As a friend of Oliver Cromwell a former preacher to the Council of State, and a prominent theologian and academic, John Owen was often called upon to take an active part in the affairs of the Commonwealth and Protectorate. On many occasions he travelled by coach from Oxford to London to preach to Parliament, to sit on committees, to meet Cromwell or to deal with matters relating to the University. Despite his poor health, he made these journeys gladly since for him the progress of the Commonwealth was a significant matter; he saw its moral and spiritual prosperity as intimately connected with the progress of the kingdom of God amongst the people of Europe and the world. As at Oxford his primary aim in all his varied activities in London was to prepare for the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which he firmly believed, included at least the following ingredients: faithful and regular preaching of the Bible in parish churches; the freedom under the law of gathered churches of visible saints; the duty of government to protect and encourage the profession of the Christian Faith; the training of young men in the Faith in order to fit them for the lives of either Christian gentlemen or godly preachers; the support of persecuted Protestants in Europe; the encouragement of the setters in New England and the provision of means to aid the conversion of the Jews to Christianity.
To achieve all or any of these aims Owen was willing to cooperate with or seek to influence whatever government was in power. It seems that he held no particular, dogmatic, political theory. He was opposed to rule by kings at this particular juncture in British history but only because God had revealed Himself as opposed to the House of Stuart. As he made clear over and over again, what he wanted to see was a Council of State and a Parliament in which were men whose hearts worshipped Christ and whose wills sought to do His bidding. This meant that he was happy to be associated with the Rump of the Long Parliament, the Barebone’s Assembly, and most of all with the Lord General, and later Lord Protector, Cromwell. The relationship and understanding between Cromwell and Owen, first initiated at the home of General Fairfax in 1649, and deepened by their life together with the army in 1650–51, was now able (at least until 1657) to be utilised for what both men believed was the good of the nation. From their united efforts, for example, together with the advice and help of others, came the famous Settlement of Religion of 1654 with its “triers” and “ejectors.” Whilst they were not to agree on all matters there was a spiritual bond between them and this cemented their friendship until, as we shall see, the question of kingship sadly separated them.
As both men, and Owen in particular, set their understanding of the necessity for the preaching of the Gospel in the light and context of what they understood to be God’s purposes for His Church as revealed in Holy Scripture, it is perhaps necessary first of all to examine Owen’s views of God’s plan before looking at his practical efforts to realise a small part of it on British soil. The best short summary of Owen’s views of the future of the Church on earth is found in the Savoy Declaration of Faith (1658), which he helped to write.
As the Lord in His care and love towards His Church, hath in His infinite, wise providence exercised it with great variety in all ages, for the good of them that love Him, and His own glory; so according to His promises, we expect that in the latter days, Antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called and the adversaries of His Son broken, the churches of Christ being enlarged and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceable and glorious condition than they have enjoyed.1
We have already met this eschatological optimism in sermons preached to soldiers and politicians in 1648 and 1649 and it reoccurs very noticeably in the sermons Owen preached to the Rump of the Long Parliament in 1651 and 1652.
1This quotation is from chap. xxvi. The origin of the Declaration is examined in chap. V below. See P. Toon, “A Message of Hope for Parliament,” Evangelical Quarterly, XLIV, April 3 1970 for Owen’s eschatology.
On the 24th October 1651, a day of thanksgiving for Cromwell’s victory over the Scots whom he had finally fought at Worcester after their invasion of England, Owen described the Lord General’s “crowning mercy” as one of the most outstanding manifestations of the power of Christ in the Christian era.1 He urged his hearers to believe that there were “three principal seasons of the Lord’s eminent appearances to carry on the kingdom of Christ and the Gospel.” Each one had “dreadful providential alterations” attached to it. The first was the preaching of the Gospel to the Jews which was followed by the destruction by the Romans of the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The second was the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire which was followed by the destruction of the city of Rome by the barbarians of the North. But the third is the greatest of all – “the coming of the Lord to recover His people from antichristian idolatry and oppression” – prophesied in Revelation 17:14 and 19:11–21. As Owen put it:
This is the head whereunto the present actings of Providence in this nation are to be referred; they all tend to the accomplishment of God’s main design therein. He that thinks Babylon is confined to Rome and its open idolatry, knows nothing of Babylon or of the new Jerusalem. The depth of subtle mystery doth not lie in gross visible folly. It hath been insinuating itself into all the nations sixteen hundred years, and to most of them is now become as marrow in their bones. Before it be wholly shaken out, these heavens (i.e. the political glory of nations) must be dissolved and the earth (i.e. the people on the earth) shaken ... This, I say, is the work that the Lord hath now in hand; and this is the day of thankfulness in reference to what He hath done for us in this nation.2
Both victory over Charles I and victory over the Scots, who had supported the young Charles, were seen as part of God’s removal of those barriers in Britain which prevented the dawn of the latter-day glory of the Church.
1The sermon was entitled The Advantage of the Kingdom of Christ and is in Works, VIII, pp. 3ff.
2Works, VIII, p. 322.
The Scots had prepared “a Procrustes bed, a heavy yoke” for the English Church and people. This iron burden of presbyterian discipline which they intended for the parishes of England was “fleshly, carnal and cruel;” it was uncompromising and opposed to the “meek and gentle” rule of Christ. To make matters worse the Scots had wanted to set up a “son of Tabeal”1 as King of England; or, put another way, they wished to re-enthrone tyranny. Happily, God had crushed these moves against His true spiritual kingdom and His victory was plain for all to see. And in His appointed time, God would “bring forth the kingdom of the Lord Christ unto more glory and power than in former days.” There would be peace on the earth, harmony in the Church, purity of Gospel worship and ordinances, multitudes of converts and the subjection of all nations to the cause of Christ.2
1Tabeal is mentioned in Isaiah 7:6. He was probably an Aramean of the Damascus Court, whom the Syrians intended to place on the throne of Judah. Owen refers to Prince Charles.
2A similar conception of the future of Christianity is seen in the dedicatory letter signed by Owen and other Independents in the book Strengthe out of Weakness (1652) edited by Henry Whitfield, and describing missionary work in New England.
A year later, on the 13th October 1652, at the time of the naval war with the Dutch, he again emphasised that “God will surely shake the heavens and the earth ... until all the Babylonish rubbish, all their original engagements to the man of sin be taken away.1 Then the “civil powers of the world, after fearful shakings and desolations, shall be disposed of into a useful subserviency to the interest, power and kingdom of Jesus Christ.” In this fulfillment the Jews will play an initial and major part: “the beginning of it must be with the Jews; they are to be ‘caput imperii’.” Or, put another way: “all the promises of the glorious kingdom of Christ are to be accomplished in the gathering of the Gentiles, with the glory of the Jews. ‘The Redeemer comes to Zion and to them that turn from transgression (that great transgression of unbelief) in Jacob.’ (Isaiah 59:20.)” All this will be accomplished by the pouring out of the Spirit of God.
Great wars, desolations, alterations, shall precede it; but it is not the sons of men that, by outward force, shall build the new Jerusalem; that comes down from heaven adorned as a bride for Christ, fitted and prepared by Himself. Certainly the strivings of men about this business shall have no influence into it. It shall be by the glorious manifestation of His own power and that by His Spirit subduing the souls of men unto it.
This, however, did not mean that Christian men were to do nothing and merely wait for God to act. Owen’s belief was that divine sovereignty of action is always placed in Scripture alongside human responsibility to do the will of God. The former is most evident when the latter is being done, and all is, ultimately, by the grace of God.
1The sermon is in Works, VIII, pp. 365ff. Owen believed that since the Netherlands “whose being was founded” upon the kingdom of Christ, had joined “with the great antichristian interest of Spain” it would inevitably come to ruin. Works, VIII, p. 382.
This sermon included a statement of the duties of human rulers with regard to the propagation of the Gospel since Owen and others were emphatically urging upon the Rump at this time the need for a Settlement of Religion for the nation. Naturally Owen saw this need in the light of God’s current redemptive activity in England. The initial stages of this pressure for a Settlement may be traced to February 1652 when Owen was in London to preach at the memorial service for his friend, Henry Ireton, whom he had come to know at the siege of Colchester and who had been Lord Deputy of Ireland since 1650.1 Owen took this opportunity to confer with other like-minded ministers concerning the provision of a preaching ministry for all parts of the nation as well as what action ought to be taken about the recent publication of the Socinian Catechesis Ecclesiarum Poloniae (commonly called The Racovian Catechism2). This catechism denied the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity; its innovations were heresies. So, on 10 February, a group of ministers, led by Owen and including Philip Nye, Sidrach Simpson and John Durie, appeared at the bar of the Commons to condemn the Socinian teaching and to plead for the prohibition of sales of the catechism. The House immediately appointed a committee of forty to discuss the matter with the ministers.3 The result of this quick action was an order that the whole edition of the book be recalled and burnt.
1The sermon is in Works, VIII, pp. 341ff. It was essentially a funeral sermon and has no religio-political ideas in it.
2The Racovian Catechism was published in Polish at Rakow in 1605 with later versions in German (1608) and Latin (1609). For its use in England see H. J. McLachlan, Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England, 1951.
3The ten ministers were: John Owen, Philip Nye, Sidrach Simpson, William Strong, John Durie, William Bridge, William Greenhill, Adoairam Byfield, George Griffith, and Thomas Harrison. All were known Independent except Durie, the ecumenist, and Byfield, who had been a scribe to the Westminster Assembly.
Also on the 10th February the ministers had made specific requests and proposals to ensure that godly preachers were able to occupy the parish pulpits of the nation. To discuss the questions raised by this second request the House appointed a committee of fourteen who were to receive proposals for the propagation of the Gospel both from these ministers as well as from any other groups who wished to submit their ideas. On the 18th February nine of the original ten ministers together with six more met the committee to submit definite, written proposals, which were printed soon afterwards as The Humble Proposals of Mr Owen, Mr Tho. Goodwin, Mr Nye, Mr Sympson and other ministers.1 The proposals involved, on the one hand, the fullest utilisation of educated, godly men in the task of preaching, and, on the other, the removal from the parishes of ignorant, scandalous, and non-resident clergy. A group of godly and respected men, both lay and clerical, were to travel through the country to examine parish ministers and to eject those who were not fulfilling a preaching ministry. As they went through each county this commission was to recommend to Parliament the names of laymen and ministers there who would then act in that area as examiners (triers) of men who wished to become parish ministers. Conventicles were to be tolerated as long as they were carefully controlled and registered by the Committee for the Universities, and by the local magistracy. Everybody was to be required to go to their local parish church on the Lord’s Day and Parliament was requested “to take some speedy and effectual course for the utter suppressing of that abominable cheat of judicial astrology.” This form of astrology explained events not with reference to God and His righteousness but to the movement of celestial bodies. Then, as now, it was extremely popular.2 The idea was to preserve the parishes of the National Church at a time when its legal, Presbyterian character was possible of no fulfillment. Classes only existed in a few parts of the country and no national synod had yet met. The proposals were also designed to achieve the maximum cooperation between Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists in preparation for the time when, in the coming millennium, denominational differences would be irrelevant. However, the proposals were basically conservative and cautious in that conventicles were to be carefully controlled, tithes retained, and graduates of the Universities used to staff the parishes. There was little in them to cheer the hearts of the sectarians and radicals.
1George Griffith was the one who was not present and the six were: George Marshall, Augustine Plumsted, Matthew Barker, Richard Lee, Ralph Button and Jenkin Lloyd. The printed proposals had a further twelve names attached, including Thomas Goodwin. Cf. F. J. Powicke, “The Independents of 1652,” in Transactions of the Cong. Hist. Society, IX, 1, April 1924, pp. 22–8, where the Humble Proposals, with comments, are printed in full.
2Owen and his colleagues may have been affected by the “Black Monday” scare. For some time before Monday, the 29th March 1652, when a solar eclipse was due, astrologists were prophesying that terrible events would take place. So much so that many people left London in order to avoid the forecasted doom! In the event nothing happened! For details of this and of Calvinistic attitudes to astrology see Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 1970, pp. 299–300 and 367.
The invitation by the committee of fourteen to others to offer proposals did not go unheeded. Two Baptist groups submitted their ideas but they were not printed.1 Captain Robert Norwood, a recalcitrant member of the church of which Sidrach Simpson was pastor, submitted his proposals and then printed them as Proposals for the Propagation of the Gospel. From William Butler, soon to be made a Major-General, came proposals which were printed as The Fourth Paper.2 Butler’s paper was in part an attack upon the proposals of Owen and his colleagues. He complained that if their ideas were adopted there would be no place for religious toleration for either Christian radicals or for Jews, whom he wished to see readmitted to Britain. He also wanted to see the disestablishment of the Church and the abolition of tithes. From a totally different viewpoint came criticism also. Richard Baxter felt that proposals merely from one party, the Independents, was not in the national interest; further, if the proposals of Owen were accepted they would not solve two major problems facing the parish ministry, the questions of church discipline and worship.3
1G. F. Nuttall, “Presbyterians and Independents,” Journal of the Presbyterian Hist. Society, X, May 1952, p. 5 for reference to these proposals.
2In the preface to this R.(oger) W.(illiams) stated that Cromwell said that “he had rather Mahometanism were permitted amongst us than that one of God’s children be persecuted.”
3Baxter was writing to Durie: see Dr Williams’s Library MSS. 59.6.90. The letter was written on May 7.
Owen and his brethren did not know of Baxter’s views, and if they had they would not have worried them. However, because of the four sets of proposals from the sectarians, which if implemented would have aided and abetted error, heresy, and schism, they made it known that they wished to add certain doctrinal articles to their own proposals to ensure that the theology preached in the parish churches and registered conventicles was orthodox and such as would be pleasing to the Almighty. It was probably these doctrinal articles (and not the original proposals as such) that John Milton, knowing that Cromwell disagreed with their addition, criticised in his sonnet, “To the Lord General Cromwell, May 1652, on the proposals of certain ministers at the Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel.”1 In fact the doctrinal articles were first published in December 1652 attached to a second edition of the Humble Proposals and under a modified title, Proposals for the furtherance and propagation of the Gospel in this nation, with the date 1653 attached.2 They affirmed the supreme authority of Holy Scripture, the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity, the centrality of Christ’s atonement, resurrection and ascension, the Chalcedonian Christology, the necessity of regeneration and saving faith in sinful mortals who would obtain eternal salvation, and the worship of God according to His revealed will. If this statement effectively removed Socinians and Unitarians from a legal part in the religious life of England, it also prohibited both Roman Catholic and Anglican worship which was based on either an erroneous or a dead liturgy.3 The question as to whether or not it allowed Arminians is more difficult since, though the doctrines of predestination and limited atonement are not specified, they are implied.
1Milton the Latin Secretary to the Council of State wrote that:
... “new foes arise
Threatening to bind our soules with secular chaines:
Helpe us to save free Conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves whose Gospell is their maw.”
See The Poetical Works of John Milton, ed. Helen Darbishire, Oxford, 1955, II, p. 153.
2S. R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth .... II, pp. 98ff. and Shaw, History of the English Church .... II, pp. 82f. seem not to have realised that this was the second edition. For the original proposals they go only to the journals of the Commons. Masson, Life of Milton, 1877, IV, pp. 392ff. seems only to have known the first edition.
3This is the implication of Art. XV: “God is to be worshipped according to His own will and whosoever shall forsake and despise all the duties of Hs worship cannot he saved.”
Before the Proposals appeared, Owen had preached to Parliament on the 13th October. We noted above the eschatological references contained in his sermon, but it was much more than an exposition of the doctrine of the last things. It was also a strong statement of the duty of rulers and magistrates with regard to the Christian Faith. Owen complimented the members by recounting, how God had used them in the past. “From the beginning of the contests in this nation,” he said, “when God had caused your spirits to resolve that the liberties, privileges and rights of this nation, wherewith you were entrusted, should not, by His assistance, be wrested out of your hands by violence, oppression and injustice; this He also put upon your hearts, to vindicate and assert the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His ways, and His ordinances against all opposition, though you were but enquiring the way to Zion, with your faces thitherward.” Now in the autumn of 1652 when there was a general confusion caused by the expression of radical religious views, Owen was afraid that members would be influenced by them or by the proposals of such men as Major Butler. So he asked the Commons:
What now, by the lusts of men, is the state of things? Say some, There is no gospel at all; say others, If there be, you have nothing to do with it; some say, Lo, here is Christ; others, Lo, there: – some make religion a colour for one thing; some for another: – say some, The magistrate must not support the Gospel; say some, Your rule is only for men as men, you have nothing to do with the interest of Christ and the church; say others, You have nothing to do to rule men but upon the account of being saints. If you will have the gospel say some, down with the ministers of it, chemarims, locusts.1
1Works, VIII, p. 381.
In the face of such varied views, the members must not be confused but remember what were their duties as rulers. To make these clear Owen expressed them in five propositions. These summarised views he had previously expressed.
1. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has a right to be preached and propagated in every nation and to every creature under heaven.
2. Wherever the Gospel is by any nation owned, received, embraced, it is the blessing, benefit, prosperity and advantage of that nation.
3. The rejection of the Gospel by any people or nation to whom it is tendered is always attended with the certain and inevitable destruction of that people or nation; which, sooner or later, shall, without any help or deliverance, be brought upon them by the revenging hand of Christ.
4. It is the duty of magistrates to seek the good, peace and prosperity of the people committed to their charge, and to prevent, obviate, remove, take away everything that will bring confusion, destruction, desolation upon them; as Mordecai procured good things for his people and prosperity for his kindred. Esther 10:3.
5. Although the institutions and examples of the Old Testament, of the duty of magistrates in the things about the worship of God, are not in their whole latitude and extent to be drawn into rules that should be obligatory to all magistrates now, under the administration of the Gospel ... yet, doubtless, there is something moral in those institutions, which, being unclothed of their Judaical form, is still binding to all in the like kind, as to some analogy and proportion.1
1Works, VIII, p. 390.
Of necessity Owen and others of this period had to refer to the Old Testament for the basis of their view of the Christian magistrate since there was little, if anything at all, explicitly stated in the New Testament about the duties of rulers with regard to the Gospel. In the first century the Church was too small to have been faced with this problem. Obviously he wanted Parliament to act quickly with reference to the proposals which he and his brethren had laid before the committee eight months earlier.
Owen’s sermon had no immediate effect but on the 11th February 1653 the Committee at last reported to the House. During February and March the Humble Proposals were debated seriatim and were well on the way to being accepted when Cromwell and his officers dissolved the Rump on the 20th April. Unfortunately we have no information concerning Owen’s reaction to Cromwell’s intervention at Westminster. Neither do we have any record of what were his thoughts concerning the calling of the Nominated Assembly of Saints.1 It is very probable that he shared Cromwell’s optimism for a Parliament of elect saints since on more than one occasion he expressed the view that a nation stood a better chance of receiving God’s favours if that nation had committed Christians as its rulers.2 And when the Barebone’s Assembly (as the Parliament of saints was called) met, Owen preached before it. This was on the 25th August 1653, a day of thanksgiving for the victory over the Dutch fleet on the 31st July.3 Had this sermon been printed we would perhaps have had a clear indication of Owen’s hopes for this Assembly but as it was not we can only guess at them. One fact is certain: if he had entertained hopes that the Barebone’s Assembly would be the great preparer of the way for God to bring in the latter-day glory of the Church on earth, these hopes were soon shattered. Indeed, it is quite possible that, as a result of what happened during the last part of the life of this short Parliament, with its repercussions at Oxford and Cambridge, Owen became less convinced of the nearness of the end of the age. We may recall that the rise to power of the Independents from 1646 to 1649 had had a similar effect upon the eschatological views of the Presbyterians: their optimism had been severely dampened.4 Owen's optimism was cooled by what were for him the dangerous opinions, wild ideas and impractical schemes of some of the supposed saints. His conservative temperament reacted against their desire to change the face of England by abolishing tithes, reforming the law, and remodelling the Universities. Christopher Hill writes that “it is impossible to exaggerate the psychological importance of the failure of the Barebone’s Parliament for Oliver Cromwell.”5 Exactly the same may be said of John Owen.
1See above, p. 69.
2Cf, for example, Works, VIII, pp. 444–5.
3C.J., VII, pp. 297 and 308.
4Cf Wilson, Pulpit in Parliament, pp. 230ff.
5Hill, God’s Englishman, p. 143.
