The Life and Work of John Owen
Pastor, Educator, Theologian
by Peter Toon
Zondervan Publishing House, 1973
I. The Years of Preparation
II. Extending Service
III. Dean and Vice-Chancellor
IV. Ecclesiastical Statesman
V. Changing Responsibilities
VI. Protestant Nonconformist
VII. Pastor and Theologian
Appendix I. List of Owen’s Books
II. Epitaph by Thomas Gilbert
List of Abbreviations
Comparative Chronological Table of Events
Index of Subjects and Places [omitted for web]
Index of Personal Names [omitted for web]
Note: Footnotes, formerly page by page, have been moved following paragraphs in which cited.
This book is an attempt to produce a study of the life, career and basic teaching of a man into whose innermost thoughts and feelings it is difficult if not impossible to enter. Not one of John Owen’s diaries has been, preserved; and since the extant letters in which he lays bare his soul are very few, and recorded, personal reactions of others to him are brief and scarce, this study necessarily lacks many of those personal touches which have helped to establish biography as an important part of English literature. Nevertheless it is my sincere hope that this study will satisfy the current need for a fuller life of Owen.1
1 Earlier biographies of Owen are described is the Epilogue, chap. viii.
The organisation of the chapters is dictated mainly by the availability of material and most of this relates to the years 1651 to 1660. Chapters I and II are essentially chronological in form, describing the life of Owen from 1616 to 1651 and examining the formative influences which helped to shape his character. They are in fact an improved version of the introductory chapters of my edition of The Correspondence of John Owen (1970). Chapters III and IV deal with the years 1651 to 1658 from two different angles. One investigates his work at Oxford whilst the other is concerned with his contribution to religious affairs on a national level. The next chapter describes his efforts between the death of Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of Charles II to preserve the liberties of the Congregational churches. Chapters VI and VII are parallel in that both look at the years 1660 to 1683 from two different angles; the first examines his efforts to gain toleration for Nonconformists and the other looks at his work as a pastor and theologian. The last chapter takes the form of an epilogue.
If there is any merit in my work it is due in large part to the inspiration supplied by Dr Geoffrey Nuttall and the kind help and criticisms of Dr Brian Quintrell, Dr Barrie White, Dr John Mason, Dr Charles Webster, Dr E. W. Ives, Dr J. I. Packer, Mr E. G. W. Bill, Mr C. H. T. Parry, the Rev Alan Beesley, Mrs Sarah Cook, Dr B. S. Capp, and Mr B. H. Mudditt.
The British Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Libraries of the University of Durham, the University of Liverpool, New College, London, Christ Church, Oxford, Edge Hill College, Ormskirk, and Lambeth Palace, London, gave me excellent service. Last, but not least, my wife, who has endured for over four years the experience of my intense commitment to the life and times of John Owen, deserves a special word of thanks.
All books cited in footnotes are published in London unless otherwise indicated.
Chapter I – The Years of Preparation
When, on the 29th April 1646, John Owen, then a young. man of thirty years of age, preached before the House of Commons in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, it may be said that he had achieved national recognition as a preacher and theologian.1 He called upon Parliament to provide for the propagation of the Gospel of Christ in all parts of Britain and, when the sermon was printed, he added an appendix which contained advice for the settlement of religion in the nation. Here were two themes that were to occupy his attention for the rest of his life. From that day onward his fame and influence steadily grew. The explanation and account of this growth will occupy our attention in subsequent chapters; in this chapter we must examine the experiences of the first thirty years of his life which contributed to his development into the independent divine who spoke with such conviction before the Commons on that fast-day in 1646.
1The sermon is printed in Works, VIII, pp. 1ff.
It was in the thirteenth year of the reign of James I in England, the year in which William Shakespeare died, that John Owen came into the world.1 Though he could not know it, he was born into a country which, from a political and religious standpoint, was far from happy. There was tension between the King and his subjects. Since February 1611, except for the two months in 1614 when the “Addled Parliament” expressed the anger but demonstrated the impotence of the electoral classes, public affairs were abandoned to the chance intrigues of the Court, which morally was far from healthy. Owen’s parents, like most Puritans, must have been scandalized by news they received from London of favour shown by James to papists and to immoral nobles.2 No doubt John’s father, the Reverend Henry Owen, shared with fellow clergy grave misgivings about the behaviour of his earthly sovereign and his chief advisers.3 Little did he or they realise that under the next monarch, Charles I, matters would get worse and many members of the puritan brotherhood of preachers would emigrate.4 This however was a long time ahead. In 1616 baby John had only one brother, William, born four years earlier, but in the next few years his mother gave birth to at least three more children. These were two boys and a girl, all of whom survived the precarious years of infancy, which at that time claimed so many infants for an early grave.5 This meant that he had the happy and stabilising experience of growing up as a member of a family.
