Am I, then, able, in
this tottering state of all things, to apply a remedy to this complication of
difficulties, in which so many and so great heroes have, in the most favourable
times, laboured in vain? I am not, gentlemen, so self-sufficient. Were I to act
the part of one so impertinently disposed to flatter himself, nay, were the
slightest thought of such a nature to enter my mind, I should be quite
displeased with myself. I live not so far from home, nor am such a stranger to
myself, I use not my eyes so much in the manner of witches, as not to know well
how scantily I am furnished with learning, prudence, authority, and wisdom.
Antiquity has celebrated Lucullus as a prodigy in nature, who, though
unacquainted with even the duty of a common soldier, became without any
difficulty an expert general; so that the man whom the city sent out
inexperienced in fighting, him the army received a complete master of the art
of war. Be of good courage, gentlemen. I bring no prodigies; from the obscurity
of a rural situation, from the din of arms, from journeys for the sake of the
gospel into the most distant parts of the island, and also beyond sea, from the
bustle of the court, I have retreated unskilful in the government of the
university; unskilful, also, I am come hither."
"'What madness is this, then?' you will say. 'Why have you undertaken that which you are unable to execute, far less to adorn? You have judged very ill for yourself, for the university, and for this venerable senate.' Softly, my hearers; neither hope nor courage wholly fails one who is swayed by the judgment, the wishes, the commands, the entreaties of the highest characters. We are not ourselves the sources of worthy deeds of any kind. 'He who ministereth seed to the sower,' and who from the mouths of infants has ordained strength, is able graciously to supply all defects, whether caused from without or felt within. Destitute, therefore, of any strength and boldness of my own, and of any adventitious aid through influence with the university, so far as I know or have deserved, it nevertheless remains to me to commit myself wholly to Him 'who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.' He has appointed an eternal fountain of supply in Christ, who furnisheth seasonable help to every pious endeavour, unless our littleness of faith stand in the way; thence must I wait and pray for light, for strength, and for courage. Trusting, therefore, in his graciously promised presence, according to the state of the times, and the opportunity which, through divine Providence we have obtained,--conscious integrity alone supplying the place of arts and of all embellishments,--without either a depressed or servile spirit, I address myself to this undertaking."
The facts that have been preserved by Owen's biographers sufficiently prove that this inaugural address was no mere language of dignified ceremony. By infusing that tolerant spirit into his administration which he had often commended in his days of suffering, but which so many in those times forgot when they rose to power,--by a generous impartiality in the bestowal of patronage,--by an eagerness to detect modest merit, and to help struggling poverty,--by a firm repression of disorder and licentiousness, and a steadfast encouragement of studious habits and good conduct,--he succeeded, during the few years of his vice-chancellorship, in curing the worst evils of the university, and restoring it to such a condition of prosperity as to command at length even the reluctant praise of Clarendon.
Among other honorable facts, it is recorded that he allowed a society of Episcopalians to meet every Lord's day over against his own door, and to celebrate public worship according to the forms of the liturgy, though the laws at that period put it in Owen's power to disperse the assembly; and there were not wanting those of a less enlarged and unsectarian spirit to urge him to such a course. In the same wise and conciliatory spirit he won the confidence of the Presbyterians, by bestowing upon their ablest men some of the vacant livings that were at his disposal, and taking counsel of them in all difficulties and emergencies. Many a poor and promising student was aided by him with sums of money, and with that well-timed encouragement which is more gratifying than silver and gold, and which, in more than one instance, was found to have given the first impulse on the road to fame. Foreign students of hopeful ability were admitted through his influence to the use of the libraries and to free commons; and one poor youth, in whose Latin epistle, informing Owen of his necessities, he had discovered an unusual "sharpness of wit," was at once received by him as tutor into his own family.
But, amid these generous and conciliatory measures, Owen knew how, by acts of wholesome severity, to put a curb upon licentiousness, and to invigorate the whole discipline of the university. At a public Act, when one of the students of Trinity College was "Terrae filius", he stood up before the student began, and told him in Latin that he was at liberty to say what he pleased, on condition that he abstained from all profane and obscene expressions and personal reflections. The student began, but soon violated all the conditions that had been laid down to him. Owen repeatedly warned him to desist from a course so dishonouring to the university; but the youth obstinately persisting in the same strain, he at length commanded the beetles to pull him down. This was a signal for the students to interpose; on which Owen, determined that the authority of the university should not be insolently trampled on, rose from his seat, in the face of the remonstrances of his friends, who were concerned for his personal safety, drew the offender from his place with his own hand, and committed him to Bocardo, the prison of the university,--the students meanwhile standing aloof with amazement and fear at his resolution. Was there not something, in this scene, of that robust physical energy which had distinguished Owen at Oxford in earlier days in bell-ringing and the leaping of bars?