The longer the Barebone’s Assembly sat, the more Cromwell was troubled and bewildered by the course which events were taking; he had hoped, as had Owen, for a sensible, broadly-based settlement of religion and all he got was frustration. So in late October he called a conference of leading Congregational, Presbyterian and Baptist ministers in order “to persuade them that hold Christ the Head, and so the same in fundamentals, to agree in love, that there be no such divisions among people professing godliness, nor railing and reviling each other for differences in only some forms.”1 Among those present were Philip Nye, Stephen Marshall, Henry Jessey and John Owen. No doubt the frustration of Cromwell and Owen was increased when a vote of 58 to 41 on the 7th November within the Assembly abolished tithes. The Committee to consider the propriety of incumbents in tithes then had to find alternative means of maintenance for the ministers. Moderates and radicals were about equally represented on this Committee but somehow the former gained the ascendancy and proposals for the propagation of the Gospel were brought into the House for debate on 2 December. They were similar to those in the Humble Proposals and included both the sending out of eighteen named commissioners, of whom Owen was to be one, to travel throughout the land to set up local committees of “ejectors,” and the compromise suggestion that alternative ways of raising church finance be used in areas where there was deepseated opposition to tithes. As other business intervened it was not until the 6th that this scheme was considered. Then for five whole sittings the discussion continued until Saturday, the 10th, when the first clause of the report which provided for the ejection of scandalous ministers was rejected by fifty-six votes to fifty-two. The moderates had suffered a real defeat. Radicals and possibly a few moderates had voted against it, the former because they were opposed to the very existence of a National Church, and the latter because they feared that the powers delegated to the commissioners might lead to tyranny and persecution. The basic reason, however, for the defeat was growing absenteeism from the House which in this instance was mostly moderates. The rejection of this report left the way open for the radicals to launch a new attack upon the public ministry. Fearing this, the moderates, thoroughly exasperated by recent events and probably at General Lambert’s suggestion, voted on the 12th December to resign their authority to the Lord General Cromwell. Owen was in London at this time and viewed the end of this Assembly with great relief. In 1657, looking back to this period when the radicals were out-manouvered, he described the dissolution on the 12th December in terms of “the Governor of all things so quickly defeating all their councils and all their attempts” against His gospel.2 God had come once more to the aid of His saints but this time His coming involved the punishment not of wicked papists or royalists but of the extreme left of the Puritan movement. The Almighty had, as it were, set in motion a conservative reaction.
1Quoted by Abbott in Writings and Speeches of Cromwell, III, p. 119, from a contemporary news-journal.
2Oxford Orations, p. 42. A. H. Woolrych, “The Calling of the Barebone’s Parliament,” English Historical Review, LXXX, 1965, p. 500 has suggested that Cromwell collaborated with Lambert, Desborough, Pickering, Whalley, Goffe and Owen to pack this Assembly with conservatives. His view is based upon an interpretation of words in A Faithful Searching Homing Word (1659), pp. 14–16. However, as Tai Liu points out in “The Calling of the Barebone’s Parliament Reconsidered,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History, XXΠ, 1971, p. 229, the reference in the tract is to what occurred after the 12th December 1653.
With many others, Owen must have been deeply relieved that Cromwell became the Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. The new constitution, which defined the office of the Protector, was set forth in a document known as the Instrument of Government.1 At last the revolution had a written constitution. Congratulations to Cromwell flowed into Whitehall from all parts and among the messages was a Latin letter from the Convocation of Oxford.2 “Let it be fitting that in the public rejoicing,” said the letter, “the University, your fosterchíld (to whom your good fortune extends first and foremost) should respectfully approach you and join the rest in congratulation.” Cromwell had protected both learning and religion, the letter continued, and, as we would expect, the confident hope was expressed that he would continue to do so. The place of religion in the State was explained in the Instrument. Since Articles XXXV–XXXVII became the legal basis for the Cromwellian Settlement of Religion and were also the basis of the longer statement (with which Owen was to confess full agreement) in the Humble Petition and Advice of 1657, it is perhaps necessary to quote them in full here.
1For the text see Constitutional Documents, ed. Gardiner, pp. 406ff.
2Correspondence, No. 16, pp. 64–5.
XXXV. That the Christian religion, as contained in the Scriptures be held forth and recommended as the public profession of these nations; and that, as soon as may be, a provision, less subject to scruple and contention, and more certain than the present, be made for the encouragement and maintenance of able and painful teachers, for the instructing the people, and for discovery and confutation of error, heresy, and whatever is contrary to sound doctrine; and until such provision be made, the present maintenance shall not be taken away.
XXXVI. That to the public profession held forth none shall be compelled by penalties or otherwise; but that endeavours be used to win them by sound doctrine and the example of a good conversation.
XXXVII. That such as profess faith in God by Christ Jesus (though differing in judgement from the doctrine, worship or discipline held forth) shall not be restrained from, but shall be protected in, the profession of the faith and exercise of their religion; so as they abuse not this liberty to the civil injury of others and to the actual disturbance of the public peace on their parts: provided this liberty be not extended to Popery, or Prelacy, nor to such as, under the profession of Christ, hold forth and practice licentiousness.
In general there was nothing here with which Owen would have disagreed. From his point of view the weakness was the lack of definition of the Christian religion and, as we shall see, he did seek to have this matter remedied.
Before we examine the Cromwellian ordinances for the Settlement of Religion and Owen’s part in their creation, we must notice a significant and important letter which, together with Nye and Goodwin, he wrote to the Congregational churches of England and Wales.1 One of the results of the calling of the Barebone’s Assembly was to intensify eschatological speculation and general instability amongst the separatists and sectarians, be they of the Baptist or Paedobaptist variety. This speculation involved the belief, held by not a few members of the former Assembly of saints, that Christ would soon return to earth to inaugurate the millennial reign of the saints (the Fifth Monarchy) and thus He and His Word (as interpreted by the saints) were the only legitimate source of authority. So, politically speaking, the Fifth Monarchists were anarchists. Worried by the political and social ramif1cations of this chiliasm, the Congregational leaders wrote in early 1654 to warn their brethren of the dangers inherent in the views of the Fifth Monarchists. They had no complaint with millenarianism since all three were millenarians of one kind or another; rather, it was the false deductions made from the belief in the millennium which they attacked. Whether any churches or individuals were saved from anarchical chiliasm through this circular letter we do not know; what certainly happened was that the gulf which existed between the conservative Congregationalists and the radical separatists (e.g. Vavasor Powell and John Rogers) was made wider.2 This of course was also helped by the controversy over the place given to education in the training of ministers which we discussed in the last chapter.
1Correspondence, No. 18, pp. 66–8.
2Cf. for example the comments of John Rogers in the “Epistolary Perambulation” to The Time of the End (1657) by John Canne. Addressing himself to the Independents he wrote that some “of your chiefest heads were once of the same mind with us.” For Powell and Rogers see D.N.B.
The presence of a large and growing sectarian movement made it all the more necessary for the conservative Independents to move quickly to provide for a preaching ministry in the parishes of England and Wales. So Cromwell met Owen and other leading divines to discuss with them how this could be achieved. On the 22nd February 1654, for example, various “ministers and some from the Universities” were at Cromwell’s lodgings.1 As a result of the advice which the Protector received at this and at other meetings, he and his Council of State produced two Ordinances. A general Board, whose members became known as “triers,” was set up on the 20th March 1654 for the approbation of public ministers.2 Thirty-eight men, both ministers and laymen, were named as commissioners and invested with the power and responsibility of judging the qualifications of men who wished to be presented to a benefice or lectureship. The commissioners represented Congregational, Baptist and Presbyterian opinion, but men engaged in teaching at Oxford and Cambridge were a dominant influence. From Oxford came John Owen, Thomas Goodwin and Thankful Owen; from Cambridge came John Arrowsmith, Master of Trinity, Anthony Tuckney, Master of St John's and Thomas Horton President of Queens’. Other important ministers included Joseph Caryl, Philip Nye, Henry Jessey, and Obadiah Sedgwick.3 The Board of whom nine members formed a quorum sat regularly at Whitehall. Each man who presented himself was required to provide three testimonials from men of known godliness and integrity, including one minister, testifying to his holy and good conversation and behaviour. Patron’s rights were kept intact and so was the support of the churches by tithes, despite the promise of Article XXXV of the Instrument. So, as S. R. Gardiner has remarked, “the conservative instinct of the country protesting against further change than was necessary to promote efficiency was abundantly satisfied.”4
1This is what Durie told Baxter in a letter of the 22nd Feb. Dr Williams’s Library MSS. 59.5.199. Cf. also Writings and Speeches of Cromwell, III, p. 206., and Diary of Archibald Johnston, ed. Fleming, II, p. 214.
2For the text see Acts and Ordinances, II, pp. 856ff.
3All these men are either in D.N.B. or C.R. or in both.
4Gardiner, History of Commonwealth, III, p. 24.
A month after its constitution, the Board announced in an open letter to the nation that it was ready to begin work and would seek to conduct its examinations with justice and care. All men appointed to livings since the 1st April 1653 had to be examined. Ministers who recommended candidates should only commend those whom they knew well and whose spiritual state was sufficiently developed to enable them to preach with conviction and usefulness. Unfortunately, no detailed record exists of any examination of candidates in which Owen was involved. However, the names of twenty-seven men for whom he wrote testimonials are known and, as we would expect from his known concern for unity, they include both Independents and Presbyterians.1 As to the general work of the Board, in which Philip Nye played a major part, Baxter pointed out that certain of its members were “over-busie and over-rigid ... against all that were Arminians, and too particular in enquiring after evidences of sanctification ... and too lax in their admission of unlearned and erroneous men that favoured antinomianism and anabaptism.” But he was willing to admit that “so great was the benefit above the hurt, which they brought to the Church, that many thousands of souls blest God for the faithful ministers whom they let in, and grieved when the prelatists afterwards (between 1660 and 1662) cast them out again.”2
1The Admission Books of the Triers are in Lambeth Palace Library, MSS L996–999. Cf. Shaw, op. cit., II, pp. 467ff. From these manuscripts the late Canon C. Jenkins compiled a list of all those ministers who signed testimonials for intending incumbents. The 27 men whom Owen commended are listed under Owen’s name in Jenkins MS 1662. Of these the following are in C.R.: Samuel Malbon, John Francis, John Johnson, Stephen Ford, John Kempster, William Burnet, Abraham Dye, Thomas Waterhouse, John Meadows, Edward West and Thomas Bruce.
2Baxter, Reliquiae, I, p. 72. For criticisms of the methods of the triers see Anthony Sadler, Inquisitio Anglicana (1654) to which Nye replied in Mr Sadler Re-Examined (1654). Sadler was one of those who were not accepted. There is an urgent need for a study of the work of the triers. Little seems to have been written on them in recent years.
On the 28th August a second Ordinance completed the administrative structure of the Settlement by providing for the supervision of ministers at the county level through the expulsion of those deemed unfit to hold parish livings.1 Lay commissioners and their ministerial assistants were named for each county (or group of counties) and they were given the power to call for examination any minister, lecturer, or schoolmaster who was reported to be ignorant, scandalous, or negligent. Negligence meant, for example, omitting to preach on the Lord’s Day; scandalous behaviour included such activities as dancing around the may-pole, taking part in stage-plays, or writing or reaching against the government. Where an ejected minister left his benefice without resistance, the commissioners were empowered to set aside for the benefit of his family a fifth of his successor’s income from the parish.
1For the text see Acts and Ordinances, Π, pp. 968ff.
John Owen and his brother William, the minister at Remenham, were nominated as ministerial assistants to the Oxfordshire “ejectors.” Nominated also from the University of Oxford were Thomas Goodwin, Thankful Owen, Christopher Rogers, Ambrose Upton, Peter French, Henry Wilkinson (of Christ Church), Edmund Staunton, Robert Harris, Ralph Button, Francis Howell and Henry Cornish.1 Again, nothing is known of Owen’s participation in the work of ejection. His general attitude, however, may be illustrated by his efforts to prevent the ejection of Edward Pococke, the Laudian Professor of Arabic, from his living at Childrey. In 1655 some of the parishioners at Childrey complained about their minister to the local lay commissioners who seemed to be in favour of ejecting Pococke. So with Seth Ward, John Wilkins and John Wallis, Owen travelled to Abingdon where he laboured to convince the commissioners of the absurdity of ejecting for insufficiency one of the most learned scholars in Europe. He also wrote to Secretary Thurloe in London complaining about these “men of mean quality and condition, rash, heady and enemies of tithes.”2 Obviously Owen preferred to see learned, moderate men like Pococke in parishes rather than the unlearned, enthusiastic radicals who wished to eject him.
1As far as I know no material is extant to show how these men worked with their lay colleagues.
2Correspondence, No. 32, pp. 82–3, Owen to Thurloe. See also L. Twells, Life of Edward Pococke, 1816, pp. 156–175.
There are similarities between the provisions suggested in the Humble Proposals and the two Cromwellian Ordinances. It appears that the basic ideas of Owen and his Congregational brethren (which were themselves perhaps based on earlier experiments in London and Wales1) were reduced to practical shape by the Protector and his advisers. No doubt the latter took care to notice the comments of the committees of both the Rump and Barebone’s Parliaments. It could well be that the roles of “triers” and “ejectors” were reversed because of comments made in these committees. Whereas Owen’s proposal had been for a national Board to do the ejecting and local Boards the accepting, the Cromwellian Settlement, as we have seen, set up a Board in London to examine candidates and local Boards to eject unsatisfactory clergy. Perhaps Gardiner claimed too much for Owen when he stated that the “Cromwellian Church” was “conceived in the mind of Owen and reduced to practical shape by Oliver.”2 We have no proof, for example, that Owen was the one who conceived the idea of the propagation of the gospel as set out in the Humble Proposals; all we know is that he led those who presented the proposals to Parliament, and that he did much to keep successive governments and Parliaments thinking in terms of propagating the gospel. However, Gardiner was right to say that “with the exception of the condemnation of the use of the Book of Common Prayer the scheme was in the highest degree broad and generous.” And he correctly pointed out that many of those who sought to promote the use of the Prayer Book were a political as well as an ecclesiastical party and therefore the prohibition was not without solid reasons.
1See p. 22, n. 1 above [i.e Acts and Ordinances, II.] for London and Thomas Richards, A History of the Puritan Movement in Wales, 1920, pp. 81ff.
2Gardiner, op. cit., III, p. 24.
Gathered churches were allowed to meet as and where they pleased as long as they did not cause any public inconvenience. They were not required to be licensed as the Humble Proposals suggested. Many men of the Congregational way held parish livings, preached in the “public-place” (as the parish church was often called by those for whom the word “church” signified “people” not buildings) and were pastors of Congregational churches. For this activity they were accused of being schismatics. Indeed, such was the strength of this accusation in 1656, that early in 1657 (as we noticed in the last chapter) John Beverley, the incumbent of Rothwell in Northamptonshire, wrote to Owen in agonising terms asking him to arise and to defend his brethren from what they believed were unjust charges of schism.1 That Owen was also very conscious of what Beverley was experiencing is seen not only from the frequent references to the “party-spirit” in his Oxford oration for 1656, but also from the pleas he made for unity amongst Protestants in the two sermons he preached before Oliver’s second Parliament in September and October 1656.2 Partly in response to Beverley’s cries for help, he did write three books principally aimed against Daniel Cawdry, presbyterian minister at Great Billing, also in Northamptonshire.3 All three books, though firm in their principles, display what was for those times a generous spirit and lack of acrimony. In this Owen practised what he preached.
1Correspondence, No. 47, pp. 96–8.
2The sermons are in Works, VIII, pp. 398ff.
3These were: Of Schism (1657), A Review of the True Nature of Schism (1657) and A Defence of MrJohn Cotton (1658), in Works, XIII.
Though he wanted the National Settlement of Religion to include all godly, learned, orthodox preachers, and though he believed that sound religion would be propagated by their influence in the parishes, Owen still felt that such a Settlement needed a less ambiguous theological basis than that offered by the Instrument of Government. This is made clear by the doctrinal statement which Owen and his brethren had added to the Humble Proposals, and by the draft of a Confession of Faith which, with Thomas Goodwin, he was preparing at Oxford in April 1654.1 So, despite the fact that he was prevented by the Clerical Disabilities Act from taking his place in Oliver’s first Parliament, he was nevertheless glad to be invited to act as an adviser to one of its committees. This had been set up to provide an explanation of what were the “fundamentals” of the Faith and, therefore, of what types of theology and worship were legally permitted by the Instrument of Government. Other divines who were invited to offer advice included Baxter (whose Worcestershire Association of ministers was now well known as a practical experiment in unity), the Presbyterians, Manton, Cheynell and Marshall, and the Independents, Nye, Simpson, and Goodwin.2 Baxter, renowned for his catholicity, would have defined the fundamentals in terms of the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Decalogue, but the majority preferred to set them out in a series of propositions, “the great doer” of which, according to Baxter, was Owen who was helped by “his assistants,” Nye, Simpson, and Goodwin, with Cheynell acting as scribe.3 The sixteen articles upon which they agreed were printed soon afterwards by Owen’s “assistants” under the title, The Principles of Faith presented by Mr Tho. Goodwin, Mr Nye, Mr Sydrach Sympson and other ministers, but were never accepted by the Commons. The chief reason for this was the brevity of the Parliament. A brief study of this document reveals that the propositions are virtually the same as the fifteen articles printed in the Proposals of December 1652. The only additions were an article on the resurrection of the dead and the strengthening of the article on the authority of Scripture. It does not need emphasising that Owen, the “great doer,” regarded doctrinal accuracy as tremendously important and it was for this reason that he acceded to the Council of State’s request of March 1654 to write against the Socínian views of John Bidle, the father of English Unitarianism, set forth in his Twofold Catechism.4 The same motivation was behind his long defence of the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints against the Arminian notions of John Goodwin in 1654, as it was also behind his earlier defence of Calvinism against Laudian innovations in 1643 and against Baxter’s compromise position on the atonement in 1650.5 Never at any time, however, did Owen advocate the defence of orthodoxy by the use of force.
1The preparation of the Confession is mentioned in The Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston, II, p. 246. This is the only reference which I can find to it and so what became of it I cannot tell.
2Cf. Masson, Life of Milton, V, pp. 12ff. for an account of the meetings of the divines and the committee.
3Baxter, Reliquiae, II, pp. 197ff.
4C.S.P.D. (1654), p. 3. Owen’s book was entitled, Vindiciae Evangelicae (1655) and is in Works. XII.
5His book against Goodwin was entitled The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance and is in Works, XI.
Oliver’s first Parliament did not last long. On the 22nd January 1655 it was dismissed and there was no further Parliament for twenty-one months. The pattern of the interim period was set by an abortive royalist rising early in March, at which time, as was noted in the last chapter, Owen hastened to prepare the defence of Oxford. In August, England and Wales were divided into ten (later eleven) military districts each under a Major-General, whose duties were both military and civil. With most of these senior officers (Desborough, Fleetwood and Berry, for example), Owen was on the best of terms and would remain so for many years. He remained also on good terms with the Protector and was chosen by him to preach at the opening of his second Parliament in 1656. Owen’s sermon, published as God’s Work in Founding Zion,1 was in essence a call for Britain to live up to the calling of God which had been revealed in His wonderful dispensations in recent history. He judged that there was need for such a call since, as he also made clear in the sermon he preached six weeks later to the same assembly, the good old cause was being forgotten, and private, selfish interests were beginning to cloud or obliterate the cause of Christ and His kingdom.2 England, he felt, needed a continuing reformation, and Wales still needed sound preachers of the Gospel. It is not coincidental that Owen’s observation that the spiritual temperature of the House of Commons and its supporters was cooling should occur just a short time before open moves were made to persuade Oliver to accept the title of king. Enthusiasm for those spiritual ideals which Owen held sacred was certainly waning in 1656 amongst many of those who had taken part in the revolution and who now wanted to stabilise the country on familiar social and political patterns.3 However, this is not to say that there was no governmental and national concern after 1656 over such matters as the preaching of the Gospel, the peace of the Church and religious toleration. Therefore, before we look at Owen’s part in the opposition to the move to make Oliver the King of England, we shall note his involvement in these very areas, in particular at the conferences he attended concerning the settlement of religion in Scotland and the question as to whether or not Jews should be allowed to re-enter Britain from where they had been excluded since 1290.
1Works, VIII, pp. 398ff.
2Entitled, God’s Presence with His People, in Works, VIII, pp. 428ff.
3Ivan Roots, The Great Rebellion, 1966, pp. 210ff.