1Despite much effort (as I pointed out in Correspondence, pp. 3–4) I have not been able to ascertain the place of his birth.
2The poisoning of Sir Thomas Ovеrbury and the síníster events which surrounded it were especially disgusting. Cf. Godfrey Davies, The Early Stuarts, 1603–1660, Oxford, 1959, pp. 16ff.
3Henry Owen was of Welsh blood, had studied at Oxford and then taught in a school at Stokenchurch, Bucks, before going to Stadham. Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxoniensis, ed. Philip Bliss, 1813–20, IV, col. 97.
4See Perry Miller, Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, Boston, Mass, 1933.
5The names of the two boys were Henry and Philemon. Henry became a major in the Lord Protector’s regiment (C. Firth & G. Davies, The Regimental History of Cromwell’s Army, Oxford, 1940, p. 594) and outlived his brother John. Philemon became a captain in the army that went to Ireland in 1649 and was killed there (C.J., VII, p. 39). I cannot trace the Christian name of his sister who married a Mr Singleton (C.R. s.v. John Singleton). His mother’s name (if the widow who survived Henry Owen was his first wife) was Hester and she married the Rev. John Hartcliffe. See Correspondence, p. 9.
After 1616 the family lived in the parsonage at Stadham (now Stadhampton), a small village five miles from Oxford. The origins of the parish church here went back into the eleventh century, from which time until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII it was controlled by Dorchester Abbey. From 1607 the living at Stadham was granted to the D’Oyleys, who owned the neighbouring Manor at Chislehampton and the gift of the living there. So the two parishes were served by the one curate.1 Furthermore, the two villages could claim a puritan tradition. In 1604, John D’Oyley persuaded Robert Harris, who later became President of Trinity College, to live and preach at Chislehampton whilst Oxford was affected by the plague. D’Oyley’s wife, Ursula, was a woman well versed in Calvinist divinity and a sister of Sir Anthony Cope of Hartwell, who went to the Tower in 1586–7 for his determined but unsuccessful efforts to reform the Book of Common Prayer. Walter Chaundler, the curate before Henry Owen, was known as “a faithful minister and a zealous preacher of God’s Word.”2 So the arrival of John Owen’s father meant that the existing puritan tradition was to be strengthened and enlarged.
1For a description of Stadham see the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire, ed. R. B. Pugh, 1962, VII, pp. 81ff. For the D’Oyley family see W. D. D’Oyley Bayley, A Biographical Account of the House of D’Oyley, 1845, and for Cope see D.N.B. s.v. his grandfather of the same name.
2This statement is from the parish register and is quoted in the Vict. Hist. Of Oxfordshire, VII, p. 83. Chaundler was buried at Stadhampton on March 7, 1615 and in 1618 one of the parishioners, who had greatly esteemed him, erected a tomb for him, which is still in the churchyard.
Within the parsonage the children were taught to pray, to read the Bible and to obey the commandments. Each day they sat with the servants listening to their father expound a portion of Holy Scripture and pray for the country, the parish and for each of them individually. At their mother’s knee they learned psalms and other portions of the Bible. As each Lord’s Day came along they knew that it was a day of rest and worship for the whole community, the squire, the yeomen and the labourers. Religious observance, though important, was not the only activity of the parsonage. The children had to learn to read and write as well as help with the manual chores. For their recreation they probably joined children from the village and made use of the open countryside, the haystacks and the farm animals to have fun. In his voluminous writings, John made no reference to his mother or his brothers and sister. There is, however, one brief but telling reference to his father, whom he certainly admired. “I was bred up from my infancy,” he wrote in 1657, “under the care of my father, who was a nonconformist all his days, and a painful labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.”1 Obviously Henry Owen did not wear certain рrescribed ecclesiastical vestments (e.g. the surplice) and he also omitted those parts of the Prayer Book which he believed were contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the Genevan, Calvinist tradition. He was able to do this at Stadham only because he had the support of the D’Oyley family who must have protected him from the ecclesiastical authorities. Apart from his puritan approach to worship, Henry Owen seems also to have been a faithful pastor who taught his parishioners the fundamentals of the Faith, visited the sick and dying and engaged in prayer to God for the salvation of all their souls. We may thus perhaps attribute to the influence of his father the genesis of many of Owen’s later emphases, characteristics and opinions. His insistence that Holy Scripture is the only authority for faith, worship and conduct, his Calvinist theology, his opposition to ceremonial in worship, his understanding of the pastoral office, his deep conviction of God’s providential dealings with the British people and his personal search for communion and fellowship with God through Christ may all have had their origin in the home and church at Stadham.