But the aims of the vice-chancellor rose far above the mere attempt to restrain licentiousness within moderate bounds;--his whole arrangements were made with the anxious desire of awakening and fostering among the students the power of a living piety. His own example, as well as the pervading spirit of his administration, would contribute much to this; and there are not granting individual facts to show with what earnestness he watched and laboured for the religious well-being of the university. It had been customary for the Fellows to preach by turn on the afternoon of the Lord's day in St. Mary's Church; but, on its being found that the highest ends of preaching were often more injured than advanced by this means, he determined to undertake this service alternately with Dr Goodwin, the head of Magdalene College, and in this way to secure to the youth of Oxford the advantage of a sound and serious ministry. It is interesting to open, nearly two hundred years afterwards, the reminiscences of one of the students, and to read his strong and grateful testimony to the benefits he had derived from these arrangements of the Puritan vice-chancellor. We have this privilege in the "Memoir of Philip Henry, by his son." "He would often mention, with thankfulness to God," says the quaint and pious biographer, "what great helps and advantages he had then in the university,--not only for learning, but for religion and piety. Serious godliness was in reputation; and, besides the public opportunities they had, many of the scholars used to meet together for prayer and Christian conference, to the great confirming of one another's hearts in the fear and love of God, and the preparing of them for the service of the church in their generation. I have heard him speak of the prudent method they took then about the university sermons on the Lord's day, in the afternoon, which used to be preached by the fellows of colleges in their course; but that being found not so much for edification, Dr Owen and Dr Goodwin performed that service alternately, and the young masters that were wont to preach it had a lecture on Tuesday appointed them."
But the combined duties of his two onerous offices at Oxford did not absorb all the energies of Owen. His mind appears to have expanded with his position, and to have shown resources that were literally inexhaustible. The few years which saw him the chief agent in raising the university from the brink of ruin, were those in which he was most frequently summoned by Cromwell to his councils, and in which he gave to the world theological works which would have been sufficient of themselves in the case of most men, to occupy and to recompense the energies of a lifetime. We now turn with him, then, for a little to the platform of public life, and to the toils of authorship.
On the 25th of August 1563 we again find him preaching, by command, before Parliament, on occasion of that celebrated victory over the Dutch fleet which established the reputation of the arms of the Commonwealth by sea, and paved the way for an honorable and advantageous peace with Holland. In October of the same year he was invited by Cromwell to London, to take part, along with some other ministers, in a conference on Christian union. The matter is stated in such interesting terms in one of the newspapers of the day, and, besides, affords such a valuable incidental glimpse of Cromwell's administration, that we prefer giving it in the words of that document:--"Several ministers were treated with by his Excellency the Lord-General Cromwell, to persuade them that hold Christ, the head, and so are the same fundamentals, to agree in love,-- that there be no such divisions among people professing godliness as has been, nor railing or reviling each other for difference only in forms. There were Mr Owen, Mr Marshall (Presbyterian), Mr Nye (Independent), Mr Jersey (Baptist), Mr Harrison, and others; to whom the advice and counsel of his Excellency were so sweet and precious, and managed with each judgment and graciousness, that it is hoped it will much tend to persuade those that fear the Lord in spirit and truth to labour for the union of all God's people."