In December 1655, the Lord Protector called a series of meetings in London to discuss the petition of Menasseh ben Israel, the Jewish rabbi who was living in Amsterdam, which requested that Jews be allowed to settle in Britain. The petition raised serious theological and economic problems for the advisers whom Cromwell called in to study the matter. Most of the advisers, whether divines or laymen, were of the opinion that before the end of the age many Jews would be converted to the Christian Faith. Some of those present even went so far as to believe that the whole Jewish race would soon turn to Christ and then make Palestine the centre of a regenerated earth. At the same time, the merchants and the divines (who, in the main were “conservative” Englishmen) were well aware of the thrift and ability of the Jews and they feared the competition that would arise if Jews were allowed equal rights and opportunities. So they had to reconcile their desire to see the Jews given the opportunity to turn to Christ in what they believed was the most Christian nation on earth, with the challenge that the competitive ability of those Jews in finance and commerce would bring. Whilst no description exists as to what exactly was Owen’s point of view, it is very probable that he favoured their entry on a strictly controlled basis. This would have meant that religion, relationships with the native English and the places of their habitation should be carefully defined and limited. The members of the conference, however, could not agree among themselves. Little was achieved except perhaps the revelation that it was easier to be Judaiophiles if the Jews remained in Holland or Spain than if there was a serious possibility of their entry into England! Conservatism triumphed in the conference but not in the mind and actions of the Protector. He was incensed at the lack of guidance he received from the divines and laymen and on his own initiative allowed a good number of Jews to settle in and around London during 1656 to 1658.1
1For a discussion of the conference and the events leading up to it see P. Toon, “The Question of Jewish Immigration,” in Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel.
The settlement of the problems of the Scottish Kirk was also complex and difficult. At various times after 1656 Owen was called to London to act as a negotiator or mediator between the two groups from Scotland who were in dispute and had been since 1650. During that year, when Owen himself was in Scotland talking to some of them, the Scottish clergy and leading laymen became divided into two parties: the Resolutioners, who were prepared to accept the aid of any man or party in their opposition to and war against the English and the Remonstrants (or Protestors), who signed a Remonstrance against all, including Charles II, who were not wholeheartedly for the Covenant. The quarrel continued after Cromwell’s victories over the Scots and it kept the Kirk in constant tension. Each side wanted to control policy and place men of its choice into vacant livings. After Cromwell and his Council had appointed fifty-seven men in August 1654 to act as “triers” in Scotland each party tried to gain control of this Board. Eventually both parties in dispute agreed to send representatives to London and to put their respective points of view to the Protector and his advisers. Owen was at Whitehall in February and April 1657 and from what James Sharp, the leader of the Resolutioners, had to say, he was a careful listener.1 He was also much in demand: “Dr Owen is no small person here as to courtship” said Sharp on one occasion.2 Since the early conferences did not lead to a speedy reconciliation, further meetings were arranged for July, and the Council of State appointed referees to hear the various arguments. This time Sharp definitely felt that Owen, with Joseph Caryl and George Griffith (two of the referees), was prejudiced against his party. Neither was Sharp pleased when a report, framed by Owen and Patrick Gillespie, a leader of the Protestors, with whom Owen became very friendly, was put before a meeting.3 The report seemed to accept as just most of the demands of the Protestors. But Cromwell refused to be bound by the recommendation of Owen and his Independent colleagues. Two or more years earlier the advice of the Dean of Christ Church would probably have been acceptable; it was not so any longer. Sharp noticed this fact and reported back to Scotland that Owen was under a cloud at Court.4
1Register of the Consultations of the Ministers of Edinburgh, ed. W. Stephen, Edinburgh, 1921, I, pp. 365–8.
2Ibid, p. 368.
3Ibid, II, pp. 66ff. Before this happened Owen was reported to have said that “he would be content to make a journey to Orkney” if this would help to bring peace to the Kirk.
4Ibid, II, p. 88.
If this was so, it was partly because Owen and the Lord Protector had become estranged over the question as to whether the latter should become King. This estrangement must have been painful to both men. To Owen, Cromwell was the greatest Englishman of the century, a man greatly used of God in the accomplishment of His purposes, and a man who held the preservation of Biblical religion and traditional learning near to his heart. This great respect is seen in the dedicatory epistles to Cromwell in The Branch of the Lord (1650), Musarum Oxoniensum (1654), and in the Latin Orations delivered at Oxford.1 On the other hand, the appreciation of Owen by Cromwell is seen in his choice of him as chaplain, his nomination of him for five successive years as Vice-Chancellor, and in the choice of him as a preacher and adviser.
1In 1657 Owen described Cromwell as “the wisest and most gallant of all men whom this age, rich in heroes, has produced.” Oxford Orations, pp. 25 and 12.
Perhaps the fact that Cromwell and Owen would eventually come to real disagreement was implicit in the report that reached London from Oxford in January 1656 to the effect that “Dr Wilkins of Wadham is likely to prove the man of men there, having lately married the Protector’s sister, Dr French’s widow.”1 It was also strangely foreshadowed in the strange episode of Owen’s arrest at Whitehall Gate in May 1656.2 Nearly a year later, London gossip, anticipating that Cromwell would soon accept the offer of the crown made to him by Parliament, was suggesting that when this happened Philip Nye would become Archbishop of Canterbury and John Owen the Archbishop of York.3 This kind of talk could not have pleased Owen and it is not surprising to learn that, as Richard Cromwell told his brother Henry on the 7th March 1657, “Dr Owen hath been very angry and went in great haste out of London.”4 At this very time the House of Commons was actually proposing to restore the House of Lords and also to raise Oliver to the status of King.5 So Owen had good cause to be angry. He believed that the Republic had been created under the guidance of God in order to fulfill a particular role; he had taken the Engagement to be faithful to the Commonwealth without a King or House of Lords, and he well knew that, in England at least, if past experience was a useful guide, a monarchy and prelacy went hand in hand. Even if Oliver himself opposed prelacy his successors could so easily reintroduce it and thereby destroy all that which the revolution had achieved.
1The Flemings in Oxford, ed. J. R. Magrath, Oxford, 1904, I, p. 101.
2C.S.P.D. (1655–6), p. 319, and (1656–7), p. 108. For some reason he was arrested whilst on his way to a service in Whitehall.
3C.S.P.D. (1656–7), p. 381. At least this is what Marchamont Needham, the newswriter, told the Protector in mid-March.
4Br. Museum Lansdowne MSS. 821.f.324.
5Writings and Speeches of Cromwell, IV, pp. 399ff. According to the Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston, ed. J. D. Ogilvie, III, p. 67, Owen was asked co preach before the Commons at a fast-day on Friday, 27 February 1657, but only after two hours of debate over the matter. Obviously he was not universally popular at Westminster. Cf. C.J., VII, p. 497, and Writings and Speeches, IV, p. 415.
It was Owen’s concern for the purity of the religion professed by the nation that obliged him, even if with reluctance, to help in the moves a few weeks later which finally persuaded Oliver not to accept the offer of the crown. On the 6th May 1657 Oliver met his brother-in-law, John Desborough, in St James’ Park and was told by him that, because of the kingship issue, he “gave the cause and Cromwell’s family up for lost.” Though he would never act against his friend and brother, he would never act for him if he became King. After further discussion, reported Edmund Ludlow:1
Desborough went home and there found Colonel Pride ... and having imparted to him the design of Cromwell to accept the crown, Pride answered, “He shall not.” “Why,” said Desborough, “how wilt thou hinder it?” To which Pride replied, “Get me a petition drawn and I will prevent it.” Whereupon they both went to Dr Owen and having acquainted him with what happened, they persuaded him to draw up a petition according to their desires.
1Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, ed. C. H. Firth, 1894, II, pp. 25–6. Orme, p. 126, states that Owen merely acted as a scribe for Pride and Desborough, but he is obviously wrong. Christopher Rogers, a Canon of Christ Church, signed a petition against kingship, C.R. s.v. C. Rogers. Henry Owen, John’s brother, who was a Major in the army in Ireland and a member of Oliver’s second Parliament, supported the move to make Oliver the King. C. Firth and G. Davies, The Regimental History of Cromwell’s Army, p. 595. This must have distressed Owen also.
The petition was presented to Oliver and it did have some part in his final decision not to accept the offer of the crown. However, it opened a gulf between the Protector and his former chaplain which was never healed. From a reference that he made in a series of sermons in 1657 on the topic of temptation it would appear that Owen believed that Cromwell and many of his associates succumbed to the temptation of Satan during this period.
We are like a plantation of men carried into a foreign country. In a short space they degenerate from the manners of the people from whence they came and fall into that of the country whereunto they are brought; as if there was something in the soil and the air that transformed them. Give me leave a little to follow my similitude: he that should see the prevailing party of these nations, many of those in rule, power, favour, with all their adherents, and remember that they were a colony of Puritans ... translated by a high hand to the mountains they now possess, cannot but wonder how soon they have forgot the customs, manners, ways of their own old people and are cast into the mould of them that went before them in the places whereunto they are translated.1
The section from which this quotation comes begins with an explanation that the gravest temptations are usually accompanied with “strong reasons and pretences.” Certainly plenty of these had been offered to persuade Cromwell to become King of England.
1Works, VI, p. 112.
Even if Owen was opposed to Cromwellian kingship, he was pleased with the clauses on religion of the Humble Petition and Advice,1 which became the legal basis of Oliver’s second period as Lord Protector. The true Protestant Religion as contained in the Old and New Testaments and no other was to be held forth and asserted for the public profession of Britain, and at a suitable time a confession of faith was to be prepared. All who were ministers within the parish system would be expected to agree with and teach this doctrine. Nevertheless, any who professed faith in “God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His eternal Son, the true God, and in the Holy Spirit, co-equal with the Father and the Son, one God blessed forever” and “acknowledged the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the revealed will and Word of God,” but who differed on secondary matters from the public profession were to be allowed to practise their religion under the law. No dissenter from the National Church was to be injured or molested except if he abused his liberty, inflicted injury on others, or disturbed the public peace. Popery, prelacy, and all forms of blasphemy and licentiousness were, however, to be totally banned.
1For the text see Constitutional Documents, ed. Gardiner, pp. 447ff. Owen expressed his agreement with the articles of religion in his preface to the Defence of Mr John Cotton (1658) in Works, XIII, pp. 294–5. “The Parliament of the three Nations,” he wrote, “has come up to my judgement.”
Several interesting but unanswerable questions arise from Owen’s agreement with the articles in the Humble Petition. Did the Congregationalists who met at the Savoy Palace in October 1658, for example, originally intend to produce a confession of faith which could have served as the basis for the confession required by the Humble Petition? An affirmative answer is probably the right one but no evidence is available to prove it and, furthermore, by the time the synod met the Protector was dead. Another question is: What did Owen think about the case of James Naylor, whose re-enactment at Bristol in October 1656 of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey caused so much discussion and trouble in the Commons and is Whitehall? During the debates at Westminster Sir John Reynolds suggested that Naylor would profit from having a conference with “Dr Owen, Mr Caryl and Mr Nye.1 Whether or not Naylor did talk to Owen is not known but, knowing how the Vice-Chancellor treated the Quaker girls at Oxford in 1654, we may suppose that his attitude to Naylor would have been similar. That is, Naylor should be punished for his blasphemy, not for holding erroneous views.
1Diary of Thomas Burton, ed. J. T. Rutt, 1823, I, pp. 79–80. There is a helpful chapter on the significance of the Naylor episode in Roots, op. cit., pp. 203ff. A committee of ministers was actually appointed to meet Naylor but it did not include Owen. Cf. Writings and Speeches of Cromwell, IV, p. 359.
One of the last appearances of Owen in London to take an active part in the affairs of Cromwell’s administration was, it seems, to attend a meeting in November 1657 of the Committee on the Protestants of Piedmont.1 Ever since news of the plight of these people had reached London in April 1655, men like Cromwell and Owen had been deeply touched by it. Milton spoke for them and for many others when he wrote:2
Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints, whose bones
Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev’n them who keep thy truth so pure of old
When all our Fathers worship’t Stocks and Stones
Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
Who were thy Sheep and is their antient Fold
Slayn by the bloody Pietmontese that roll’d
Mother and infant down the Rocks.
1C.S.P.D. (1657–8), p. 149. Cf. Paul, The Lord Protector, pp. 336–9, and Masson, op. cit., V, pp. 40ff. and 342.
2Entitled On the Late Massacher in Piemont in Poetical Works, II, p. 154.
A collection of money was taken for them in Oxford and at many other places and Owen spoke movingly of their plight in his Oration at the Act in 1655.1 It was fitting that one of Owen’s last activities for Oliver’s administration should have been to work out ways of helping suffering Protestants, for this was a matter that touched both their hearts deeply.2 During the winter and spring of 1658, Oliver’s health deteriorated, and eventually, on the anniversaries of his great victories at Dunbar and Worcester, he died. And his former chaplain was not there to minister to him at his bedside. “I saw him not in his sickness nor some long time before,” wrote Owen twelve years later.3 It seems, however, that he took part in the State Funeral some weeks later.4 In and through death they were finally reconciled.
1Life and Times of Anthony Wood, I, p. 198 and Oxford Orations, p. 29.
2Cf. Correspondence, No. 19, pp. 68–70. From Owen and others to the Evangelical Churches of Europe commending John Durie in his search for Protestant Unity. Durie also carried letters from Cromwell. In their search for Protestant Unity Owen and Cromwell were also at one.
3Reflections on a Slanderous Libel (1670) in Works, XVI, p. 274.
4Public Intelligencer, Nov. 22–29, 1658, and Diary of Thomas Burton, II, p. 529.
Chapter V – Changing Responsibilities
Just before his death on the 3rd September 1658, Oliver Cromwell had nominated his son, Richard, as his successor in the Protectorate. To the dismay of royalists, the transition from Oliver to Richard took place without any major incidents. At Oxford a few energetic undergraduates pelted the Sheriff and also Owen’s friend, Colonel Unton Croke, as the former proclaimed the new Protector; but the University and town accepted the news quietly.1 So also did the Dean of Christ Church, who, according to Bishop Gilbert Burnet, was at Whitehall a week after Oliver’s death taking part with Thomas Goodwin, Joseph Caryl and others in a day of fasting and prayer in which God was supposedly blamed for causing further troubles for England.2
1Wood, Life and Times, I, p. 259.
2Burnet, History of my own Time, ed. O. Airy, Oxford, 1897, I, p. 147. I share Orme’s suspicion (p. 190) that Burnet’s account of these devotions is highly coloured and not reliable.
Later that same month public interest was aroused in London as representatives of Congregational churches throughout England and Wales began to arrive for a synod scheduled to begin on the 29th September at the Savoy Palace. Those Londoners who claimed some ability to read the signs of the times could not have believed that the purpose of the synod was merely to discuss the finer points of theology. The state of the nation necessitated that the discussion be related to the political and religious situation in England and Wales. Church assemblies were rare occurrences. More than a decade earlier the famous Westminster Assembly of divines had met, but strictly speaking it was neither a Church Assembly nor even a Presbyterian Assembly. It was a meeting of divines who had been chosen by Parliament, and who submitted their work to Parliament.
It seems that the proposals for this Congregational gathering were made at Oxford in July after the annual Act. George Griffith, minister of the church meeting at the Charterhouse, was appointed correspondent and from him invitations went out to the churches. Some refused to send messengers fearing the synod had unacceptable, political implications, but in the end about two hundred men, mostly “lay” elders, representing over one hundred churches attended, Griffith was appointed clerk and a committee of six – Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, William Bridge, William Greenhill, Joseph Caryl (all of whom had been members of the Westminster Assembly) and John Owen – was appointed to prepare the draft of a declaration of faith and church order. Six of these seven men were “triers” in the Cromwellian settlement of religion and the seventh, Bridge, was a ministerial assistant to the Norfolk “ejectors.” Thus as a group they were deeply committed to the propagation of the Gospel through the parish system and this is clearly reflected in Article XIV of the statement they produced on the institution of churches.1
1This article related to those “who are ingaged in the work of Publique Preaching, and enjoy the Publique Maintenance” and states that they need administer the Lord’s Supper only to the members of the gathered church.
Days of fasting, prayer and hearing of the Word of God were held between sessions and on Sundays. By the 12th October the final draft was approved and John Owen, probably assisted by Philip Nye who had acted as chairman, was asked to write the preface.1 Two days later a deputation from the conference waited on his highness, the Lord Protector, and presented him with a copy of The Declaration of Faith and Order. From the speech which Thomas Goodwin made on this occasion it appears that the basic purpose behind the conference and this document was – from the Congregational standpoint – “to clear ourselves of that scandal which not only some persons at home but of foreign рarts have affixed on us, viz. That Independentism is the sink of all heresies and schisms.”2 The theological doctrines of the Declaration of Faith are those of orthodox Calvinism and in general agreement (though with perhaps a stronger emphasis on federal theology) with those set forth in the Confession of Faith produced by the Westminster Assembly. But whilst the former Confession was seen as a “testimony of faith” by its framers the latter was seen as “a test of faith.” There were, however, important changes or additions with respect to the sections on the civil magistrate, the church and the Gospel.3 It is in the Declaration of the Institution of Churches, (part two of the document) that the principles of the Congregational way are expounded and acclaimed as “the Order which Christ himself hath appointed to be observed.” We must briefly summarise these.
1There is some question as to the authorship of the preface but it is generally attributed to Owen. Sharp spoke of a “sweet preface penned as is thought by Owen,” Register of the Consultations of the Ministers of Edinburgh, ed. William Stephen, II, p. 154.
2There is an abridgement of Goodwin’s speech in Mercurius Politicus No. 438, and this is quoted by A. G. Matthews in The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, 1959, p. 12.
3Chap. xxix, sec. iii. reflects the Independent view of the magistrate:
Although the Magistrate is bound to encourage, promote and protect the professors and profession of the Gospel, and to manage and order civil administrations in a due subseviency to the interest of Christ in the world, and to that end to take care that men of corrupt minds and conversations do not licentiously publish and divulge Blasphemy and Errors in their own nature, subverting the faith, and inevitably destroying the souls of them that receive them; Yet in such differences about the Doctrines of the Gospel, or ways of the worship of God, as may befall men exercising a good conscience, manifesting it in their conversation, and holding the foundation, not disturbing others in their ways or worship that differ from them; there is no warrant for the Magistrate under the Gospel to abridge them of their liberty.
(In contrast the Westminster Confession, Chap. XX gave greater powers in ecclesiastical, doctrinal and moral affairs to the Magistrate.)
Chap. xxvi. sec. ii and v reflects the Independent view of the “visible Catholic Church of Christ” and its latter-day glory. In the first section it is emphasised that there are no church officers who have authority to exercise their ministry to the whole number of professing Christians in the world. This reflects Congregational thinking and is opposed to Presbyterian and Anglican theology which teach that a man is ordained to the Catholic Church not to a congregation.
The whole of chapter xx is an addition and emphasises that salvation is received through the hearing of the word of God. The works of creation or providence, or the light of nature, cannot “make discovery of Christ.” Obviously this section had been inspired by the growth of natural religion since 1648.
By the will of God the Father, all authority in the Church belongs to Jesus Christ. It is He who through the ministry of preaching and by the Holy Spirit, calls people out of the world into communion with Himself. Those whom He thus calls He commands to walk together in gathered churches for the purpose of mutual edification and for public worship. To each particular church, composed of regenerate saints who obey God’s will, Christ gives all the necessary power and authority for the administration of worship and discipline. In a church there are four types of church officer: pastor, teacher, ruling elder and deacon. The ordination or setting apart of any church officer is administered by the local church usually in the presence of “messengers” from other churches. Only the pastor and teacher may administer the seals of the covenant of grace, (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), but, in some cases, “gifted brethren” who do not hold office may preach. A pastor or a teacher may hold a parish living within the State Church and receive the “Publique Maintenance” and at the same time be an officer within a gathered church. By the powers given by Christ the individual church has full internal authority to govern its affairs and excommunicate guilty members, but synods of representatives from churches are helpful and may give advice to the churches.
A. G. Matthews suggests that anyone seeking a concrete example of the type of Congregationalism for which the Declaration was the apologia cannot do better than consult the records of the church at Yarmouth during the pastorate of Bridge, who was also the town preacher.1 The experience of this large and influential church was probably drawn upon in the wording of the articles on church order. Yet the origins of this type of Congregationalism are to be traced to John Cotton and his book The Keyes of The Kingdom of Heaven (1644) which, as we saw in chapter one, was introduced to the British public by Nye and Goodwin and was instrumental in leading Owen to appreciate the Congregational way. Nevertheless, the Savoy Declaration shows no signs of dependence on the Cambridge Platform (1648), the most important monument of early New England Congregationalism. The reasons for this are obvious. The situation in Massachusetts was vastly different from that in Britain and the Declaration was written partly with the non-Congregational public in mind while the Platform was composed as a concise text-book to regulate the churches of the new colonies.
1Savoy Declaration, ed. Matthews, p. 25.