1Works, XIII, p. 224.
John was perhaps about ten years old when he was sent with his elder brother, William, to the small grammar school run by Edward Sylvester in a house in the parish of All Saints, Oxford.1 William Chillingworth, author of the classic The Religion of Protestants a Safe Way to Salvation (1638), and Henry Wilkinson, who was to become the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity and a Canon of Christ Church, had been scholars there a few years earlier.2 The fees for the two sons of Henry Owen were paid by his brother (or brother-in-law) who lived in Wales. In Sylvester’s school they gained the rudiments of grammar, Latin, and literature as a preparation for the undergraduate course in the University, Queen’s College being chosen as the place where the boys were to pursue their studies.3 The reasons for the choice are not known: perhaps Henry Owen or a relative had studied there, or perhaps the boys father knew Christopher Potter, the new Provost, who in earlier years had enjoyed the reputation of being a Puritan.4 At least one point in favour of Queen’s, we may reflect, was that it had once provided shelter for John Wyclif the Biblical reformer, for whom Henry Owen would have had a high regard.
1Anthony Wood briefly mentions Sylvester in Fasti Oxonienses, ed. Philip Bliss, 1815, p.34.
2For Chillingworth and Wilkinson see D.N.B.
3The most recent history of Queen’s is R. H. Hodgkin, Six Centuries of an Oxford College, Oxford, 1949.
4For Potter see D.N.B. In his youth he had been a follower of the puritan Provost, Henry Airay, a noted opponent of William Laud.
From the Diary kept by Thomas Crosfield, a Fellow of Queen’s, we are able to catch a glimpse of student life at this time.1 On many mornings there was a Latin sermon in the College Chapel at 6.a.m. followed by breakfast. Lectures, tutorials and disputations, all conducted in Latin, took up the hours to dinner at 10 a.m. After the meal there was time for recreation before more lectures and disputations were held. After Chapel in the afternoon there was time for private study and consultation with a tutor. The regular routine was interrupted by such things as Holy Days when Holy Communion in the Chapel was compulsory. The two great social occasions, when relatives and former students came to the College, were the Act in July and Founder’s Day in August. On the 15th August (the obit of Queen Philippa) many “old boys” returned to meet former friends and to enjoy the pleasures of wine and merriment. On the Monday after 7 July came the climax of the academic year, the Comitia, commonly known as the Act. Oxford was filled with visitors for the celebrations of the weekend. They began with Vesperies on the Saturday which involved public lectures and disputations followed by a formal supper in each faculty. Special sermons were preached on the Sunday. On the Monday morning those who were due to graduate or to take part in the public academic exercises assembled at 9 a.m. for Holy Communion at St Mary’s Church. After this service they went in solemn procession to the place where the exercises were to take place. When all was completed, and the degrees of doctor conferred, the Vice-Chancellor addressed the audience in Latin to give them his impression of the highlights of the year now completed. Associated with the public disputation in philosophy was the custom of terrae-filius, the elected wag of the students, who was given licence to act stupidly and speak provocatively for the entertainment of onlookers. With his puritan training Owen may have viewed the festivities in both July and August with some horror, even if he actually was obliged to join in them with the other students. Indeed, it was probably a combination of what he had experienced whilst at Queen’s and that which he was to experience in 1653–4 which made him try to reform the festivities which closed the academic year when he was Vice-Chancellor.
1The Diary of Thomas Crosfιeld, ed. F. S. Boas, 1935.