It does not appear that any immediate practical measures resulted from this conference. The mistake, by which many such laudable attempts were defeated, was that of attempting too much incorporation was sought, when they should have been satisfied with mutual Christian recognition and cooperation up to the point of agreement; and sometimes a constrained silence on matters of difference, where there should rather have been a generous forbearance. But it is wrong to speak of such conferences and communing, when they failed of their immediate object, as either useless or fruitless. To the good men who mingled in them, it must have deepened the feeling of unity even where it did not increase its manifestation, and even unconsciously to themselves must have lowered the walls of division. Nor is it without interest and instruction to remark, that the best men of that age and of the next were ever the readiest to give themselves to movements that had this aim. Owen, by the reproaches which he brought upon himself on this account from weaker brethren, showed himself to be before his age. The pure spirit of Howe, which dwelt in a region so far above the petty passions of earth, has expressed its longings to see the church made "more awful and more amiable" by union, in his essay "On Union among Protestants," and "On the Carnality of Religious contentions." Baxter, with all his passion for dialectics, felt and owned the power of these holy attractions and longed the more for the everlasting rest, that he would there at length see the perfect realization of union. And the saintly Usher, prompted in part by the sublime seasonings of Howe, actually proposed a scheme of comprehension, of which, though defective in some of its provisions, and not permitted to be realized, God doubtless said, "It was good that it was in thine heart to do it." The Puritans did more than make unsuccessful experiments of union: they expounded in their writings many of the principles on which alone it can be accomplished; and it seems now only to need a revival of religion from on high in order to accomplish what they so eagerly desired. They were the Davids who prepared the materials of the temple,--shall the Christian of this age be the sons of peace who shall be honoured to build?
It was in all likelihood while Owen was attending in London on the meetings of this conference, that the senate embraced the opportunity of diplomating him Doctor of Divinity. For we find it recorded by Wood in his "Fasti Oxoniensis," that, "On Dec 23, John Owen, M.A., dean of Ch. Ch., and vice-chancellor of the university, was then (he being at Lond.) diplomated doct. of div." He is said in his diploma to be "in palaestra theologia exercitatissimus, in concionando assiduus et potent, in disputando strenuus et acutus". Owen's fiend, Thomas Goodwin, president of Magdalene College, was diplomated on the same occasion; and the honoured associates are sneeringly described by Wood, after his manner, as "the two Atlases and Patriarchs of Independency."
In the midst of these engagements, Dr Owen produced and published, in Latin, one of his most abstruse dissertations,--"Diatriba de Divina Justitia, etc.; or, the claims of Vindicatory Justice Asserted." The principle which it is the design of this treatise to explain and establish is, that God, considered as a moral governor, could not forgive sin without an atonement, or such provision for his justice as that which is made by the sacrifice of Christ. It had fallen to his lot some months before, in certain theological discussions to which he was called by his office, "to discourse and dispute on the vindicatory justice of God, and the necessity of its exercise on the supposition of the existence of sin;" and his hurried treatment of the subject, in the brief hour which was allowed him, had the rare success of bringing many over to his views. Owen was convinced that his principle "struck its roots deep through almost the whole of theology." He saw plainly that its effect, if established, was to raze the very foundations of Socinian error;--yet he was grieved to find that many excellent divines, who held views in common with him on all the great truths of the evangelical system, wavered on this, and that some honoured names had lately given a new sanction to the opposite opinion; among whom were Dr Twisse of Newbury, prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly, in his "Vindicice Gratiae, Potestatis, ac Providentiae divinae," and the venerable Samuel Rutherford of St Andrew, in his "Disputation Scholastics de divina Providentia" This made him the more readily accede to the wishes of those who had received benefit and confirmation from his verbal exposition of the subject, that he would enter on its more orderly and deliberate investigation. We do not wonder that the future expositor of the Epistle to the Hebrews should have been strongly prompted to contend for this principle, since it seems wrought up with more than one part of that colossal argument of inspired theology.
In pursuing his argument, he evidently felt himself dazzled at times by the lustre of those interior truths to which his thoughts were turned. "Those points," he remarks, "which dwell in more intimate recesses, and approach nearer its immense fountain, the Father of light, darting brighter rays by their excess of light, present a confounding darkness to the minds of the greatest men, and are as darkness to the eyes breaking forth amidst so great light. For what we call darkness in divine subjects is nothing else than their celestial glory and splendour striking on the weak ball of our eyes, the rays of which we are not able in this life, which is but a vapour and shineth but a little, to bear."
In other places we can trace indications, that when he was rising to the height of his great argument, his fertile mind was revolving new treatises, which he afterwards gave to the world, and longing for the hour when he would descend from his present altitudes to those truths which bear more directly and powerfully on the spiritual life: "There are, no doubt, many other portions and subjects of our religion, of that blessed trust committed to us for our instructions on which we might dwell with greater pleasure and satisfaction of mind. Such, I mean, as afford a more free and wider scope of ranging through the most pleasant meads of the holy Scripture, and contemplating in these the transparent fountains of life and rivers of consolation;--subjects which, unencumbered by the thickets of scholastic terms and distinctions, unembarrassed by the impediments and eophisms of an enslaving philosophy or false knowledge, sweetly and pleasantly lead into a pure, unmixed, and delightful fellowship with the Father and with his Son, shedding abroad in the heart the inmost loves of our Beloved, with the odour of his sweet ointment poured forth."