The preface to the Declaration provides very interesting reading. After a justification of the need for confessions of faith in the Church of God, and of religious toleration for those of orthodox theology, whatever their churchmanship, there are sections which describe in what particulars the Declaration differs from the Westminster Confession, and upon what legal basis current English Protestant Christianity was based. A. G. Matthews declares that “anyone reading Owen’s preface might interpret its concluding pages as a thinly veiled plea for the restoration of the remnant of the Long Parliament, the Rump.” Furthermore, he asserts that Owen was “not putting into print an invention of his own, but repeating a fiction from the doctrinaire stock-in-trade of his party (the Republican party) which he had swallowed with the credulity of a recent convert.”1 This is an extraordinary statement but Matthews justifies it on three basic grounds. First, a small but significant republican group existed in London (Ludlow, Vane, etc.) and Owen knew its members. Secondly, the Accommodation Order, passed by the Commons in 1644, was printed in thick black italics in the preface and described as “the foundation of that freedom and liberty” enjoyed in 1658 by the Congregational churches.2 Finally, there is no mention of the Cromwellian Ordinances of 1654 for the settlement of religion in which so many of the men who were at the synod were intimately involved. These are passed over as if they never existed.
1Ibid, pp. 42–43. For the political thought of the Republicans see Perez Zagorin, A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution, 1954.
2This Order required that a Committee of Lords and Commons seek to unite the Presbyterian and Independent groups in the Westminster Assembly and if this was impossible to endeavour to find a way to provide toleration for those of tender conscience who could not submit to a Presbyterian Settlement. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration. 1640–1660, pp. 53ff., and Savoy Declaration, ed. Matthews, p. 43.
Against Matthews it must be emphasised that no evidence (if the Preface is not taken into account) exists to prove that at this time Owen was a doctrinaire republican who wanted to overthrow the Protectorate. The main purpose of the final section of the preface is to argue that orthodox Christians, whether of Congregationalist or Presbyterian opinion, should have the right to practise their different types of church government and that this right was guaranteed by the Long Parliament in 1644. Indeed, Owen argued, the so-called Presbyterian settlement of 1645–6 was not considered to be a full Presbyterian settlement by dedicated Presbyterians. The London presbyterian classis made this clear in its book Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici (1646), which declared their views on church government and showed just how much the national legislation fell short in implementing them. In like manner, the Congregational churches were now publishing to the world their views on church government, which they practised. If asked where the Cromwellian Settlement fitted into all this, Owen would probably have replied that it was simply a State system of providing for a godly and learned ministry in the parishes of England and Wales and thereby filling a gap created by the failure to implement the legislation of the Long Parliament. He may even have believed that the ordinances of the Protector and his Council were invalid now that he was dead unless they were renewed by the new government and confirmed in Parliament. So, it seems that the Congregational brethren, realising that their period of ascendancy in the counsels of the nation was virtually at an end and that Richard favoured Presbyterianism, decided that their best plan was to plead for a basic religious toleration and for unity amongst those conservative Protestants who were opposed to prelacy and the Book of Common Prayer. They were being wise and tactful in appealing to the order of a Parliament which was held in such honour by both Independents and Presbyterians. This explanation does not solve all the problems raised by the preface, especially the large claim made for the Accommodation Order, but it does cast serious doubts on Matthews’ assertion that Owen was a doctrinaire republican. Furthermore, as we shall see later in this chapter, Owen’s activities during 1659, though difficult to unravel and interpret, do not provide evidence for doctrinaire republicanism.
Soon after the Congregational synod ended Richard and his Council made the decision to call a Parliament.1 Oliver’s Lords were to be summoned to the other house and the Commons to be elected “according to the ancient rights of the nation” in the days of Charles I, except for the disqualification of overt papists and royalists. This return to the old ways was possible because the Humble Petition and Advice had been silent on electoral provisions. Though the elections brought back into Parliament some swordsmen and some commonwealthsmen the majority were moderates or neuters who could be swayed one way or the other on most topics but who were in general agreement that the independence and power of the army had to be reduced. As part of the official opening ceremony on the 27th January, 1659, Thomas Goodwin was chosen to preach to Richard, his Council, and the Lords and Commons in Westminster Abbey. He spoke from Psalm 35:10, “Mercy and Truth are met together; righteousness shall look down from heaven.”2 Later that day the Commons chose their Speaker and other officials and then decided to set apart the 4th February as a day of humiliation. Four ministers were chosen to assist but the order in which they were to be named provoked a discussion. Eventually they were named as Edward Reynolds, Thomas Manton, John Owen and Edmund Calamy.3 Had it not been for the forceful speaking of General John Lambert then Owen would probably have been named last of the four. Yet the fact that Owen was to be named last suggests that he was regarded by most MRS as being in close contact with the army leaders and therefore not to be trusted to the extent that the three Presbyterian ministers could be trusted.
1For the complicated history of this period see Godfrey Davies, The Restoration of Charles II, San Marino, 1955.
2Ibid, p. 49. The sermon was never printed.
3C.J. VII. 595–6.
Whilst Owen was certainly a close friend of the grandees of the army, his sermon on the 4th February shows no signs of being a defence of the power of the army in national affairs.1 It was a call (and a fairly unpopular one if the reaction against it mentioned by Owen in the dedicatory epistle is to be taken at its face value) to promote the kingdom of God in England and not add to the bitterness caused by sectarian and denominational rivalry. From his text, Isaiah 4:5, he deduced two basic propositions which were then applied to the situation in the country. They were: “the presence of Christ with any people is the glory of any people” and “the presence of God in special providence over a people attends the presence of Christ in grace with a people.” In his view Christ was present with a people in two ways. First, in the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of its ordinances, and secondly, through His Spirit dwelling in the hearts of true believers. So looking back on British history since 1642, it could be said that all spiritual reformation which had been achieved in the revolution was by “the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts.” “It was not by prudence of councils, or strength of armies above that of our enemies that we prevailed,” stated Owen, “but by faith and prayer: and if any one be otherwise minded I leave him for his resolution to the judgement of the great day, when all transactions shall be called over again.” The great danger in 1659 was that many people were falling to temptation and were doubting the glorious work of God in England in the last two decades. And as the true greatness of Britain was intimately connected with the progress of the cause of Christ, it was most necessary that men realise that the strategy of Satan was to cause the doubts, quarrels and divisions within the ranks of professing Christians. In knowledge of this, the preacher’s advice to his hearers was that they each seek to let Christ rule in their own hearts, that they oppose the “overflowing flood of profaneness” that was spreading through the land, and that they “value, encourage and close with them in and with whom is the presence of Christ.” The question naturally followed as to who were the people in whom was Christ’s Spirit. Owen answered this by saying that they were people who not only spoke in religious language but who were obviously righteous in their living. Righteousness was not to be judged by men’s views on either civil or church matters but by the quality of their lives. Those who were committed to a particular form of church polity or a particular philosophy of the civil state could not have been greatly encouraged by Owen for his intention was to persuade men to seek after those essential spiritual principles which united men who were of different judgements on secondary matters. His view that the unity of the true saints and their encouragement was of far greater importance than the promotion of any theory of the government of Church or State was, needless to say, not a popular one. At this time it seemed that each religious and political group was intent on promoting its own ends without regard to the good of the nation and its people.
1It was published as The Glory and Interests of Nations and is in Works VIII, pp. 453ff. Davies, op. cit., pp. 453ff. describes this sermon as though it were preached in May 1659 to the restored Rump. Only one of the other three sermons was printed and even that was in an abbreviated form. It was by Reynolds and is in The Substance of Two Sermons (1659). His theme was “unity of Judgement and love of the brethren.”
Unfortunately, unity of the saints seemed less probable as the months of 1659 went by. During February a whole crop of pamphlets appeared, written by sectarian preachers and republicans, which called for a return to the “good old cause” as they understood it.1 By early March many soldiers were showing signs of losing patience with the Parliament since nothing was being done to settle their arrears of pay. As the junior officers resumed their regular meetings, which they had last held in 1657, it became obvious that the army was faction-ridden. Colonels Ingoldsby, Goffe and Whalley, with many officers in Ireland and Scotland, supported the Protector. Others, the Commonwealthsmen, including Colonels Ashfield, Lilburne and Fitch, with many inferior officers, objected to the kingly nature of the régime established under the Humble Petition and Advice and wanted a return to some form of republicanism. A third grouping, the Wallingford House Party –so called after the residence of General Fleetwood – which included most of the senior officers, stood for the maintenance of the power of the grandees both in the army and civil matters.2 It was Owens wish to remain on the best of terms with each group and seek to heal the differences. He abhorred the existence of faction and party-spirit as much in the army as in Parliament or at Oxford.
1For an account of this preoccupation with the “good old cause” see A. H. Woolrych, “The Good Old Cause and the Fall of the Protectorate,” Cambridge Historical Journal, XIII, 2. pp. 133–161.
2Davies, op. cit., p. 74.
Possibly it was with a view to healing the divisions in the army that Owen gathered a Congregational church of officers and their families in London. On the 15th March it was reported by Arthur Annesley to Henry Cromwell that “Dr Owens hath gathered a church in the Independent way and that Lord Fleetwood, Lord Desborough, Lord Sidenham, Berry, Goffe and divers others were admitted members.” And significantly, he added that this church “hath divers constructions put upon it and is not that I heare well liked at Wallingford House.”1 A week earlier James Sharp had told a Scottish correspondent that “Owen hath lately erected a congregation about Whitehall of which Fleetwood, Desburrie, Lambert, Berrie, Whaley are members, upon a state project.”2 These two references supply us with all the known members of the church. Baxter stated that it met in Wallingford House but this is unlikely at this stage 3 The known membership does indicate that representatives from at least two of three factions in the army were on friendly terms with Owen and with each other; and it may be that amongst the membership which is not known to us there were Commonwealthsmen. In view of the political situation in London Owen was probably tactless to engage in the role of pastor of such a church since its very existence, as the above two quotations make clear, was open to misunderstanding. His aims were honourable but he would perhaps have been better employed in Christ Church, where he was still Dean, and where he was leaving the main work of the College to the Sub-Dean and Chapter. He judged, however, that the cause of Christ was best served by his presence in London where he could plead for unity amongst the saints.4
1Br. Mus. Lansdowne MSS. 823.f.251.
2Register of the Consultations, II, p. 154.
3Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, I. p. 101.
4It is interesting to note that during Owen’s prolonged absence from Oxford there was further disagreement over the nature and type of University Visitors. According to Wood, Life and Times, I, p. 268, Conant wrote to Owen telling him that “he must haste to Oxon for godliness lay a-gasping.” Unfortunately we have no account of Owen’s reaction to this request.
Towards the end of March the Wallingford House party made overtures to the civilian Republicans in the House of Commons and a meeting was arranged with Edmund Ludlow. At this meeting Ludlow asked the officers to join with the Commonwealthsmen in the army and the Republicans in the Commons to restore the government “which had cost the nation so much blood to establish” – the Rump of the Long Parliament.1 The senior officers, however, had no desire to ruin their friends who supported the Protector, and nothing definite was agreed; but, as subsequent events showed, they underestimated the strength of the Commonwealthsmen in the army. The next move of the grandees was to call a General Council of officers. This met in a dark mood on the 2nd April and composed a strongly-worded statement, The Humble Representation and Petition. They contended that the good old cause was frequently derided in public, that many Cavaliers were entering Britain, that the army was in great extremity for lack of pay and that they, the officers, intended to help the Protector and Parliament “in plucking the wicked out of their places.”
1Ludlow, Memoirs, ed. C. H. Firth, II, pp. 61ff.
The sober Whitelocke judged that the petition, was “the beginning of Richard’s fall” and Annesley compared it to “lightning before thunder, both to the Protector and to the House.”1 Richard received this potentially explosive document on the 6th April and two days later sent a copy of it, with his own letter attached, to both Houses of Parliament, but, as was expected, it was not received with enthusiasm. The dilatoriness of Parliament served to increase the frustration of the army which decided to set aside the 13th April as a day of fasting and prayer. With Hugh Peter, Owen took part in the devotions but afterwards Peter complained that he did not know what was the true purpose of the gathering.2 He felt that many officers saw it as a means of paving the way for a momentous decision – the overthrow of Richard just as a prayer-meeting at Windsor in 1648 had prepared the ground for the decision to put Charles I on trial. Owen, it seems, made no such protest, for his close relationship with the officers served to provide him with information about their intentions. His agreement to participate would have been made because he wished to seek to heal differences and promote unity despite his knowledge of the intentions of some of the 500 officers.
1Cited by Davies, op. cit., pp. 77–8.
2Davies, op. cit., p. 79 n. 42.
A few days later Richard ordered Desborough to disband the General Council of officers. The latter, however, refused, claiming the Council’s right to meet whenever it pleased until its just demands were met, and suggesting that in the view of the Council the Parliament should be dissolved. On the 19th and the 20th April there was a deceptive calm before the decisive events of Thursday the 21st. On that day Richard sent a messenger to Fleetwood requesting that he come to Whitehall. The general, knowing the intention was to arrest him, refused. So Richard decided to call a general rendezvous of the army at Whitehall in opposition to Fleetwood’s order that it meet at St James. Though Oliver could have done this and met an obedient army, his son did not have the necessary prestige and so most of the army assembled at St James. Richard had failed and later that same evening he was visited by the grandees led by Desborough. With suitable threats they persuaded him to sign a commission for the dissolution of Parliament on the next day. This visit to Richard followed some hours of intense discussion at Wallingford House at which Owen was present. Thomas Manton had also been invited but, arriving late, he heard what he believed to be the loud voice of Owen from within the room saying “he must down and he shall down.” Taking this as a possible reference to the overthrow of the Protector he decided to go home and have no part in the proceedings.1
1Daniel Neal, History of the Puritans, 1738, IV, p. 209 and Orme, p. 213.
The dissolution of Richard’s Parliament marked the practical collapse of the Protectorate. One contemporary witness noted, with some sarcasm, that “Wallingford House is the scene for action. There ... the greatest officers seeke God for counsel and act their own way.”1 Owen took part in their devotions as well as in those of the junior officers at St James.2 From the Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston we are able to gain some indication of Owen’s thoughts and activities between the 30th April and the 3rd May, the period which led to the decision to recall the Rump of the Long Parliament. On the 30th April Sir Archibald wrote:
Foranoon I mett with Doctor Owen, Col. Sydnham, Mr King, Griffeth and at last with my Lord Fleetwood, and told them largely my reasons aginst calling the Long Parliament. I heard they had agreed to byde one be another and manteane civil and spiritual libertyеs already obteaned, and submitt to what government God shal inclyne them to. I heard the Protector was not very sensible of his condition tho Doctor Owęn spak thryse to him.3
This clearly indicates that no decision had yet been taken by Fleetwood and his fellow grandees to call a Parliament despite the many petitions they had received for the recall of the Rump. Also, it seems, Owen was acting as an intermediary between the Protector and the senior officers. By the 3rd May, after more thought and prayer a major decision seemed in sight.
I mett, after a report of the resolving on a long Parliament with Dr Owen who told me he had better hoopes of things going in a better waye nor before to eschow the calling of the Long Parliament unles they were secured anent the gourvernment, what they thought fittest, to keepe the Protectors title and dignitye, to haive an good Counsel and the uther House or Senate fixed and the new representative qualifyed. I heard the officers was at fasting and praying this daye, thereafter that some of them was meeting at Sir Hary Vaynes with him, Hazelrig, Salloway, Ludlow and with them Jones, Sydnham, Lambert and Berry.4
1Nicholas Papers, ed. G. F. Farmer, 1886–1920, IV, p. 122.
2Woolrych, op. cit., p. 155.
3Diary of Archibald Johnston, III, p. 106.
4Ibid, III, pp. 107–8.
The notion of a titular Protectorate, a godly Council of State, a Senate and a new Parliament was not Owen’s idea. The grandees wanted to retain a nominal Protectorate, appoint a Council of State they could trust, and have a second chamber acting as the guardian of certain fundamental laws as well as of their own continued existence. Only few senior officers wanted to recall the Rump although as Sir Archibald mentioned they were having discussions with the Republican leaders. These talks were not conclusive and it was left to Owen to intervene. He decided that the recall of the Rump was the only feasible solution to the complex situation and so he acquired from Ludlow a list of about one hundred and sixty names of men who were still alive who had been members of the Rump and presented them to Fleetwood in order to convince him that they could make a viable Parliament.1 Whether or not Owen felt that a titular Protectorate could be preserved alongside the Rump or whether or not he felt some senate could also be nominated we do not know. Reluctantly, and, it seems, with little thought of what problems a restored Rump would pose, the army leaders accepted the idea and on 6 May the order was given for the members to return to Westminster after their long absence of six years. On the 8th May, which was a Sunday, they heard a sermon from Owen, but regrettably, this was never printed. So we are deprived of an important indication of how he saw the role of this resurrected Parliament. By this time Richard had realised that the existence of a titular Protectorate was intolerable and on the 25th May he resigned to return to the life of a country gentleman.
1Ludlow, Memoirs, II, p. 74.
It is most difficult to evaluate Owen’s share in the responsibility for the necessary resignation of Richard Cromwell. Richard Baxter had no doubts as to Owen’s guilt:
Dr Owen and his assistants did the maine work: his high spirit now thought the place of Vicechancellor & Deane of Christs Church to be too low: and if the Protector will not do as he would have him, he shall be no Protector: he gathereth a church at Lieutenant Generall Fleetwoods quarters at Wallingford House, consisting of the active officers of the Army! (This Church-gathering hath bin the Church-scattering project.) His parts, & confidence, and busy-bodiness, & interest in those men who did give him the opportunity to do his exploits; & quite put Hugh Peters besides the chairs (who had witt enough to be against the fall of Rich. Cromwell, seeing how quickly his owne would follow). Here fasting & prayer, with Dr Owens magisteriall counsell, did soon determine the Case, with the proud & giddy headed Officers, that Richards Parliament must be dissolved, and then he quickly fell himself.1
1See Geoffrey F. Nuttall, “Richard Baxter’s Apology (1654); its occasion and composition,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History, IV, 1, pp. 69ff., where this section is printed. The abridged form is in Reliquiae, I. p. 101. Matthew Sylvester, the editor of the Reliquiae, did not wish to print even the abridged form of Baxter’s comments and he tried co get some explanation of them from Dr Owen’s widow but she refused to cooperate.
In the main Baxter’s facts are right (except perhaps for the placing of the church as meeting initially in Wallingford House), but his interpretation, as we would expect from one who had little sympathy with the Independents, is biased against Owen. A similar accusation was made by George Vernon in 1670.1 He wrote that Owen became the “Instrument of Ruine” to Richard “because that rickshaw of Authority and Policy espoused the Presbyterian interest.” Replying to Vernon, Owen claimed that he had no more to do with the “setting up and pulling down” of the Protector than Vernon himself.2 In saying this Owen was claiming too much. While it is true that he had had no part in making Richard the Lord Protector he certainly had some part, howbeit a small and indirect one, in the fall of Richard. Asty, however, felt that Owen could not be blamed in any way for Richard’s resignation and he quoted a letter belonging to James Forbes of Gloucester to show that during the days when the grandees were deciding that Richard’s Parliament should be terminated, Owen was so worried by the situation that he became sick and had to ask a friend of Forbes to preach for him in Whitehall.3 If this is so, it is somewhat surprising that Owen did not immediately leave London and return to Christ Church where he could have served a more useful purpose. The fact that he stayed in London and involved himself in the discussions of the officers in Wallingford House as well as the fact that he preached to the Rump do involve him to some degree in culpability for what occurred. Unfortunately for him and his cause, he was involved in the complex affairs of the nation at a time when religious zeal, personal ambition and party prejudice were rampant and intertwined and so he was to some extent involved in many of the results of pride, ambition and selfishness, even though these were sins against which he had often preached. Nevertheless, his own conscience (and he was an honest man) informed him, as he told Vernon, that he was not responsible for the downfall of Richard. And, because of lack of further evidence, we must leave the matter there.
1Vernon, A Letter to a Friend, 1670, p. 28.
2Owen, Reflections on a Slanderous Libel, in Works, XVI, p. 274.
3Asty, p. xix. The friend of Forbes is not named.
If the grandees had recalled the Rump as a smokescreen for their own rule, they soon found that life was far from comfortable for them. Fleetwood was officially Commander-in-Chief of the army but his powers were very limited. He could not, for example, personally appoint junior officers since all appointments had to have parliamentary approval. The new Council of State was also firmly civilian and closely related to Parliament. Naturally, royalist activists saw the opportunity for action and Lord Mordaunt shewed his enthusiasm for Charles II by giving himself the task of reorganising the royalist interest in England. He sought to unite the old royalists who had stood by the king in the civil wars and the new royalists who were worried by the state of the nation. In June such was gossip in London that bets were being laid that the Rump would not last more than two more weeks. Realising the gravity of the problems facing the country, Owen’s church, which by this time had begun to meet in Wallingford House, sent a letter to the Congregational church at Yarmouth, which, as we noted above, was one of the most important churches in the country.1 The entry for the 7th June 1659 in the Yarmouth church book reads:
This day the Church received a letter from the Church at Wallingford House desiring advice from the Church what they apprehended was needful for the Commonwealth; the Church considering it, ordered the elders to write to them, thanking them for their love and care of them; but considering civil business, the Church, as a Church, desire not to meddle with.