John entered Queen’s at the tender age of twelve years but this was not exceptional at that time. His name was entered into the Buttery-Book, which meant he would be served with meals. However, he did not matriculate until the 4th November 1631 when he was fifteen. The ceremony of matriculation, usually conducted in the presence of the Vice-Chancellor, involved subscription to the Articles of the Church. He graduated Bachelor of Arts on the 11th June 1632, the same day that his brother, William, also graduated.1 To secure this degree, they had to be in residence for sixteen terms or four years, to attend specified lectures in the Public Schools of the University and to perform prescribed academic exercises. The course in Liberal Arts included the study of grammar and rhetoric in the first year, logic and moral philosophy in the second, geometry and Greek with more philosophy in the third and fourth. The academic exercises, which were central to the whole educational system at Oxford, were the disputations or the formal organised debates, which were developed in the medieval universities as a means of resolving questions left in doubt by the best authorities or as a way of reconciling conflicting opinions. A controversial point from logic or philosophy was put into the form of a question and then the debate proceeded in three stages. A participant, called the respondent, offered an answer or an interpretation of the question. Next, several opponents stated contradictory propositions and attacked flaws in the respondent’s argumentation. Finally, the moderator, who presided over the proceedings, summed up the arguments on each side, called attention to matters that had been overlooked and then bestowed praise or blame as due and gave his decision. John and William would have watched disputations in their first two years but in the latter part of the course they would have taken part in them. The purpose of these exercises was to develop the art of thinking logically and exploring all sides of a problem. In John’s case they certainly succeeded in doing this. Apart from the academic work, which for an intelligent boy was not over-demanding, John found time for physical exercises and was fond of throwing the javelin and doing the long jump. This suggests that he had a robust constitution, a fact which later portraits coufirm.2
1J. R. Magrath, The Queen’s College, Oxford, 1921, pp. 270ff: lists some of Owen’s fellow students but none of those listed seem to have played an important part in his later life.
2Asty, p. iii. Asty’s Memoir may be regarded as a reliable source since he relied for most of his information on Sir John Hartopp who from 1662 was a close friend of Owen. For details of existing portraits see chap. VIII.
The degree of Bachelor of Arts did not signify in the 1630s the completion of a complete course of study. Rather it signified the attainment of a sufficient standard to pursue higher studies for the degree of Master of Arts, which was considered to be a degree in the full sense of the word. John was fortunate in having the gifted Aristotelian scholar, Thomas Barlow, later Bishop of Lincoln, with whom he was to enjoy a life-time friendship, as his tutor for this course.1 From Barlow he imbibed “a full draught of Oxford learning at a time when the streams of controversy were in tumultuous conflict.” For, as Mark Curtis has shown, “the work of College tutors was definitely in the seventeenth century the most important influence on a scholar’s education.”2 The M.A. course lasted for three years and involved the listening to public lectures in geometry, metaphysics, ancient history, Greek, Hebrew, and astronomy, together with the usual round of disputations. As a review of the style and contents of Owen’s later books reveals, he was able to build upon and develop (though not always to the ease of his readers) this basic training in ancient languages, literature and philosophy. Indeed, so great was his zeal for knowledge at this time that he often allowed himself only four hours of sleep each night. His health was affected, and in later life, when he was often on a sick-bed, he regretted these hours of rest that he had missed as a youth. One of his recreational activities was playing the flute. He was taught by Thomas Wilson, whom twenty years later he appointed the Oxford professor of Music.
1For Barlow see D.N.B.
2M. H. Curtis, Oxford and Cambridge in Transition, Oxford, 1959, p. 107. The quotation in the previous sentence is from The Register of the Visitors ... 1647–1658, ed. M. Burrows, 1881, p. xxix.