The usual number of replies followed the appearance of this treatise, in which Baxter once more stood forth equipped in his ready armour.
In the following year Dr Owen gave to the world another work, of much greater magnitude, extending over nearly five hundred folio pages. He has himself supplied its best description and analysis in its ample title-page,--"The Doctrine of the Saints' Perseverance Explained and Confirmed; or, the certain permanency of their acceptation with God and sanctification from God manifested and proved, from the eternal principles, the effectual causes, and the external means thereof; in the immutability of the nature, decrees, covenant, and promises of God; the oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ; the promises, exhortations, and threats of the Gospel: improved in its genuine tendency to obedience and consolation." The work was immediately called forth by the "Redemption Redeemed" of John Goodwin, an Arminian writer, to whom Owen allows nearly all the most brilliant qualities of a controversialist, except a good cause. He describes him as not only clothing every conception of his mind with language of a full and choice significance, but also trimming and adorning it with all manner of signal improvements that may render it keen or pleasant, according to his intendment and desire, and happily applies to him the words of the Roman poet:---
Monte decurrens velut anmin, imbres
Quem super notas aluere ripas,
Fervet, immnsusque ruit profundo Pindarus ore.
The treatise, however, would be almost as complete were every part of it that refers to Goodwin expunged, and undeniably forms the most masterly vindication of the perseverance of the saints in the English tongue. Even Goodwin, with all his luxuriant eloquence, is sadly shattered when grasped by the mailed hand of the great Puritan. Luxuriant artus, effusaque sanguine laxo Membra natant.
The style of argument is much more popular than that of the former treatise; partly because of the insinuating rhetoric of his adversary, and also because Owen knew that Armenian sentiments had found their way into many of the churches, and that if he was to convince the people, he must write for the people. The following weighty sentence refers to his avoidance of philosophical terms and scholastic forms of argument, and is worthy of Owen's sanctified wisdom: "That which we account our wisdom and learning may, if too rigorously attended, be our folly: when we think to sharpen the reason of the Scripture, we may straiten the efficacy of the spirit of it. It is oftentimes more effectual in its own liberty, than when restrained to our methods of arguing; and the weapons of it keener in their own soft breathing, than when sharpened in the forge of Aristotle."
No part of this elaborate work is more characteristic of Dr Owen than his preface to the reader, which extends over forty folio pages, until you begin to fear that "the gate shall become wider than the city." It contains an account of the treatment which the doctrine had receded from the first Christian century to his own; and in its pages, which are literally variegated with Greek and Latin citations, displays an immense research. But what most surprises the reader, is to find the Doctor, when about the middle of his way, deliberately turning aside to discuss with Dr Hammond the genuineness of the Epistles of Ignatius, and to weigh the evidence which they would afford, on the supposition of their genuineness, for a primitive Episcopacy. One is tempted to trace a resemblance between the theological writing of those times and their modes of journeying. There was no moving in those days with all possible directness and celerity to the goal. The traveller stopped when he pleased, diverged where he pleased, and as often as he pleased, whenever he wished to salute a friend or to settle a controversy.--The work is dedicated to Cromwell. The strong language in which Owen speaks of his religious sincerity is interesting, as showing the estimate which was formed of the Protector's character by those who had the best opportunities of judging regarding it.
The mention of Cromwell's name naturally brings Us back to public events, and to an occurrence which, more than almost any other in Owen's life, laid him open to the reproaches of his enemies. Cromwell having dissolved the Long Parliament in the end of 1653, had a few months after issued writs for a new election. The university of Oxford was empowered to return one member to this Parliament, and Dr Owen was elected. That he did not evince any decided unwillingness to accept this new office may be presumed for the fact that he at once took his seat in the House, and continued to sit until the committee of privileges, on account of his being a minister of religion, declared his election annulled. His systematic detractors have fastened on this part of his conduct with all the instinct of vultures, and even his friends have only ventured, for the most part, on a timid and hesitating defense. Cawdrey and Anthony Wood, not satisfied with commenting on the fact of his seeming eagerness to grasp at civil power, accuse him, on the authority of public rumour, of refusing to say whether he was a minister or not,--a charge which he left at first to be answered by its own absurdity, but which, on finding some actually crediting it, he repelled with a pardonable amount of vehement indignation, declaring it to be "so remote from any thing to give a pretence or colour to it, that I question whether Satan have impudence enough to own himself its author."