1A copy of the Yarmouth church book is among the MSS of the Library of New College, London, and I am grateful to Dr G. F. Nuttall for allowing me to consult it. The two following entries are quoted by John Stoughton, History of Religion in England, 1881, III., p. 28. Cf. John Browne, History of Congregationalism ... in Norfolk and Suffolk, 1877, pp. 225–8.
Of similar import is the entry for the 10th July when another letter has been received:
Ordered by the Church upon the receipt of a letter from the Church at Wallingford House, that Wednesday, the 13th July, should be set apart to humble our souls before the Lord, both in regard to the sins of the nation and also to seek the Lord for direction and assistance for the carrying on the Lords work in the nation.
Regrettably this second letter from Owen’s church is not extant and we are thus deprived of interesting insights both into the names of the signatories and also into the contents of the letter. One thing at least is certain – Owen and the church elders (Desborough, Fleetwood, Berry?) felt that the advice of William Bridge and his church was extremely valuable. This, in turn, suggests that the grandees were totally confused as to what they could or should do for the preservation of the good old cause. Unlike such men as Ludlow and Vane and some of their junior officers they were not committed to doctrinaire republicanism; rather, they wanted to preserve their own place in the nation and also guarantee certain basic civil and religious liberties. But how to do this was a problem.
The passage of events, however, took the control of the future out of the hands of most of those who formed the church in Wallingford House. Although the royalists hoped that local rebellions would break out in many places, only in Cheshire did anything happen which looked like a serious threat to the authority of the Rump. There Sir George Booth raised about four thousand men and occupied Chester on the 2nd August with the enthusiastic support of the local Presbyterian clergy. News of this uprising reached Westminster on the 3rd which was a fast-day. Owen, Caryl and Lockyer were assisting in the devotions. Immediately John Lambert was appointed as commander-in-chief of the parliamentary army and sent North to deal with the rebellion.1 On the 19th he scattered Booth’s army at Winnington Bridge near Nantwich. Earlier in the month, when the very worst was feared, the Congregational churches had offered to raise three regiments for the use of Parliament and John Owen had hurried back to Oxford in order to raise a troop of cavalry for the defence of the University, just as he had done four years earlier when similar uprisings were expected.2 Meanwhile the victorious army, justly claiming that the defeat of the great royalist conspiracy was largely its own work, began to show its discontent and to press for its arrears of pay and for reforms. As a result of this agitation the Rump revoked the commission of some officers and ordered the arrest of Lambert. His answer to all this was to surround the House and refuse to allow the Speaker and members to enter. Once more the Rump had been closed by the military!
1Davies, op. cit., pp. 140ff.
2B. Whitelocke, Memorials of the English Affairs, Oxford, 1853, IV., p. 357, and C.S.P.D. (1659–60), p. 110.
The news that the army had expelled the Rump reached General Monck in Scotland on the 18th October. He had prepared for the national emergency and immediately declared that he would restore civil government. His decision meant that the armies of the Commonwealth were divided amongst themselves. After purging his forces of about one hundred and fifty officers, Monck wrote to Fleetwood, Lambert, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, to make clear to them his disapproval of what had happened and his intention to uphold Parliament. This intention was also affirmed in the Declaration of the Officers of the Army in Scotland to the Churches in the Three Nations, copies of which were available in London before the end of October. Representatives of the London Congregational churches studied this document and were not wholly satisfied as to Monck’s promises. So they decided to send immediately to Scotland two ministers, Joseph Caryl and Matthew Barker, and two ruling elders, Edward Whalley and William Goffe, both of whom had supported the Protector in the recent troubles and were thus likely to be acceptable to Monck. They also wrote a letter to the General to be taken by the deputation; amongst those who signed it were John Owen, Philip Nye, William Greenhill, and Henry Scobell, the former clerk to the Privy Council and Council of State.1
1Correspondence, No. 58 pp. 105–6. The London Churches to Monck.
The deputation was received at Holyrood by Monck, two colonels, two chaplains and the Scottish Judge Advocate, Barrow. Caryl delivered a speech the substance of which had been agreed in London. He claimed that the interruption of Parliament could not be justified but even so General Monck had no right to intervene in the matter. His work was to keep Scotland quiet. If the armies of the Commonwealth continued to quarrel only the Royalists and Prelatists, the “common enemy,” would gain any benefit, whilst the saints of God would suffer. Replying, Monck affirmed that it was Lambert who had caused all the trouble and that Parliament must be restored. When the deputation left for London it carried Monck’s reply to the letter from the London churches. In it he promised that their “interest, liberty and encouragement” would be dear to him.1
1Correspondence, No. 60, p. 109. Monck to Owen and others.
When Owen heard that the commissioners of the Scottish and English armies had signed an agreement in London on the 15th November, he decided to send a personal letter to the General, who he realised held the balance of power in Britain. “There are,” he wrote,1 “two evils that we have cause to fear: the one is the prevailing of the Common Enemy over us; the other the prevalency of fanatical, self-seeking persons amongst us.” It is difficult to decide whom he had in mind as “fanatical:” perhaps it was Lambert or perhaps the Republican leaders, Ludlow, Vane and others. To avert the dangers from all sides the armies must unite. One obstacle to their unity seemed to be a difference of opinion concerning the Rump; Monck wanted it restored whilst Fleetwood, Lambert, Desborough and others did not. So Owen expressed his own viewpoint:
Most of the persons of that number are my old friends and acquaintance. I may say freely that I ventured somewhat for their sitting. I know nothing at all of their dissolution, being for about five weeks before absent from this place; nor shall I take off from their esteem by a review of their actings during their session. Yet this I shall say, that it were better that both they, and I and hundreds of better men than myself were in the ends of the earth, than that this cause should be ruined by the armies’ contest about them. For my own part I am satisfied with these two things: first, that without their restoration a free State or Commonwealth may be settled, the Common Enemy defeated, the ministry preserved, reformation carried on and all the ends of our engagements satisfied, if your Lordship and those with you concur in the work; and secondly that their reinvestiture cannot be effected without the blood of them whose ruin I am persuaded you seek not ...
1Correspondence, No. 59, pp. 106–8. Owen to Monck.
This extract makes clear that Owen’s republican sentiments were not sufficiently strong to press for the restoration of the Rump. He feared that it could not return without the ruin of Lambert and others. Yet just what kind of government he had in mind instead of the Rump is not clear. His friend, Lord Fleetwood, who was still nominally the Commander-in-Chief of all the forces, and the Council of officers, talked of electing a new Parliament which would meet on the 24th January 1660, but this came to nothing. By this time all that Owen wanted was a government which would give Congregational churches the freedom to worship God according to their views of the divine will and would also guarantee basic civil liberties. So in closing his letter to Monck he assured his Lordship that he was “a true lover of his country’s liberties, an enemy of all usurpations upon it and one resolved to live and die with the sober, godly interest.”
In reply to Owen, Monck emphasised that he dared not sit still and see the laws and liberties of the people go to ruin. His conscience obliged him to free his country from the intolerable slavery of government by the sword and to restore the sovereignty of Parliament.1 As these letters were passing between London and Scotland, the London Congregational churches were busy corresponding with other churches. Owen’s church at Wallingford House, for example, wrote several letters to churches in East Anglia and as a result a meeting of messengers from East Anglian Congregational churches was arranged to be held at Norwich on the 30th November. This meeting then elected representatives, including Bridge of Yarmouth, to attend a further meeting in London in December.2 Meanwhile, it was becoming clear that the Council of Officers who met at Wallingford House no longer had much control over the situation in England. Men from Lambert’s army, which had gone North to prevent the Scottish army entering England, were beginning to desert. Soldiers sent by Fleetwood to subdue the rebellious Portsmouth garrison went over to Monck’s cause. So we are not surprised to learn that Owen was at Wallingford House on the 21st December sympathisíng with the grandees as they bemoaned the state of the nation and the loss of their power.3 Though letters continued to pass between Scotland and London they were of no avail; Monck had made up his mind and soon he would act decisively.
1Correspondence, No. 61, pp. 110–112. Monck to Owen.
2Browne, op. cit., p. 225.
3Davies, op. cit., pp. 186–7.
At the December meeting of Congregational messengers from East Anglia and London, several important resolutions were passed. When Bridge reported back to his own church it was decided to enter four of them into the church book.1 They were:
1. We judge a Parliament to be expedient for the preservation of the peace of these nations; and withal we do desire that all due care be taken that the Parliament be such as may preserve the interest of Christ and his people in these nations.
2. As touching the magistrate’s power in matters of faith and worship we have declared our judgments in our late confession; and though we greatly prize our Christian liberties, yet we profess our utter dislike and abhorrence of a universal toleration, as being contrary to the mind of God in His Word.
3. We judge that the taking away of tithes for the maintenance of ministers until as full a maintenance be equally secured and as legally settled, tends very much to the destruction of the ministry and the preaching of the Gospel in these nations.
4. It is our desire that countenance be not given unto, nor trust reposed in the hands of Quakers, they being persons of such principles as are destructive to the Gospel and inconsistent with the peace of civil societies.
1Quoted by Stoughton, op. cit., III, pp. 28–9. Cf. G. F. Nuttall, Visible Saints, p. 141.
Again we see the desire for a Parliament but no suggestion as to how it should be elected. Perhaps such churches as that at Yarmouth who did not wish to become involved in politics insisted that the above statement was all that churches could legitimately say. The other three articles reveal the Congregational brethren as conservatives, desiring to maintain the parish system, the tithe system and a restricted religious liberty. During 1659 many radicals, and most of all the Quakers, had pressed for complete religious toleration as well as for the closing or remodelling of the Universities. Owen himself had felt obliged both to write against the Quakers in 1658 and to publish in 1659 a brief tract entitled [Unto the two questions sent me last night, I pray accept of the ensuing answer, under the title of ] Two Questions concerning the Power of the Supreme Magistrate about Religion and the Worship of God, with one about Tithes, proposed and resolved.1 Owen affirmed that the supreme magistrate in a Christian nation should exert his legislative and executive power to support and preserve the profession of the Christian faith and the worship of God as well as to forbid and restrain such principles and practices which are directly contrary to that faith and worship. Yet he denied that the supreme magistrate had the power to make Christians subscribe to a confession of faith or to worship God according to a fixed pattern. Finally, he supported the system of tithes as the only feasible way at that time to maintain the Christian ministry. There was nothing new here but the situation in which he found himself with Quakers pressing for the abolition of tithes and Presbyterians pressing for the introduction of a Presbyterian National Church made him feel it necessary to reiterate his views.
1In Works, XIII, p. 508. The Exercitationes adversus Fanaticos (1658), is in Works, XVI. At least two tracts from Quaker circles against Owen were published in 1659–60: they were: Winding Sheet for Englands Ministry, which was anonymous, and The Rustics Alarm by Samuel Fisher. Cf also Correspondence, No. 64, p. 116, for a printed criticism of Owen from Quaker circles.
As Monck and his army drew near London it was reported that Owen and Nye were talking optimistically of collecting £100,000 for the use of the other armies provided they would undertake to protect the liberty of the Congregational churches.1 But, even if this money could be raised, it was too late. On the 3rd February Monck entered London and by the 21St February the excluded members of the Long Parliament were recalled to Westminster after an absence of nearly twelve years to join those forty members who had begun to resit on the 26th December 1659. The Presbyterians were once more in the ascendant and, not unexpectedly, by a vote on the 13th March, Owen was deprived of the Deanery of Christ Church and Edward Reynolds was restored.2
1D. Neal, History of the Puritans, (ed. E. Parsons) 1811, II, p. 462.
2C.J., VII, pp. 860 and 871–2.
Quickly and quietly Owen disappeared from the centre of public life and University administration and took his family to the house he had purchased in Stadhampton. He awaited future developments and prayed that God would still use him in the propagation of the Gospel. For the last fourteen years he had publicly concerned himself with the preaching of the Protestant Faith, the preparation of young men to serve their country and church, and the establishment of a controlled religious toleration for orthodox Christian groups. He had viewed political actions and military victories in the light of their effect upon the progress of the Gospel and of their relationship to what be believed were prophetic portions of Holy Scripture which related to the future of Europe and the Middle East. This had given both his hearers and himself strength of mind and of conviction. Also he had provided guidance for successive Parliaments, Protectors and army leaders on national priorities. This guidance was often based upon his interpretation of the Old Testament in which he found a divinely revealed pattern in the life of the people of Israel. They were at the height of their fortunes when their leaders were godly, or as Micah expressed it, when they “loved mercy and walked humbly with their God.” This pattern Owen applied to England, which, with many of his contemporaries, he believed to be “an elect nation.” So a constant call in all his sermons to Parliament was for the cultivation of godliness. Though plagued by ill-health and domestic grief, his aims had been unchanging and his efforts unceasing. Always before him had been the vision of a purified, loving and gracious Church set in the midst of a godly nation. Now other men, with different views of the order of the Church, were beginning to preach to Parliament and guide the counsels of the nation.
Providence, it seemed, had failed to bring to a glorious conclusion the expectations it had aroused in his own heart and in the hearts of many saints during the years immediately following the sitting of the Long Parliament and victory in the civil wars. Was God, therefore, abandoning His saints? Was he refusing to support the glorious reformation He had inaugurated by His Spirit? These and similar questions must have plagued the mind of Owen during 1659 and 1660. But, being a man who believed that the Bible was God’s written Word, he looked for the answer to his questions within its pages, especially in the historical and prophetical books of the Old Testament, which told of God’s dealings with the elect nations of Israel and Judah. He well knew that the history of these nations provided pertinent examples of how a period of great national blessing was followed by a speedy degeneration of national life and religion. This happened, for example, in the reigns of Hezekiah and Manasseh in the eighth century B.C. The blessings of the first reign quickly changed into the evils of the second reign. Thus Owen was able to interpret the collapse of the good old cause and the probable return of the “common enemy” in terms of God’s judgement upon the failure of His saints to make the most of their opportunities and to obey His Word. Owen had hinted at this interpretation in his sermon of the 4th February 1659 at which time, to use the words of the book of Daniel, he saw “the writing on the wall.”
Know you not that the nation begins to be overwhelmed by the pourings out of a profane, wicked, carnal spirit, full of rage, and contempt of all the work of reformation that has been attempted amongst us? Do you not know that if the former profane principle should prove predominant in this nation, that it will quickly return to its former station and condition, and that with the price of your dearest blood? And yet, is there not already such a visible prevalency of it, that in many places the very profession of religion is become a scorn; and in others, those old forms and ways taken up with greediness, which are a badge of apostasy from all engagements and actings? And are not these sad evidences of the Lord’s departing from us? If I should lay before you a comparison between the degrees of the appearances of the glory of God in this nation, the steps whereby it came forth, and those whereby it seems almost to be departing, it would be a matter of admiration and lamentation. I pray God we lose not our ground faster than we won it. Were our hearts kept to our old principles on which we first engaged, it would not be so with us; but innumerable evils have laid hold upon us: and the temptations of these days have made us a woful prey.1
1Works VIII, p. 467. Cf. also A Vision of Unchangeable, Free Mercy (1646) in Works, VIII, p. 24 where he gave a similar warning.
By March 1660 his worst fears were all but realised. A decayed remnant of the Long Parliament had been reinvigorated by a transfusion of Presbyterian blood, a Council of State had been appointed composed chiefly of men who favoured the restoration of the Stuart monarch, and Monck, though still elusive, looked ready to agree to bring back Charles II to England. For a generation or more, according to God’s good pleasure, the “saints” were to be recipients of divine chastisement.1 And this heavenly judgement was to be accepted, for the apostle by divine inspiration had taught that “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6). Or as Owen himself had put it in 1656: “to dispute against the condition wherein at any time we are cast by His providence is to rise up against His wisdom in disposing of things to His glory.”2 So the deposed Dean and future Nonconformist looked upon the return of Charles II and the restitution of the prelates as part of the inscrutable, beneficent and sovereign will of God. Having done what he could to prevent this movement of events, he must now accept them as from the hand of the Lord.
1Robert Baillie, the Scottish divine, spoke for many Presbyterians and Anglicans when he wrote on 31 Jan. 1661 that “it was the justice of God that brought ... to disgrace the two Goodwins, blind Milton, Owen, Sterne, Lockler and other of the maleficient crew.” Letters and Journals, ed. D. Laing, III, p. 443.
2Works, VIII, p. 413.
Chapter VI – Protestant Nonconformist
In previous chapters it has been suggested that Owen’s primary motivation and aim during ‘his crowded life in the 1650s was the propagation of the Protestant gospel. After 1660 the same aim was also always before him, but necessarily, due to the changed religious scene and to his own uncompromising principles, the public opportunities with which he was presented were severely curtailed. As it became apparent that Charles II and his advisers were intent on restoring the Church of England as far as possible to what it was before 1640, and that the Cavalier Parliament, which began to sit on the 8th May 1661, intended to enforce a uniformity of worship according to the Book of Common Prayer, Owen had resolutely to face the situation and decide what God required of him.1 In 1637 as a young Master of Arts he had virtually escaped from a similar situation in Laudian Oxford by taking a chaрlaincy; but now he was a national figure, the leading Congregational divine. Thousands looked to him for an example and for guidance: the eyes of the Reformed Churches abroad were upon him. So in his home at Stadhampton he consulted with, and provided hospitality for, some of his former Oxford colleagues, who had lost or were losing their posts. Together they prayed and discussed their problems. Students also, including William Penn, the future Quaker, came to share the fellowship and conversion of these leaders of Nonconformity.2
1For the whole background co this period see David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II, 1967; for details of the actual restoration of the Church see Anne Whiteman, “The Restoration of the Church of England,” in From Uniformity to Unity, 1662–1962, ed. G. F. Nuttall and O. Chadwick, 1962.
2At this time Penn seems to have been favourably attracted to the doctrines of Owen. The two corresponded but not with the blessing of William’s father, the admiral. See Bonamy Dobrée, William Penn, 1932, pp. 13–15, and M. C. Brailsford, The Making of William Penn, 1930, p. 104. Another young man who lodged with Owen was Samuel Angier, for whom see C.R. On 15 Jan. 1661 a correspondent wrote to Joseph Williamson, a former Fellow of Queen’s, telling him that “last week some of the horse went over to Mr Owen’s at Stadham from whence they brought 6 or 7 cases of pistols but left him behind together with Francis Johnson and Thankful Owen.” C.S.P.D. (1660–61), p. 473. Johnson had been Master of University College and Owen the President of St John’s. The raid was occasioned by fear in government circles that Owen might be implicated in Venner’s Fifth Monarchist insurrection in London earlier that month. For Thomas Vermer see D.N.B.
The theological ethos of Owen and his brethren categorically informed them that they must obey the will of God as they understood it to be revealed in Holy Scripture. For the former Dean of Christ Church this meant that he must live by the same principles which had guided him since 1646 but he must apply them to a different situation. Unlike some of his Presbyterian friends he could not contemplate the idea of serving as a minister in the restored Church of England as long as it had a compulsory liturgy and was ruled by prelates. This he made clear in A Discourse concerning Liturgies and their imposition (1662),1 published whilst there was public discussion concerning the Act of Uniformity which received the royal assent on the 19th May 1662. Amongst other things, this Act required all ministers in the Church to be episcopally ordained, and to make a public declaration of their “unfeigned assent and consent” to the Prayer Book, before the Feast of St Bartholomew, the 24th August 1662. The Government knew that most former Puritans would not conform and so modern Nonconformity was born in England and Wales. The Cromwellian ideal of a comprehensive National Church was rejected and the seeds of later denominationalism were sown.
1Works, XV, pp. 3ff
However, there were ways for Owen to escape the difficulties and possible persecution that would (and did) follow Black Bartholomew’s Day. He could have emigrated. Certain Dutch Universities, whose professors were well acquainted with his writings, were very ready to offer him a professorship in theology; and the churches of Massachusetts would have been highly honoured to have him in their midst. Indeed, a definite invitation came to him from the First Church of Boston, which had enjoyed from 1633 to 1652 the ministry of John Cotton, the divine whose writings had been instrumental in guiding Owen into the Congregational way. For several years after 1663, when, as we shall see, he had no fixed abode in England, he was ready and willing to go to New England but circumstances of one kind or another prevented him so that finally he resolved to stay in Old England.1
1Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, IV, col. 98, refers to an invitation from Holland but research in Dutch archives has not confirmed or rejected this. It seems no copy of any letter to Owen is extant. For the letter from the governor of Massachusetts dated 20 Oct. 1663 inviting Owen see Correspondence, No. 71, pp. 135–6. In The Records of the First Church in Boston, 1630–1668, ed. A. D. Pierce, Boston, 1961, p. 59 there are references to the call sent to Owen. Cf. also the references in the “Diary of John Hull,” Archaeologia Americana, Boston, 1865, III, pp. 211 and 221. As late as 1666 Owen was expected in Boston.
To serve God and the saints in Britain meant at least two things. First and foremost, it meant the encouragement of the true worship of God, the practice of the Congregational way. He solemnly believed that the Word of God condemned not only the “papistical” prelates and their ecclesiastical courts but also some of the ceremonies required by the Prayer Book. In the New Testament, which contained in his opinion a blueprint for church polity and worship, he found that community worship was inspired by the Holy Spirit and took place in the fellowship of committed Christians. So to obey God after 1660 he felt obliged to expound and defend the biblical doctrine of the church and of worship, to provide suitable devotional material for members of gathered churches, and to have pastoral responsibilities within such a church. This important area of ecclesiastical doctrine and practice in which Owen made a significant contribution to Protestant Nonconformity will be examined in the next chapter.
Here we must look at the second way in which he felt he must serve the people of God. It was his conviction that the supreme magistrate (the King in Parliament) should by all legal means be persuaded that his divinely appointed task of preserving and protecting the Christian religion was not achieved by enforcing uniformity of religious practice as in the legislation commonly known as the Clarendon Code.1 Rather it was achieved by the suppression of antichristian Roman Catholicism and the provision of a basic religious liberty for all Christians who taught and believed the basic doctrines of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Accordingly Owen continually pressed for such a liberty both in his writings and through his contacts with members of the gentry, nobility, government and of the Houses of Parliament with whom he had established friendships during the period of Cromwellian dominance.
1The Clarendon Code is usually taken to describe four Acts of the Cavalier Parliament. First, the Corporation Act (1661) which required all holders of municipal office to renounce the Covenant and to take the sacrament according to the rites of the restored Church of England. Secondly, the Act of Uniformity (1662) which required episcopal ordination of all ministers and complete assent by them to the Prayer Book. Thirdly, the Conventicle Act of 1664, which made illegal all assemblies of five or more persons under colour of religion. Fourthly, the Five Mile Act (1665) which forbade all teachers and preachers who had not taken the oaths in the Act of Uniformity to come within five miles of a corporate town or the parish where they had previously taught.
Though it is patently obvious that Owen came through the upheavals accompanying the Restoration and the persecutions which followed virtually unscathed because powerful friends shielded him, the evidence of his relationship with these important men is scanty indeed. In the last chapter we noted his friendship and correspondence with General Monck; here we must notice some of the other men who helped him between 1660 and 1683. Asty merely states (with obvious pride in his hero):
It was not possible that the real worth of so excellent a person should be concealed; and in many instances his reputation shone out with such lustre as drew the admiration and respects of several persons of honour and quality upon him, who very much delighted in his conversation; particularly the Earl of Orrery, the Earl of Anglesea, the Lord Willoughby of Parham, the Lord Wharton, the Lord Berkley, Sir John Trevor ... and which is much more, even King Charles and the Duke of York paid a particular respect to him.
The identity of the King and his brother James is well known but perhaps the identity of the others needs to be explained.1
1Asty, p. xxix. That many royalists expected Owen to be punished in 1660 is obvious from the statement of A. Wood in Athenae Oxon., IV, col. 100, where he writes that Owen’s not being excepted from the Act of Oblivion “was much wondered at.” Other Independents were executed!
Roger Boyle (1621–1679), first Earl of Orrery and third son of Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork, was a prominent member of Cromwell’s House of Lords and one of the committee appointed by Parliament to discuss the question of kingship with Oliver in 1657. After the Restoration he spent much time in Ireland as Lord President of Munster. Just when and under what circumstances Owen and Boyle met Asty unfortunately does not inform us. Rather more is known, however, about Owen’s relationship with Arthur Annesley (1614–1686), the first Earl of Anglesey. He was a M.P. in the Long Parliament and President of the Council of State in 1660. In 1661 he became an Earl and enjoyed prominent positions in the government especially in the 1670s. While keeping the letter of the law by attending services in the parish church Annesley kept nonconformist chaplains in his own home. Within the Privy Council and in other spheres he defended the interests of Protestant Dissenters. From various entries in his Diary we know that on many occasions during the 1670s Dr and Mrs Owen were the dinner guests of the Earl and Countess.1 And eventually the Countess herself became an actual member of Owen’s gathered church which met in Leadenhall Street from 1673. From the Earl Owen must have received help, protection and information about national politics.
1The MS Diary is in the British Museum, Add. MSS 18730 and 40860. See further D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parliamentary Politics, 1661–1689, New Brunswick, NJ., 1969, pp. 459–463.
Exactly which Lord Willoughby Asty had in mind is not clear. It could have been either Francis (d.1666), the fifth Baron Willoughby of Parham or his brother, William, the sixth Baron. Both were at different times governors of the West Indian islands of Barbados, St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Antigua. Just what form this friendship with Owen took is and probably will remain a mystery. With Philip Wharton (1613–1696), fourth Baron Wharton of Wooburn, Buckinghamshire, the matter is much clearer. As a young man Wharton was a Puritan and in the civil war he fought for Parliament. Of Presbyterian sympathies he welcomed the Restoration of Charles II. But in the House of Lords he was a determined opponent of the Clarendon Code, especially the Conventicle Act. Three letters from Owen to his Lordship preserved in the Bodleian Library reveal a close relationship between the two men.1 Wharton used Owen to transact delicate business, the finding of a suitable daughter-in-law for example. We also know that when he was ill Owen sometimes went to Wooburn for a rest. The Earl of Anglesey noted in his Diary that he met Owen at Lord Wharton’s and from Wooburn Owen wrote a memorable letter to his London church. We may justly presume that a large proportion of the conversation over the dinner-table concerned national politics and the lot of the Nonconformists.
1Correspondence, pp. 155ff, No’s 80, 81, 82. These three letters are part of about 600 letters addressed to Lord Wharton by Nonconformist ministers between 1660 and 1693. They are preserved in the Bodleian Library in Rawlinson MSS 49–53 and 104 and are currently being transcribed and edited by Peter Toon. One of the letters from John Loder (Rawl. 51:6) suggests that is was the sixth Baron Willoughby whom Owen knew, for Loder wrote: “Dr Owen commended him [Thomas Speed, a servant] to the Lord Willoughby late Governor of Barbados, who greatly delighted in him ...” The date of the letter 20th August 1673 suggests the sixth Baron who died on 10th April 1673.
George Berkeley (1628–1698), the first Earl of Berkeley, was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. He was a member of Oliver’s Parliaments in 1654 and 1656. His basic business interest, as was that of his wife’s family, was in trade with the colonies and plantations overseas. He was on the Council for Foreign Plantations, a member of the Royal Africa Company, and the governor of the Levant Company. In 1667 he became a Privy Councillor. His piety revealed in his Historical Applications and Occasional Meditations upon Several Subjects (1668) is similar to that espoused by Owen and possibly here was the link between them. Perhaps also it was Berkeley, with his many contacts in the shipping industry, who was ready to help transport Owen to New England in the early 1660s. Asty’s last name is Sir John Trevor (1626–1672), the M.P. for Flint in 1646 and 1654 who was knighted and appointed a Secretary of State in 1660. According to his colleague, Sir Joseph Williamson, Trevor had nonconformist leanings even though part of his duties involved making enquiries into, and if necessary suppressing, conventicles.1 A part of his nonconformist leanings was obviously his friendship with Owen which the latter must have found most helpful in various ways, the obtaining of licences to publish books for example. One further friend of Owen who enjoyed a high position in post-Restoration affairs but whose name Asty does not mention was Sir William Morice (1602–1676), a kinsman of General Monck. Morice had Presbyterian sympathies and was one of those expelled from the Long Parliament by Pride’s purge. Like Monck he warmly welcomed Charles II and believed that the promise of toleration contained within the famous Declaration from Breda (April 1660) would be honoured. In May 1660 he became a Secretary of State. However he never lost touch with his friends who became Nonconformists. He even provided a yearly pension for one ejected minister named William Oliver. Owen was very grateful to him for various forms of help but especially with regard to obtaining licences to publish books. He dedicated the first volume of his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (1668) to Sir William and asserted that “it was through the countenance of your favour that this and other treatises received warrant to pass freely into the world.”
1C.S.P.D. (1671) p. 569 and C.S.P.D. (1668–9) p. 294.
The first occasion after the Restoration that Owen defended in print the principles of orthodox Protestantism was in 1662. During 1661 a crafty and plausible book was published by a Franciscan named Vincent Canes, who had been educated at Douay. The book’s title reveals its general aim: Fiat Lux: or, a general conduct to the right understanding in the great combustions and broils about religion here in England, betwixt Papist and Protestant, Presbyterian and Independent, to the end that moderation and quietness may at length happily ensue after so many various tumults in the kingdom. It gained fame partly because its message seemed to have a contemporary relevance and partly because it took as its starting point a passage in a speech made at the adjournment of Parliament in September 1660 by Edward Hyde, the Lord Chancellor. A copy of the book was sent by “a person of honour” to Owen who quickly produced Animadversions on ... Fiat Lux. Owen’s reply shows a measure of wit, humour and irony that the reader does not often encounter in the writings of this ponderous divine; perhaps this pleasant quality was possible because of the comparative peaceful and quiet situation in which he lived at Stadhampton. He warned that Canes’ purpose was to recall the British people to the fold of the Bishop of Rome and he insisted that the doctrinal differences which separated Catholic and Protestant were still great and not to be minimised. So there are chapters on the doctrines of Scripture, the Mass, the Blessed Virgin, saints, and the Pope. The Franciscan replied in some haste to Owen but, instead of keeping to the matters under debate, Canes wandered from his subject to attack Owen for his political activities between 1649 and 1660. In December 1663 Owen defended his Animadversions with a Vindication.1 In this he carefully kept to the subject in hand and tried to show once more the weaknesses and errors of the claims made by Roman Catholicism.
1Works, XIV, pp. 174ff.
However, since Owen did not give the title of “saint” to the apostles and evangelists of the primitive Church (believing as he did that all the regenerate are saints in the New Testament sense), and since he expressed his doubt concerning the claim that the apostle Peter was ever in Rome, he encountered great difficulty in getting a licence from the Bishop of London to print his books. Happily his friend, Sir William Morice intervened and persuaded the Bishop to grant a licence.1 Sir William also seems to have spoken favourably of Owen’s books against Canes to the Lord Chancellor who decided that he must meet the former Dean of Christ Church. His Lordship sent a message to Owen via Bulstrode Whitelocke, the former President of the Council of State, and a man who had had many previous dealings with the divine. When the Chancellor and the Nonconformist leader met, the former expressed his surprise that a man of Owen’s learning and ability should have been led astray by “the novelty of Independency.” If he would give up his strange ideas and conform, then perhaps a bishopric or high ecclesiastical post could be his.2 His Lordship must not have known how deeply the Congregational way was engraven on Owen’s soul or else he would not have wasted his time in meeting him. Owen, believing that everything which happened was controlled by God’s providence, used the opportunity to expound his views on the Church and to ask for toleration of gathered churches which taught orthodox doctrine. He even ventured the opinion that although the Presbyterian leaders were still optimistically talking of comprehension within the State Church, what they truly wanted was freedom to worship God according to their consciences, which in turn meant that they would eventually support the idea of toleration outside the National Church. But, come what may, he himself would follow God and his conscience.
1Asty, p. xxiii, asserts that it was Sir Edward Nicholas who helped Owen, but, since Nicholas gave up his post as Secretary of State on 15 October 1662 (D.N.B. s.v. E. Nicholas) it is much more likely that the person concerned was Morice, who became a Secretary in May 1660.
2The anonymous author of The Life of Owen (1720), p. xxiii, states “I am informed by one of the Doctor’s relations that King Charles II offered him a bishopric.” I have found no other reference to such an offer. For the interview with Clarendon see Asty, p. xxiv, and James Ralph, History of England, 1744, I, p. 52.
Before this memorable interview, Dr and Mrs Owen had sent their children to stay with Lady Tyrell at Hanslope in Buckinghamshire while they themselves went to the home of Mrs Abney at Theobalds in Hertfordshíre.1 Mrs Abney was a daughter of Joseph Caryl, with whom Owen had gone to Scotland in 1650. At Theobalds they were kept well informed of the effects of the Act of Uniformity, of the possibility of an Indulgence from the King, and of the fate of “near 2,000 ejected ministers.”2 One eminent visitor was Dr Thomas Manton who had been a commissioner at the ill-fated Savoy Conference of 1661 and who now was himself an ejected minister, even though he had been a leading Presbyterian minister in London since 1649. The two men were, it seems, primarily concerned with the plight of ejected ministers, many of whom were placed in severe economic distress. What they did of a practical nature to help them is not known but they certainly would have planned something. For many a week Owen did not preach any sermons but, in a letter to John Thornton, chaplain to the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, he did say that he was to accompany Mrs Abney to London and preach in her house there.3 This being so, we must presume that at Theobalds each Sabbath only family prayers were held or that another preacher was staying there who took the service of worship.
1Owen asserts this in his second letter to John Thornton: Correspondence, No. 69, pp. 130–1. For Lady Tyrell’s husband, Sir Thomas, see D.N.B. The house was registered for Presbyterian worship in 1672. For Sir Edward Abney, her husband, see D.N.B. s.v. Sir Thomas Abney. Another famous Nonconformist who lived at this house about forty years later was Isaac Watts, the hymnwriter.
2Owen used this expression in his first letter to Thornton: Correspondence, No. 68, pp. 129–30. Matthews calculated that a total of 1909 ministers and teachers were ejected between 1660 and 1662. C.R. pp. xii–xiv.
3Correspondence, No. 69, pp. 130–1.
From 1662 onwards the Owen family spent little time together and seem not to have had a family home of their own. From several references to Owen in letters to Lord Wharton during 1663–4 we know that the good doctor resided mostly at Stadham in this period. However, after 1664 Mrs Owen and the children stayed more or less permanently at the home of the former Cromwellian general, Charles Fleetwood, who had recently married Mary Hartopp, the widow of Sir Edward Hartopp and daughter of Sir John Coke. Fleetwood and his children by his first two wives moved into the Hartopp home in Church Street, Stoke Newington, and eventually the two children of his first marriage, Smith and Elizabeth, married Mary Hartopp’s two children, Mary and Sir John. The house, a large one, came to be known as “Fleetwood House” but it was only one of the several houses and properties owned by Sir John Hartopp, who, happily, shared his stepfather’s nonconformist opinions.1 Though Owen himself must have spent long and short periods at Stoke Newington, then a village on the outskirts of London, he moved around a great deal. In 1663 he was preaching in Moorgate near one of the traditional northern gates of the City of London;2 but in January 1664 he was in Oxford with a man from New England seeking to persuade Thomas Gilbert, the former Shropshire minister, who now lived in St Ebbe’s parish, to go to Massachusetts as the new President of Harvard College.3 A year later Owen was prosecuted under the Conventicle Act for holding meetings in his home at Stadhampton.4 This occasion is probably the one recorded by Anthony Wood telling how the militia raided Owen’s house and found him preaching to thirty or more peop1e.5 The Congregational divine hoped he could avoid further raids and interruptions and wrote for help to Thomas Barlow, now Provost of Queen’s, asking him to speak to the Lord Chancellor on his behalf. Barlow made a special visit to Cornbury to see his Lordship but his efforts were in vain. So Owen returned to London.
1Cf A. J. Shirren, The Chronicles of the Fleetwood House, 1951, for a description of the life of the Fleetwoods and Hartopps at Stoke Newington. Shirren quotes from the local parish records on p. 81 to refer to the deaths of Judith Owen in May 1664, and Matthew Owen in April 1665.
2G. L. Turner, “Williamson’s Spy Book,” Transactions of the Cong. Hist. Society, V, p. 253: “Dr Owen dwells in the fields on the left hand near Moorgate where the Quarters hang and meets often with Goodwin.” The Baptist, Henry Jessey, also met them in Moorgate and Stoke Newington; Ibid, p. 251.
3Gilbert tells of the visit in a letter to Lord Wharton. See Bodleian Rawlinson Letters, 53.f. 13. He did not go to Harvard.
4C.S.P.D. (1664–5), p. 222.
5Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, IV, col. 100.
The note in the so-called “Spy Book” of Joseph Williamson, secretary to Lord Arlington, to the effect that “Dr Owen ... dwells near Moorgate” is probably a reference to “White’s Alley,” a turning out of Little Moorfields where in 1669, six years after Williamson’s note, the Bishop of London reported that Owen held a conventicle.1 It would appear that a Mrs Holmes, a widow, provided house and home for both Owen and Thomas Goodwin when they were in the City. An informer described her as “a great patronesse of the worst sort of people” and as having “a great estate and spending it among those that lie in wait to disturb the peace of the kingdom.”2 Goodwin and Owen who, in Wood’s words, were “the atlases and patriarchs of Independence,” also cooperated with other Congregational ministers in a regular preaching service (a lecture) in the house of Alderman Henry Ashurst, whose son of the same name was a good friend to several Presbyterian ministers.3 During the 1665 Plague of London, which accounted for the deaths of nearly 70,000 people in a population of half a million, Owen probably spent most of his time at Stoke Newington. After the Great Fire which followed the Plague he returned with other nonconformist ministers to preach to the people in the stricken city. Baxter, who himself had left his home at Acton during the Plague to stay with Richard Hampden in Buckinghamshire, comments that Owen deliberately stayed away from the city during the Plague.4 The reasons for Owen’s absence are obvious. He had an opportunity to stay with friends away from the stricken area and he took it. Perhaps what Baxter meant is that Owen would have been a better pastor (since he had a gathered church in the city) had he stayed to suffer with his flock. Not having a congregation at Acton Baxter was in a different position. Perhaps we can admit that there is some justice in Baxter’s comment.
1Original Records of Early Nonconformity, ed. G. L. Turner, 1911–14, III, p. 514.
2Ibid, III, p. 515.
3Ibid, Π, p. 355. Cf. also Lacey, op. cit., p. 375.
4Baxter, Reliquiae, III, pp. 15 and 19. For Hampden see Lacey, op. cit., p. 402.
Happily for Nonconformists, the year 1667 provided a suitable period in which to argue publicly for relief from the repressive Conventicle and Five Mile Acts. It was generally held that the Plague and the Fire were God’s judgements upon the land for the harshness of the government’s attitude to Nonconformity. This sentiment, or, in some cases, conviction, was given added weight by reports of the heroic work of some nonconformist preachers who had ministered to the sick and dying without thought for their own lives, as well as by news of the current trade depression. Nonconformists were also gladdened to see the impeachment of Edward Hyde, who was unjustly blamed for the successful Dutch attack on Chatham in June 1667, for financial losses in the Dutch war and for the repressive legislation that has come to bear his name. Baxter voiced the general attitude of Protestant Dissenters when he observed about the fall of the Earl of Clarendon that “it was a most notable providence of God that this man that ... had dealt so cruelly with the Nonconformists should thus by his own friends be cast out.”1
1Ibid, III, p. 20.
Early in September 1667 a newsletter reported that “an Act is said to be preparing, against the meeting of Parliament [on the 10th Oct.] dispensing with the Act of Uniformity and clearly against the Bishops’ government.”1 This was the Bill prepared by Sir Robert Atkyns and due to be introduced into the House of Commons by John Birch, the former Colonel in the armies of Parliament. However, in view of mounting opposition, Birch desisted.2 Meanwhile the opponents of toleration went into the attack and published several tracts to propagate their opinions. Certain of these were sent to Owen by some prominent person, possibly a member of the House of Lords, with a request that he should publish his thoughts concerning them. He did this anonymously under the title, Indulgence and Toleration Considered, published early in November.3 After some remarks about the harsh language of some of the pamphleteers who were for no toleration, he briefly set out his own case. There were similarities, he suggested, between the laws of ancient Rome by which the early Christians were judged and persecuted, and the laws of England (the Clarendon Code) against Dissenters. The Jews, however, in earlier times, set a better example. They allowed Gentiles to live amongst them as long as they obeyed the seven Noachical precepts. Furthermore, the early Christian Church never “entertained thoughts of outward force against those who differed from them” for at least three hundred years after the birth of Christ. “It seems,” wrote Owen, “that we are some of the first who ever anywhere in the world, from the foundation of it, thought of ruining and destroying persons of the same religion with ourselves, merely upon the choice of some peculiar ways of worship in that religion.” Defining conscience as “the judgement that a man maketh of himself and his actions, with reference to the future judgement of God,” he argued that liberty in such matters as worship of the Almighty should be given to people who base their worship on a faithful attempt to follow the light of sacred Scripture. “Violence,” he continued, “hath been used in matters of religion to the shame and stain of Christianity, and yet it never succeeded anywhere to extinguish that persuasion and opinion which it was designed to extirpate.” He concluded by expressing his deep conviction that there was no nation under heaven wherein such an indulgence or toleration as is desired would be more welcome, useful, acceptable, or more subservient to tranquility, trade, wealth and peace.” Religious, social and economic arguments are here combined. Owen’s use of them reflects his social class and that of his friends and acquaintances.4
1C.S.P.D. (1667), p. 437.