But there have been others, who, while disowning all sympathy with these birds of evil omen that haunted the path of the noble Puritan, have questioned the propriety and consistency of one in Owen's circumstances, and with all his strongly-professed longings for the duties of a tranquil pastorate, so readily "entangling himself with the affairs of this life;" and this is certainly a more tenable ground of objection. And yet, to judge Owen rightly, we must take into view all the special elements of the case. All except those who see en ordination a mysterious and indissoluble spell, and hold the Romish figment of "once a priest, always a priest," will admit that emergencies may arise in a commonwealth when even the Christian minister may, for the sake of accomplishing the highest amount of good, place in abeyance the peculiar duties of his office, and merge the pastor in the legislator. Persons had sat with this conviction in the immediately previous Parliament; and in the last century, Dr Witherspoon, one of the purest and most conscientious of Scottish ecclesiastics, after emigrating to America, united the duties of pastor and president of Jersey College with those of a member of Congress, and was only second to Washington and Franklin in laying the foundations of the infant republic. Dr Owen, in all likelihood, acted on principles similar to those which swayed the Scottish divine; and when we consider the avowed and fanatical animosity with which Oxford was regarded by a turbulent party in the state, as well as the active interest which Cromwell and his, Parliament took in the religious condition of the nation, it is easy to conceive how Owen felt that he was only placing himself in a better position for watching over the well- being of the university, and for promoting the interests of religion and of religious liberty, by being there to bear his part in the deliberations regarding it. At the same time, with all these facts before us to qualify our censure, we cannot help thinking that when Owen saw the validity of his election so vehemently questioned, he would have consulted his dignity more had he declined to sit.
In the "Instrument of Government" presented by Cromwell to this Parliament, it was proposed that all who professed faith in God by Jesus Christ should be protected in their religion. In the debates which took place on this part of the instrument, its language was interpreted as recommending toleration to those only who were agreed on the fundamentals of Christian doctrine,--an interpretation which, there is reason to think, injuriously restricted the Protector's meaning. But the question immediately arose, what were fundamentals? and a committee of fourteen was appointed to prepare a statement for the House on this subject; who, in their turn, committed the work to fourteen divines of eminence. Owen was on this committee; and, according to Baxter, had the principal share in "wording the articles." He has been beamed for seeking to limit the blessings of toleration, on the now generally-admitted principle, that a man's religious belief ought not to be made the condition of his civil privileges. But the censure is misplaced. Owen was responsible for the correctness of his answers,--not for the use which the Parliament might make of them; but the abrupt dissolution of the Parliament which, disappointed Cromwell's expectations, prevented their being embodied in any legislative measure.
About the sane period Dr Owen was invited by the Protector and his Council to form part of a committee, from whose labours the cause of religion in England reaped great and permanent advantage. We refer to the commission appointed to examine candidates for ordination; whose powers soon after included the ejection of ministers and schoolmasters of heretical doctrine and scandalous life. Cromwell has been condemned for thus invading the proper functions of the church; and undoubtedly he did in this measure boldly overstep the province of the legislator; at the same time, he was right in thinking that the true greatness of his kingdom, and the stability of his government, depended on the pervading influence of religion among the people; and that it was better that the church should in this irregular manner be purged of its hirelings and moneychangers, than left to sink into inefficiency and corruption.