2See further Roger Thomas, “Comprehension and Indulgence,” in From Uniformity to Unity, ed. Nuttall and Chadwick, p. 197. I found Mr Thomas’ essay very helpful.
3Works, XIII, pp. 518ff. For reference to some of the tracts that Owen possibly read see John Stoughton, History of Religion in England, III, pp. 371ff.
4Cf. J. A. W. Gunn, Politics and the Public Interest in the Seventeenth Century, 1969, p. 160. Gunn points out that Owen’s belief that persecution only served to reduce the number of citizens working for the civic and national interest was later developed in greater detail by his former student and friend, William Pernn.
Owen’s views on the urgent need for toleration of Nonconformists were also expressed in late 1667 in another pamphlet entitled, A Peace-Offering in an Apology and Humble Plea for Indulgence and Liberty of Conscience.1 Earnest in tone, yet moderate in language, it utilised common sense, human history, ancient wisdom and Biblical insights to show the essential stupidity of a policy of religious persecution. The Congregational churches believed that they were obeying Christ in their organisation and worship: thus if the government believed them to be wrong or misguided let it prove its contention by reference to the Word of God and not by unnecessary legislation. In these tracts Owen was of course restating views he had consistently held and expressed for over twenty years. Even when his party was in power during the Interregnum he spoke in favour of a controlled religious toleration. What is lacking in 1667, which was so apparent between 1646 and 1659, is the contention that religion should be guided if not controlled from the centre as it had been through the triers of the Cromwellian Settlement. The much changed circumstances after 1660 meant that Owen could no longer press for this except in so far as he wanted the King and Parliament to grant freedom to the Nonconformists. Owen had not changed his principles: he was simply applying them to a situation which in his earlier years he never thought would ever return to England.
1Works, XIII, pp. 542ff.
On the 21st December 1667 the diarist, Samuel Pepys, reported that the Nonconformists are mighty high and their meetings frequented and connived at; and they do expect to have their day now soon; for my Lord Buckingham is a declared friend of them and even of the Quakers.”1 George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, was married to Lord Fairfax’s daughter. He was the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire, who had become a member of the Cabal (that is, the five men who were chief advisers to Charles II after the fall of Clarendon – Sir Thomas Clifford, Lord Arlington, Buckingham, Lord Ashley and the Earl of Lauderdale). Unfortunately for the public image of Nonconformity, Buckingham had a reputation for reckless living. In his Life of Oliver Heywood, a leading Northern nonconformist minister, Joseph Hunter quoted the following extract from a letter of 1667: “the Duke of Buckingham is become the most eminent convert from all the vanities he hath been reported to have been addicted to; hath had a solemn day of prayer for the completing and confirming the great work upon him. Dr Owen and others of like persuasion were the carriers on of the work. He is said to keep correspondence with the chief of these parties.”2 Sadly this correspondence seems to be lost.
1Pepys, Diary, ed. H. B. Wheatley, 1905, VII, p. 228.
2Hunter, The Rise of the Old Dissent exemplified in the Life of Oliver Heywood, 1842, p. 198. The source of the letter is not given.
Meanwhile, a series of conferences took place between the Lord Keeper’s representatives, Bishop John Wilkins and Hezekiah Burton, on the one hand, and Thomas Manton, William Bates and Richard Baxter on the other. Their purpose was to discuss proposals drawn up by Wilkins, Cromwell’s brother-in-law and now the Bishop of Chester. These proposals aimed at comprehending Presbyterians in the Church of England and tolerating Independents outside. Baxter was given the task of keeping Owen informed of the progress of the discussion.1 But it was common knowledge in London that Owen and his Congregational brethren were looking to Buckingham for help in the promotion of their toleration bill in Parliament. This Bill proposed liberty of worship in licensed premises for those who taught orthodox doctrine but the denial of any toleration to Roman Catholics and to the sects whose teaching was blasphemous or licentious. In contrast, the original proposals of Wilkins said nothing about orthodoxy and contained nothing to prohibit Roman Catholic worship.2 Perhaps anticipating that some form of toleration would be granted, and pressed by his brethren throughout the country, Owen published a catechism for the guidance of members of gathered churches entitled, A Brief Instruction in the Worship of God.3
1Thomas, op. cit., pp. 198ff. and Baxter, Reliquiae, III, p. 34.
2One report of the Duke of Buckingham’s bill stated that he was the great favourite at Court and that “his cabal were Major Wildman, Dr Owen and the rest of that fraternity,” C.S.P.D. (1667–8), p. 238. For Wildman see Maurice Ashley, John Wildman, 1947. The text of the proposed bill was preserved in the papers of Thomas Barlow and printed in The Theological Works of Herbert Thorndike, Oxford, 1854, V, p. 308. It is reprinted in Correspondence, p. 180.
3Works, XV, pp. 446ff.
Such, unfortunately, were the passions of this period that when Parliament met on the 10th of February 1668 it was in no mood to make the lot of Dissenters any easier. Many members, it seems, were incensed by reports of the proposed bill to legalise conventicles and they refused even to discuss comprehension proposals from the Lord Keeper, despite the fact that the King would have favoured this discussion. Baxter blamed the prelates in the House of Lords for the failure to get the Wilkins proposals discussed but Manton regarded Owen as the villain of the piece. In a letter to Baxter dated the 26th September 1668 he complained that “the comprehension ... endeavoured by our friends in Court was wholly frustrated by Dr Owen’s proposal of a toleration which was entertained and carried on by other persons.”1 To defend himself, Owen visited his old friend Manton, taking with him Samuel Annesley, the emerging leader of those Presbyterians who were beginning to realise that the best they could ever achieve was adequate toleration outside the State Church.2 Manton, however, like other older Presbyterians still held the fine ideal of the one Church containing all the Protestant Christians and ministers of the nation. Events were to prove that Owen and Annesley had rightly judged the temper of the Parliament and that Manton, Baxter and others were fighting a losing battle. So the essence of Owen’s message to Manton was “comprehension will neither do the King’s business nor ours;” and this was a theme which he had previously explained in his Peace-Offering. No doubt Manton and Owen agreed to differ on this matter.
1Quoted by Thomas, op. cit., p. 204, from Dr Williams’s Library MSS 59.2.273.
2For Amesley see D.N.B. and C.R. His daughter married Samuel Wesley and so he became the grandfather of the Wesley brothers, John and Charles.
The over-optimistic Baxter, ever ready to discuss proposals for unity, and hearing that Owen was speaking in late 1668 of the possibility of a union between Presbyterians and Congregationalists, decided to meet him. “I told him,” Baxter later reported, “that I must deal freely with him; that when I thought of what he had done formerly, I was much afraid lest one that had been so great a breaker, would not be made an instrument of healing. But in other respects I thought him the fittest man in England for this work; partly because he could understand the case, and partly because his experience of the humours of men, and of the mischiefs of dividing principles and practices, had been so very great, that if experience should make any man wise and fit for a healing work it should be him.”1 Baxter admitted that he was prompted to visit Owen because he believed that in the catechism, A Brief Instruction (1667), the Congregational divine had given up two doctrines which he had supposedly once held. These were first, that the whole gathered church does have as a society “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” and, secondly, that the congregation gives the keys at ordination to the church officers.2
1Baxter, Reliquiae, III, p. 61.
2The “keys,” a word taken from Matt. 16:19, was assumed to denote the power of admission into and excommunication from the church. As Owen had not previously written on the topic, and as the Savoy Declaration is brief on this point, it is difficult to assess Baxter’s contention that Owen had a change of mind.
Baxter proceeded to draw up a series of proposals for the basis of discussion and upon these Owen made comments. Their exchange of views was virtually doomed from the start for Baxter’s ideal and aim was to unite Protestant Nonconformists so that together they could present a strong front to the government and then gain entry on generous terms into the Church of England. Owen, on the other hand, believed just as firmly in the unity of Protestant Dissenters but he wanted them united outside a Church which had too many “marks of the beast” (Revelation 13) to be an acceptable National Church. For fifteen months they exchanged letters and proposals until finally Owen remarked, “I am still a well-wisher to these mathematics,” by which he presumably meant that he wanted unity but not the Baxter way.1 Their extant letters also reveal that what separated the two men in 1654 when they were seeking to define the fundamentals of the Faith for Oliver’s Parliament still divided them in 1669. Owen wanted a firm, confessional basis for any union whilst Baxter preferred and would have accepted a minimum doctrinal statement.
1The two extant letters are in Correspondence, No’s 71 and 72, pp. 136–145. In Correspondence, p. 136, n. 2, I asserted that Baxter’s original proposals were lost. I now find that they were actually printed in his Church Concord (1691) between pages 62 and 76, where the date should be “Acton.Nov.21.1668”.
During the discussion between Baxter and Owen, the latter invited the former to answer a violent attack upon Nonconformists by Samuel Parker, archdeacon of Canterbury, who had been at Oxford as a student from 1657 to 1660.1 The attack was in a book entitled, A Discourse of Ecclesiastical Politie, wherein the Authority of the Civil Magistrate over the Consciences of Subjects in Matters of External Religion is asserted: the Mischiefs and Inconviences of Toleration are represented and all pretences in behalf of liberty of conscience are fully answered (1669). Baxter reports that such was the confidence of the author that he confronted the Earl of Anglesey (Arthur Annesley) with the challenge, “Let us see, my Lord, whether any of your chaplains can answer it.”2 Annesley was privately a Nonconformist and publicly a Conformist in that each Sunday he went to the parish church but at the same time kept a chaplain in his home who was a nonconformist minister. This was the period when the strengthened Act against conventicles was about to become law and opponents of Nonconformity were full of confidence. Since Baxter, despite his dislike of Parker, did not regard himself as amongst those whom the archdeacon attacked, he declined Owen’s invitation. So Owen himself, ever ready to defend the cause to which he was totally committed, felt obliged to provide an answer which had the title, Truth and Innocence Vindicated.3
1For Parker see D.N.B.
2Baxter, Reliquiae, III, p. 42. Cf. Lacey, op. cit., pp. 459ff. One of the Earl’s chaplains was Benjamin Agas for whom see C.R.
3Works, XIII, pp. 344ff.
Encouraged in his writing by Archbishop Sheldon, Parker had maintained that numerous mischiefs ensued from allowing religious liberty. In ancient times, kingly and priestly powers were vested in one person but when they were separated as, for example, in late Judaism in Palestine or in the Roman Empire after Constantine the Great, the supremacy rested with the State. Since the civil magistrate’s appointment was by the divine will (Romans 13:1), he could enjoin in morality anything that did not contradict the moral law of God; so, in religion, he could require a general, national conformity of practice as long as his requirements did not debauch the conception and understanding of God provided in Holy Scripture. Citizens had the perfect right to think what they liked and believe what they wished, for their conscience was their own; but, the King and Parliament had the divine right to enforce the approved religious practice, as its worship, based on the Book of Common Prayer, did not distort the true doctrine of God. Toleration was undesirable because of its bad effects on national unity and stability. It provided opportunities for men of corrupt designs to foment trouble and work for the overthrow of the monarchy and the restoration of a republic. So, though the power of the magistrate could be abused, its abuse was less mischievous than liberty for men to worship as they pleased. The argument of Nonconformists that the Clarendon Code was an occasion of scandal to them was just nonsense. And their great cry that they had to obey God rather than man, and thus worship in illegal conventicles, was, based on an inability to distinguish between basic principles and matters, which at their very best, were debatable. Their supposed tenderness of conscience was a mask for sedition and lawlessness. Obviously Parker did not understand or did not want to understand what Nonconformity was all about.
Owen’s reply was based on the premise that Holy Scripture is God’s only final, authoritative Word to man. Since he held that Scripture clearly taught that the Church should be pure and subject in matters of doctrine and worship only to Christ the King, the matter was not for him so simple as Parker suggested. Public morals were a different matter. Liberty to worship God according to the New Testament pattern was absolutely essential to those whose minds and hearts rejected for Christ’s sake the government and liturgy of the Church of England. The worship of God was the highest duty of man and could not be placed in the realm of secondary matters. Finally, Protestant Nonconformists were not the type of people that Parker thought them to be and the powers he claimed for the magistrate were contrary to all sound reason and biblical teaching.
But Parker would not be silenced either by Owen or other anonymous writers, and in 1671 he published A Defence and Continuation of the Ecclesiastical Politie. Owen chose not to continue the controversy but stood aside to allow Andrew Marvell, “the liveliest droll of his age,” to join in and eventually silence Parker in a torrent of caustic wit.1 The two men were in close contact for Owen read the proofs of Marvell’s The Rehearsal Transposed (1672–3) and Marvell kept in touch with Owen’s private affairs.2 Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, Owen also came under attack in 1670 from another source. In a pamphlet which was occasioned in part by Owen’s A Brief Instruction and in part by Parker’s attitude, and entitled A Letter to a Friend concerning some of Dr Owen’s Principles and Practices, George Vernon accused the former Dean of Christ Church of committing various crimes and misdemenours during the 1650s and of being a “libeller of authority” after the Restoration. By implication it was an attack on all the Congregational leaders. Since Vernon, the rector of Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire, was a neighbour of Sir Thomas Overbury, a future member of his London church, Owen addressed a brief reply to Vernon in the form of a printed letter to Sir Thomas under the title, Reflections on a Slanderous Libel.3 Earlier we referred to this pamphlet since in it Owen defended himself against such charges as that he abused the Lord’s Prayer and worked for the overthrow of Richard Cromwell. An anonymous friend of Owen, also incensed by Vernon’s accusations, defended him in An Expostulatory Letter to the Author of the late Slanderous Libel against Dr Owen (1671).
1See Pierre Legouis, Andrew Marvell, Oxford, 1965, pp. 194ff. and C. E. Whiting, Studies in English Puritanism, 1660–1688, 1931, pp. 502ff. for a brief description of this controversy.
2Historical MSS Com. Report on Finch MSS, II, p. 10; Marvell, Letters, Oxford, 1952, pp. 330–32.
3For Overbury see D.N.B. In a letter to Lord Wharton Owen referred to an enforced stay at the home of Sir Thomas. Correspondence, No. 82, pp. 156–7.
The Act to prevent and suppress seditious conventicles of 1670 aimed at providing “further and more speedy remedies against the growing dangerous practices of seditious sectaries,” who supposedly used the plea of tender conscience as a screen behind which to plot revolution. By the terms of this Act a magistrate, acting on little more than hearsay, could impose a sentence which could materially ruin an offender. Also if the offender could not pay then others were to be compelled to pay on his behalf. Ministers were to be fined £ 20 for a first offence and £40 for a second, whilst the owner of the building in which a meeting was held was liable to a fine of £20 or the seizure of his property.1 Before this notorious bill became law, Owen produced a short paper against its terms and sent it, probably via Philip, Lord Wharton, or the Earl of Anglesey, for the consideration of members of the House of Lords.2 As we have seen with both these men Owen was well acquainted and was often their guest.
1G. R. Cragg, Puritanism in the Period of Great Persecution, Cambridge, 1957.
2This paper was entitled “The State of the Kingdom with respect to the present Bill against Conventicles” and is in Works, XIΠ, pp. 583ff.
“The whole kingdom,” he explained in the paper, “is at present in peace and quietness ... and all individual men are improving their industry, according to their best skill and opportunities.” Sadly he wrote that this “bill against conventicles, if passed, will introduce a disturbance into this order of things in every county, every city, ever borough and town corporate, and almost every village in the nation.” English trade and industry as well as the Protestant Faith would be greatly harmed. The paper closed with a moving plea for toleration of Nonconformists. But it was all in vain. The Bill became law and when Owen saw that it was not being applied to Roman Catholics he quickly wrote another tract, The Grounds and Reasons on which Protestant Dissenters desire their Liberty1 in which he emphasised yet again that Congregationalists (and Presbyterians for that matter) were Protestants, firmly committed to the doctrinal standards of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Thus they should not be subject to pernicious laws and penalties but be given the legal right to worship God peacefully in their assemblies.
1Works, XIII, pp. 576ff.
Happily the indignities were not to last long for “the King’s business,” as Owen had previously remarked, was best served by an indulgence. In June 1670 Charles II entered into the secret Treaty of Dover in which he pledged not only his support for the French in the war with the Dutch but also his intention to declare himself a Roman Catholic at the first favourable opportunity.1 The nature of this treaty, one of the most discreditable instruments in the history of English diplomacy, made it imperative that Charles should do something to please both Protestant and Roman Catholic Dissenters; he knew that a war with the Dutch would be unfavourably received in the City of London by many merchants who had nonconformist sympathies, and he naturally wanted to alleviate the lot of Catholics. So it is no surprise to learn that in August 1671 “several from the King from time to time have met Dr Owen.”2 The result of these discussions, and of the more difficult ones with the Presbyterian leaders, was the famous Declaration of Indulgence issued in March 1672 on the eve of the war with the Dutch. On the 28th March two groups of Nonconformists thanked the King, whom they met in Lord Arlington’s lodgings.3 In the morning four Congregational ministers led by Owen rendered their thanks and Owen delivered a short set speech;4 in the afternoon it was the turn of the Presbyterians led by Thomas Manton.
1Ogg, op. cit., pp. 338ff.
2C.S.P.D. (1671), p. 264.
3C.S.P.D. (1671–2), p. 609.
4For the text of this speech see Correspondence, pp. 126–7. For details of the Indulgence see Frank Bate, The Declaration of Indulgence, Liverpool, 1908.
The preamble to the Declaration stated in cogent terms the futility of persecution. By his “supreme powers in ecclesiastical affairs” Charles would suspend all penal laws against Nonconformists. Roman Catholics were free to worship in their homes but Protestants might meet in public as long as they secured licences for both the minister and the place of worship. The licences were issued from the office of Lord Arlington. In all some 416 Congregational ministers and 642 households successfully petitioned for them.1 Many also were granted to Presbyterians and Baptists. A sizeable number of Congregational ministers, however, did not make application for licences.2 Owen, it seems, was never granted one, although an application was made on his behalf: the Society of Leathersellers gave permission for Owen, assisted by John Loder, to preach in its hall, but for reasons that are not known, Lord Arlington chose not to give a licence to this hall.3 Loder was not discouraged for he later received a licence to preach in Cherry Tree Alley as an assistant to Philip Nye, but Owen does not appear to have made another application. He did, however, act as an intermediary for others who desired licences or who wanted changes made in the stated place of worship on licences already granted. Furthermore, he allowed his new home in Charterhouse Yard which he had recently acquired probably with the £500 left to him by his kinsman, Martyn Owen, to be used as a place where licences could be safely kept until people from country areas could collect them.4
1These figures are taken from Turner, Original Records, III, pp. 727 and 734.
2Cf. R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England, 1662–1962, 1962, p. 92.
3Turner, Original Records, II, p. 980. For Loder see C.R.
4Turner, Original Records, III, p. 479.
The period of one year during which the indulgence was in force was of considerable significance for churches of the Congregational way and for Protestant Dissent in general. It was like a new beginning and churches were able to survey their condition and rally their forces in an atmosphere of freedom. Licences to men or houses went to every county in England except Cornwall and Westmoreland. The main strength of Congregationalism was in the London area and in the towns of East Anglia, with strong outposts in Devon and Yorkshire. In the City of London some merchants and ministers felt that Protestant Nonconformists should provide some kind of united front. As a result they instituted a joint Presbyterian-Congregationalist Lecture, which became known as the Ancient Merchants’ Lecture.1 Six lecturers were appointed to preach in turn each Tuesday at midday. The original six were William Bates, William Jenkyn, Thomas Manton, Richard Baxter, John Collins and John Owen. The venue was Pinners’ Hall, so named after the company, making pins and needles, who owned it. It proved to be an extremely popular Lecture and continued, even in the dark days of persecution that lay ahead, as a joint effort until 1694 when theological disagreement caused the Presbyterians to leave and set up their own Lecture.2 The controversy in 1694 was over what were deemed to be Arminian tendencies of some of the Presbyterian lecturers. A foretaste of this was felt in 1674 when Baxter was criticised by some hearers for his seeming adherence to a doctrinal position that seemed nearer to Dutch Arminianism that orthodox Calvinism. Since the exchanges of 1649–50 Owen had known that Baxter was not a full-blooded Calvinist and his sympathies were therefore probably with the protesters.
1T. G. Crippen, “The Ancient Merchants’ Lecture,” Transactions of the Cong. Hist. Soc., VII, pp. 300ff.
2See further Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689–1765, 1967, pp. 49ff.
Before this theological squabble took place in Pinners’ Hall in 1674 the seal had been broken off the Declaration of Indulgence and its provisions ceased. When this happened in March 1673 Protestant Nonconformity had become established as a powerful and permanent part of English religious life and in this Owen had played a not inconsiderable role. Eight years later he wrote that the Congregational churches had “thankfully accepted and made use of this royal favour” although they realised that the Indulgence “was designed only as an expedient for the peace and prosperity of the kingdom until the whole matter might be settled in Parliament.”1 Such a settlement, however, had to wait until 1689, six years after Owen’s death, and thus for the rest of his life he had to continue the long struggle for his cause. Unfortunately virtually nothing is known of his further activities to seek to persuade the government to grant toleration. The Duke of Buckingham was probably in close touch with him in the autumn of 1675 before he made a speech in the House of Lords on the 16th November requesting permission to bring in a bill for the ease and security of Dissenters.2 A year earlier, when Owen had left his home to convalesce at Tunbridge Wells in Kent, he spent several hours with the Duke of York, who was also taking the waters, and explained to him, even though he was a Roman Catholic, his own position with regard to Protestant Nonconformity and its need for freedom.3 Some little time later, when Owen had returned to London, the King himself sent for the Congregational divine and gave him one thousand guineas to use for the relief of suffering Dissenters, who were writing to Owen and his colleagues for help and advice.4 When news of the gift became public, Owen had to justify his acceptance of the money against the criticism that his taking of it implied that he agreed with the toleration of Roman Catholic worship. That Owen was totally opposed to the Roman Catholic system of doctrine and worship was widely known since he had written against it and in his proposals for toleration he had specifically outlawed it. Furthermore in 1674 and for several years afterwards, he was actively engaged in giving a series of lectures known as “The Morning Exercises against Popery” in the Meeting House in Farthing Alley, Southwark.5
1“To the Reader” in An Inquiry ... in Works, XV, p. 190.
2This bill would have allowed two or more J.P’s to license any place for worship as long as certain regulations were obeyed. Cf. Thomas, op. cit., p. 222, and Lacey, op. cit., p. 80.
3Asty, p. xxix.
4Cf Stoughton, op. cit., III, p. 401.
5Three of his sermons were printed in collections of the sermons edited by Nathaniel Vincent and Samuel Annesley. See Works,VIII, pp. 473ff.
Like many of his contemporaries Owen was extremely sensitive to the threat of Popery because of, amongst other things, the Roman Catholic sympathies of the House of Stuart. In 1678, and in the years immediately following, when Titus Oates had supposedly exposed an alleged Popish Plot to assassinate the King, massacre Protestants and invade Ireland with a French army, Owen believed most of the rumours he heard. “Half the talk of the world,” he remarked in 1680, “is upon this subject.” A year later he referred to the discovery of the Plot and the subsequent punishment of Roman Catholic conspirators as a proof that England was not yet “utterly forsaken of the Lord its God.”1 Apart from sermons (at which we shall look in chapter seven) on this topic preached to his church, Owen felt moved to publish a short work entitled The Church of Rome no safe Guide (1679) and three years later A Brief and Impartial Account of the Nature of the Protestant Religion (1682).2 These clearly reveal that the general range of Owen’s eschatological thought had remained constant since the mid-1640s. He still saw in Revelation and II Thessalonians the prophecy of the rise, apostasy and then ultimate destruction of the Church of Rome as well as God’s promise that Biblical religion would finally triumph in the latter days. Since, therefore, the imperfectly reformed Church of England had only a limited life, the saints of God should continue to look to God as their Deliverer.
1Works, IX, pp. 13 and 505. For the Plot see Ogg, op. cit., pp. 559ff.
2Works, XIV, pp. 482ff. and 530ff.
The three Exclusion Parliaments which met between 1679 and 1681 in the aftermath of the disclosure of the Plot were assemblies in which not only Owen but Nonconformists in general took a lively interest. One Lancashire minister writing to a friend in Massachusetts expressed himself cautiously but hopefully: “Some more hopeful members are chosen unto our Parliament (that of March 1679) and it seems as if there might be some lifting of the yoke. The danger is lest the Parliament be too good to sit long.”1 One of the forty or more Presbyterian and Congregationalist members of the three Parliaments was Sir John Hartopp, by now an intimate friend of Owen. We may presume that from Sir John and from the Earl of Anglesey, who was both in the Lords and the Privy Council, as well as from others (e.g. Lord Wharton), Owen was kept well informed as to what transpired in both Whitehall and Westminster. He must have been fairly pleased with the work of the first Parliament, even though he probably shared Anglesey’s vehement conviction that the King should never have dissolved it.2 The passing of the Habeas Corpus Amendment Act, which provided that a prisoner could demand that his case be examined before the courts, may possibly have given him some satisfaction, while the decision not to renew the Licensing Act of 1662 must certainly have pleased him. On account of this Act Owen had encountered troubles in publishing several of his books. Yet the failure to pass the Bill which would have excluded the Duke of York from the throne must have been a real disappointment to him, dedicated as he was to the removal of all traces of popery. However, the substantial victory won by the Earl of Shaftesbury and his political associates in the new elections of the summer of 1679 came as a relief to the Nonconformists. In no small way they had contributed to the success of the Whig Party and they were naturally disappointed when the King prorogued Parliament immediately after its first meeting on the 7th October. When it seemed that the new Parliament would never be requested to return to Westminster, certain Whig and Nonconformist leaders organised petitions. Among the latter were John Owen, Richard Baxter, John Howe and Thomas Jacombe.3 Little is known of these petitions but the fact that Owen and his brethren were involved with them reveals to what extent they were involved in active politics. In their view the propagation of the Gospel included necessary participation in political action.
1Thomas Jollie to Increase Mather, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 4th series, Boston, 1868, VIII, p. 325.
2Lacey, op. cit., p. 134.
3Ibid, p. 138.
Eventually Parliament returned to Westminster on the 26th October 1680. The Commons proceeded to pass a new and more stringent Exclusion Bill which was only rejected in the House of Lords by the brilliant advocacy of the Earl of Halifax. Shaftesbury, bold as ever, tried to indict the Duke of York as a popish recusant; he wanted to ensure that Charles was succeeded by the Duke of Monmouth, his illegitimate but Protestant son. Others wanted to see one of the Duke’s Protestant daughters become heir to the throne. Despite the differences of opinion concerning the Protestant succession, most Whigs and Nonconformists were gratified to see the impeachment and execution of Lord Stafford, an elderly Roman Catholic, for his supposed part in the Popish Plot. With reference to this and earlier executions, Owen maintained that God had “stirred up some ... of the nobles and our rulers ... to pursue them to condign punishment who were the contrivers, authors, abettors and carriers on of that bloody design.”1 Nevertheless the Exclusion Bill was never passed either in this or the third brief Exclusion Parliament. The “Whig frenzy” was succeeded by the “Royalist reaction.” The humiliated King regained much of his popularity and the Court party prepared to make the law courts the instrument of its revenge. In May 1682 the Duke of York was allowed to return from exile. The immediate future for Nonconformists seemed, and in fact turned out to be, bleak.
1Works, IX, p. 13.
In the period during which the second Exclusion Parliament was prorogued, Nonconformity found a formidable opponent in the person of Edward Stillingfleet, the Dean of St Paul’s, London. Compared with the controversy the Dean caused, that which Parker had initiated a decade earlier was unimportant. Even Richard Baxter felt obliged to join in this time. Early in May 1680 the Dean preached before the Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Clayton, and other dignitaries in the Guildhall Chapel.1 The sermon was later рublished as The Mischief of Separation (1680) and within twelve months had gone through at least four printings. According to its preface it was not designed to stir up a further persecution of Dissenters but rather to lay “a certain foundation for a lasting union” amongst English Protestants, that is between Conformists and Nonconformists. After deploring the sad divisions in English Christianity, Stillingfleet proceeded to an examination of his text (Philippians 3:16 “by that same rule let us walk”) which he believed contained an apostolic rule – uniformity of worship and practice in the one Church in the one country. He went on to apply this supposed rule to the ecclesiastical situation in England with special reference to the practice of “lay communion” (i.e. attendance as laymen at the service of Holy Communion, etc.) by nonconformist ministers at parish churches. Protestant Dissenters agreed with the doctrinal articles of the Church of England; they conceded that many parish churches, if not all, contained congregations professing the true Faith of Christ, but yet they still stayed away from them. Their claim was that they were using the New Testament as their model; but if they were, he continued, why did they not have family churches like that of Aquila (Romans 16:3) or why did not they return to the community of goods (Acts 2:44) or to the washing of each other’s feet (John 13)?
1For Stillingfleet and Clayton see D.N.B.
One of Stillingfleet’s most subtle arguments was his use of the declaration of the majority of the divines of the Westminster Assembly against the request of the Dissenting Brethren for toleration of their congregationally-governed churches. He even supplied a quotation from the Papers and Answers for ... Accomodation (1648),1 to show that Nonconformists even fell under the condemnation of the Westminster divines! Then he continued by ridiculing the notion of “tender conscience” pleaded by many. In conclusion, he called for a realisation that no Church can be wholly pure on earth, that great men of the past (e.g. John Hooper and Nicholas Ridley)2 had stayed within the Church, that the threat of Roman Catholicism demanded unity amongst Protestants, and that Nonconformists should not be always complaining of the suffering they underwent for their principles.
1The full title was The Papers and Answers of the Dissenting Brethren and the Committee of the Assembly of Divines. Given in to the Honorable Committee of Lords and Commons and Assembly of Divines with the Scotch Commissioners, for Accomodation at the Reviving of the Committee in 1645.
2They were both martyrs under Mary Tudor. See A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation, 1967, pp. 362ff.
The publication of the sermon soon caused many men to write replies. Baxter wrote a private letter to the Dean and, not being satisfied with the answer he received, wrote “with so much anger and unbecoming passion,” Richard Baxter’s Answer to Dr. E.S.’s Charge of Separation (1680). Like “a well disposed gentleman” John Hoke wrote A Letter written out of the Country to a Person of Quality in the City (1680). Vincent Alsop produced “with more than ordinary briskness” The Mischief or Impositions (1680). John Barret recalled Stillingfleet’s earlier moderate views in his The Rector of Sutton committed with the Dean of St Paul’s: or, A Defence of Stillingfleet’s “Irenicum” ... against his late Sermon (1680).1 With “civility and decent language” John Owen penned A Brief Vindication of the Nonconformists from the Charge of Schism (1680).1 It was these five replies that Stillingfleet singled out for reply in his defence of the first book under the title, The Unreasonableness of Separation (1681).2
1Works, XIII, pp. 304ff.
2The descriptions of the men in this paragraph are those of Stillingfleet in his preface.
Owen decided that the purpose of The Mischief of Separation was threefold. First, it aimed at proving all Nonconformists guilty of schism and separation from the Church of England. Second, it sought to aggravate their supposed guilt and its consequences. Third, it charged them, and especially their ministers, with a lack of sincerity in the management and conduct of their dissent, especially in relation to “lay communion” with the Church of England. Neither did he agree with the Dean’s explanation of Philippians 3:16. In his opinion the rule there stated required forbearance and charity amongst Christians of different backgrounds and attainments (e.g. between Jewish and Gentile Christians) not uniformity. So the verse had a very different application to Nonconformists than that envisaged by the Dean. As Owen explained:
We deny that the apostles made or gave any such rules to the churches present in their days, or for the use of the churches in future ages, as should appoint and determine outward modes of worship, with ceremonies in their observation, stated feasts and fasts, beyond what is of divine institution, liturgies, or forms of prayer, or discipline to be exercised in law courts, subservient unto a national ecclesiastical government.1
1Works, XIII, p. 323.
The disputes in the Church of the second and third centuries over the date of Easter, with some claiming Johannine and others Petrine authority, prove that the apostles laid down no laws of uniformity.
With regard to lay communion Owen had some pertinent comments to make:
The question about lay communion is concerning that which is absolute and total, according unto all that is enjoined by the laws of the land and by the canons, constitutions, and orders of the Church. Hereby are they obliged to bring their children to be baptised with the use of the aerial sign of the cross; to kneel at Communion; to the religious observance of holidays; to the constant use of the Liturgy in all the public offices of the Church, unto the exclusion of the exercise of those gifts which Christ continues to communicate for its edification; to forego all means of public edification besides that in their parish churches, where, to speak with modesty, it is of rimes scanty and wanting; to renounce all other assemblies wherein they have had great experience of spiritual advantage unto their souls; to desert the observation of many useful Gospel duties, in their mutual watch that believers of the same church ought to have one over another; to divest themselves of all interest of a voluntary consent in the discipline of the Church, and choice of their pastors; and to submit unto an ecclesiastical rule and discipline which not one in a thousand of them can apprehend to have anything in it of the authority of Christ or rule of the Gospel.1
As far as he knew not more than six nonconformist ministers in the nation held the practice of “lay communion” to be lawful.
1Works, XIII, p. 313.
Owen was particularly sensitive to the claims made on behalf of a National Church to have the rights and power through the supreme magistrate of imposing rites and ceremonies as well as a particular form of church government. “Our sole enquiry,” he emphasised, “is with what our Lord Jesus Christ hath ordained.” He went on to admit that Stillingfleet’s point about the views of the majority of divines in the Westminster Assembly seemed valid, but he refused to agree that it had any reference to the situation in 1680 when the issues were different.
Those who pleaded then for a kind of conformity or agreement in total communion did not propose one of those things, as the condition of it, which are now pleaded as the only reasons of witholding the same kind of conformity from the Church of England, and the non-imposition of any such things that made the foundation of their plea for the compliance of others with them; and those on the other side, who pleaded for liberty and forbearance in such a case as wherein there were no impositions, did it mostly on the common liberty which, as they judged, they had with their other brethren to abide by the way which they had declared and practised long before any rule was established unto its prejudice.1
1Works, XIII, p. 338.
In other words, the uniformity proposed by Presbyterians in 1645 did not include those things (e.g. compulsory liturgy, prelacy, diocesan ecclesiastical courts, ceremonies, and the sign of the cross in baptism) which were required by the Act of Uniformity of 1662. Owen ended his tract with a moving defence of those whom the Dean had been pleased to accuse of chronic complaining.
Following Stillingfleet’s answer, The Unreasonableness of Separation which first appeared in print in the London bookshops in December 1680 when Parliament was discussing two further bills which related to Comprehension and Toleration, more replies appeared and the controversy dragged on for several more years.1 Owen himself briefly replied to Stillingfleet’s second tract in an appendix to his An Inquiry into the Original Nature ... and Communion of Evangelical Churches (1681).2 One point that he made exceedingly clear was that Nonconformists were in no way guilty of encouraging Popery through their separation from the Established Church. For, as he pointed out, if the Jesuits did take over England it would be the staunch opponents of Roman Catholicism, mostly Nonconformists, who would first drink the “cup of their fury.”
1Thomas, op. cit., pp. 225ff.
2Works, XV, pp. 188ff.
A most interesting fact about the discussions in the second Exclusion Parliament was that it was Churchmen alone who took any interest in comprehension of Dissenters within the State Church. The Nonconformists in the Commons worked only for an Act allowing legal conventicles. Outside Parliament London merchants had drawn up proposals for an agreement between Presbyterians and Congregationalists. These were sent for study by ministers in Bristol and then returned for revision by London ministers.1 Owen himself studied this document, and told Thomas Jollie, the minister at Wymondhouses in Lancashire, of his agreement with it and of his great desire to see some form of unity amongst Nonconformists.2 Unfortunately we have little or no information about the progress of discussions in London concerning the document. Possibly they were kept secret in order not to cause resentment in government circles. And the same fear may have been the reason why they were never implemented. Hopefully waiting for the toleration Bill to become law, it was probably the intention of the ministers and merchants to publicise it after the Bill was on the Statute Book, but, when the Bill failed to become law and when persecution was intensified, the contents of the document became for the time being impractical and it was shelved until after the Revolution of 1688. However, one fact is clear from a study of the document. The unity aimed at was to strengthen Nonconformity as a force permanently outside the Church of England. Gone was the idealism of Baxter which hoped to see most Dissenters back into the National Church.
1This document has been edited by Roger Thomas and printed as a pamphlet by Dr Williams’s Library as Occasional Paper, No. 6.
2See Dr Will.Lib. Occasional Paper No. 6, p. 16 for details.
As we have seen, the renewal of persecution in 1681 came about because Shaftesbury and the Whigs, by their demands and their attempts to exclude the Duke of York from the succession to the throne, had over-reached themselves and allowed the humiliated King to invoke the sympathy of his subjects.1 Royalist reaction and general fear of another period of civil unrest like that of the 1640s caused magistrates to implement the law against Nonconformists with zeal. Protestant Dissenters suffered the penalty for their support of the Whig programme. Though a sick man Owen was incensed by what was happening around him and he proceeded to write at least two pamphlets in defence of his brethren who were being roughly treated. In The Case of Present Distresses on Nonconformists Examined2 he argued that the trial practised under the Conventicle Act was contrary to the basic law of nations (cf. Acts 25:16), to common sense, and to the very purpose of penal laws, which were to enquire into offences for the good of the public peace, not to function for the advantage of informers. Laws ought not to be turned into snares and neither should they be construed to the gain of some other person than the one accused. It was probably the strong measures taken against conventicles during 1681–2 by magistrates in London (who were urged to act by the Privy Council) which led to the writing of A Word of Advice to the Citizens of London.3 In this he protested against the equation in law of such crimes as murder and theft with the harmless activity of worshipping God in a conventicle. This was a monstrous situation and ought to be remedied.
1Lacey, op. cit., pp. 150ff.
2Works, XIII, pp. 578ff. “Distresses” is the equivalent of the modern word “distraints” and is a legal term relating to the seizure of goods. Stoughton, op. cit., IV, pp. 54ff.
3Works, XIII, pp. 587ff.
The same persecution against which he vehemently protested Owen also personally experienced in mild form. On one occasion, for example, when travelling into the City of London from Kensington, where he lived in the late 1670s, his horse and carriage was stopped in the Strand by two government informers and he was required to get out. Happily for Owen, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, a Justice of the Peace who figured prominently in the early history of the disclosure of the Popish Plot, was passing at the time and he stopped his carriage to ascertain what was happening. He ordered both Owen and the informers to meet him in his rooms at Bloomsbury where he satisfied himself that there was no case against the divine.1 A few years later, in November 1681, Owen was prosecuted under the Five Mile Act along with other notable Congregational, ministers, John Collins, Samuel Slater, Matthew Mead and Robert Ferguson.2 In 1682 further summonses were issued against George Griffith and Owen and government spies reported that he did not pray for either the King or government in his prayers within his gathered church which met in Leadenhall Street.3 He was arrested once more in 1683, suspected of complicity in the Rye House Plot to assassinate Charles II and place the Duke of Monmouth on the throne.4 Owen had no part in this plot but his former assistant minister, Robert Ferguson (whom we shall notice in the next chapter) had, and it was probably this connexion which was used to justify suspicion being cast on Owen. This, however, was the last time that the authorities were able to arrest or persecute him, for he died at Ealing in August 1683.
1Asty, p. xxxii. For Godfrey see D.N.B.
2C.S.P.D. (1680–81), pp. 592 and 613.
3C.S.P.D. (1682), pp. 86–7, and 104.
4C.S.P.D. (Jan–June, 1683), p. 356. His brother, Henry Owen, was arrested for alleged support of a proposed rebellion. Ibid, pp. 349 and 367–8.
In comparison with some of his fellow nonconformist ministers Owen had not experienced great personal difficulties under the effects of the Clarendon Code. He had not been in prison, but his friend Thomas Jollie had been in prison five times,1 Richard Baxter and John Bunyan had also seen the inside of a gaol for considerable periods. Owen’s comparative freedom from persecution and privation was in part due to the fact that during his days as Dean of Christ Church he had accumulated a large group of friends, many of them wealthy, and these stood by him and supported him with their hospitality and help. Even if, like Sir William Morice, they did not wholly agree with his Congregational viewpoint, they still admired and respected him. His financial position was secured by the possession of lands and property which he had bought during the 1650s, the legacy of Martyn Owen in 1668 of £500 and by his second marriage in June 1677 to the wealthy young widow of Thomas D’Oyley.2 Yet, despite his affluence, Owen was not ignorant of the suffering of his brethren under the severity of the penal laws. Utilising his friendship with members of both Houses of Parliament he gave much of his time after 1660 to the search for a legal toleration of Protestant Nonconformists. Regrettably, he did not live long enough to see his efforts come to fruition.
1Cf. Jones, Congregationalism in England, p. 76.
2Owen’s possession of lands is seen in his will, Correspondence, p. 181. His wife was the niece of John D’Oyley of Stadhampton. The marriage is recorded in Calendar of Marriage Licences issued by the Faculty Office, 1632–1714, 1905, p. 68.
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