About forty ministers, "the acknowledged flower of Puritanism," were united with a few Puritan laymen, and appointed to this most delicate office. Undoubtedly, the power committed to them was tremendous, and, in the hands of unscrupulous men, might have been turned to purposes the most inquisitorial and vile. But seldom has power been less abused, or the rare and incidental mischief arising from its exercise, more immeasurably outweighed by its substantial benefits. It afforded, indeed, a tempting theme for the profane genius of Hudibras, to represent the triers, in their inquiries regarding the spiritual life of candidates, as endeavouring--
"To find, in lines of beard and face, The physiognomy of grace; And, by the sound of twang and nose, If all be sound within disclose;"
and high Royalists and partisans like Bishop Kennel, who
had probably smarted under their investigations, in their eagerness to find
matter of accusation against them, might blunder out unconscious praise. But
the strong assertion of the historian of the Puritans has never been
disproved,--that not a single instance can be produced of any who were rejected
for insufficiency without being first convicted either of immorality, of
obnoxious sentiments in the Socinian or Pelagian controversy, or of
disaffection to the present government. Cromwell could, before his second
Parliament, refer to the labours of the commissioners in such strong terms as
these: "There has not been such a service to England since the Christian
religion was perfect in England! I dare be bold to say it." And the
well-balanced testimony of Baxter, given with all his quaint felicity, may be
held, when we consider that he had looked on the appointment of the triers with
no friendly eye, as introducing all the shadings necessary to truth: "Because
this assembly of triers is most heavily accused and reproached by some men, I
shall speak the truth of them; and suppose my word will be taken, because most
of them took me for one of their boldest adversaries. The truth is, though some
few over-rigid and over-busy Independents among them were too severe against
all that were Arminians, and too particular in inquiring after evidences of
sanctification in those whom they examined, and somewhat too lax in admitting
of unlearned and erroneous men that favoured Antinomianism or Anabaptism; yet,
to give them their due, they did abundance of good in the church They saved
many a congregation from ignorant, ungodly, drunken teachers,--that sort of men
who intend no more in the ministry then to read a sermon on Sunday, and all the
rest of the week go with the people to the alehouse and harden them in sin; and
that sort of ministers who either preached against a holy life, or preached as
men who were never acquainted with it. These they usually rejected, and in
their stead admitted of any that were able, serious preachers, and lived a
godly life, of what tolerable opinion soever they were; so that, though many of
them were a little partial for the Independents, Separatists, Fifth-monarchy
Men, and Anabaptists, and against the Prelatists and Armenians, yet so great
was the benefit above the hurt which they brought to the church, that many
thousands of souls blessed God for the faithful ministers whom they let in, and
grieved when the Prelatists afterwards cast them out again."
Every student of the Puritan history is familiar with the magnanimous act of Howe, in recommending Fuller the historian for ordination, though a Royalist, because he "made conscience of his thoughts;" and an equally high-minded and generous act of impartiality is recorded of Owen. Dr Pocock, professor of Arabic in Oxford, and one of the greatest scholars in Europe, held a living in Berks, and was about to have hard measure dealt to him by the commissioners for that county. No sooner did Owen hear of this than he wrote to Thurloe, Cromwell's secretary, imploring him to stay such rash and disgraceful procedure. Not satisfied with this, he hastened into Berkshire in person, warmly remonstrated with the commissioners on the course which they seemed bent on pursuing, and only ceased when he had obtained the honorable discharge of the menaced scholar from farther attendance.
Owen's wisdom in council involved the natural penalty of frequent consultation; and, accordingly, we find him in the following year again invited to confer with Cromwell on a subject which, in addition to its own intrinsic interest, acquires a new interest from recent agitation. Manasseh Ben Israel, a learned Jew from Amsterdam, had asked of Cromwell and his government permission for the Jews to settle and trade in England, from which they had been excluded since the thirteenth century. Cromwell, favourable to the proposal himself, submitted the question to a conference of lawyers, merchants, and divines, whom he assembled, and whom he wished to consider it in relation to the interests which they might be held respectively to represent. The lawyers saw nothing in the admission of the Jews contrary to the laws of England, some of the merchants were friendly, and some opposed; and though a living historian has described theologians as unanimous in their opposition, they were, in fact, divided in their opinion too; some, like Mr Dury, being fierce in their opposition, even to fanaticism; and others, of whom there is reason to think Dr Owen was one, being prepared to admit them under certain restrictions. Cromwell, however, was on this subject in advance of all his counsellors, and indeed of his age, "from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people," and displayed a faith in the power of truth, and an ingenuity in turning the timid objections of his advisers arguments by which they might at once have been instructed and rebuked." Since there is a promise in holy Scripture of the conversion of the Jews," he said, "I do not know but the preaching of the gospel, as it is now in England, without idolatry or superstition, may conduce to it." "I (continued in part 4...)
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