On the 27th April 1635 both John and William received the degree of M.A. John was only nineteen, but this was not an exceptional age for a degree at the time. Soon afterwards they were ordained deacons by John Bancroft, Bishop of Oxford, in Christ Church.1 Still in receipt of an allowance from his Welsh uncle, John (and perhaps William also) began the seven-year course for the degree of Bachelor of Divinity. This gave him a splendid opportunity to begin to read widely in both British and Continental authors, an activity, we may note, that he kept up until his death nearly fifty years later. The two basic areas of divinity which had already attracted his attention, and which now would do so far more, were the continuing controversy between Protestants and Roman Catholics and the growth of Arminian doctrine in Holland and in the Church of England. Since we shall have cause to refer to the Arminian controversy in Holland when describing Owen’s first book, we need here only refer to the so-called “Arminianism” of the High-Church theologians of the Church of England (e.g. Lancelot Andrewes, John Cosin, Richard Montague, Richard Neile and William Laud) whose influence was particularly felt at Oxford in the 1630s. Naturally their understanding of grace and free-will, like that of modern Anglo-Catholics, fitted in with their doctrine of the Church, its ministry and sacraments. Against the majority of English churchmen they denied that the Pope was Antichrist and that the Papacy was under God’s condemnation. For them the Roman Church, along with the Orthodox Churches, was part of the Catholic Church and its ministry was a valid ministry. They contended that in the Catholic Church of which the Church of England was part the grace of God was channelled to the faithful by means of the lawful ministry and its administration of the Word and Sacraments. Necessarily such a position reduced the need to stress the sovereign, free grace of God and put greater emphasis on man’s part within the process of salvation. The faithful had to avail themselves of the sacraments and the ministry had faithfully to administer them. God’s grace came through the human, ecclesiastical system and those who would be saved had to accept salvation by this means.
1For Bancroft see D.N.B. The dates of the ordinations are not known for the lists for these years have not been preserved.
From the Provost of his own College, as well as from many of the Fellows, Owen heard preaching and catechising which, whilst ascribing salvation ultimately to God, nevertheless allowed man, through the exercise of his freewill, some part in the redemptive process. He saw and experienced the emphasis on the sacraments as a primary source of grace and on ceremonial in worship as a supposed expression of beauty and order. Provost Potter revived in the College Chapel practices which his predecessors had regarded as papistical. Tutors and students were required to bow to the holy table and at the mention of the name of Jesus, to wear full ecclesiastical robes, and to stand for the reading of the Gospel and the recital of the Creed. Sometimes incense was burned and the Chapel was beautified at a cost of £2,8oo, money which had been saved in the College chest.1
1Hodgkin, op. cit., pp. 72ff
What was happening in his own College was also taking place in others. At Christ Church, for example, under Brian Duppa, the inside of the Cathedral was renovated and beautified, the singing of the Venite, Te Deum and Benedictus was improved, grace was sung after meals by the chaplains, greater use was made of the organ and organist, and “caps” instead of “hats” were required to be worn for worship. And the doctrine from the pulpit was made to harmonise with the emphasis on beauty and orderliness.1 Indeed, since Owen had entered the University, a growing high-Church influence had made itself felt, inspired primarily by William Laud, who in 1630 became Chancellor of Oxford and three years later Archbishop of Caιιterbury.2 No doubt his influence was behind the actions of Potter and Duppa. Also, in 1628 Charles I had forbidden debates over such controversial subjects as divine election and predestination.3 To the Calvinists at Oxford this was seen as “a Jesuitical plot to subvert the Gospel.”4 But to Laud it was a ruling which he believed would work in such a way that the “unhappy differences likely to rend the Church ... might sleep first and die after.”5 And, at least on the surface, the issues between the old Calvinists and the new Laudians did virtually sleep. Yet they were kept alive by the faithful and resolute stand for their beliefs by such men as John Prideaux, the Regius Professor, John Wilkinson and Christopher Rogers, both Heads of Halls, as well as by the infrequent theological eruptions from such men as Thomas Hill.6 Laud, however, saw to it that those who disturbed the peace were punished, especially those who voiced Calvinist notions. Furthermore, he appointed as his Vice-Chancellors men who shared his doctinal views.7
1H. L. Thompson, Christ Church, 1900, pp. 61–3. For the state of the University see Anthony Wood, The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford, ed. John Gutch, Oxford, 1796, II, pp. 368ff. and C. E. Mallet, A History of the University of Oxford, 1924, II, pp. 303ff.
2For Laud see H. R. Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud, new ed. 1962.
3Cf. Curtis, op. cit., pp. 172–3.
4At least this is what Peter Heylyn reports in his Cyprianus Anglicus, 1671, p. 178.
5Laud, Historical Account of Chancellorship, in The Works of William Laud, ed. J. H. Parker, Oxford, 1853, V, p. 5.
6Wood, History ... of the University, II, pp. 372. In 1631 Hill of Hart Hall publicly denounced Arminian doctrine and was made to recant publicly upon his knees.
7Between 1630 and 1640 the Vice-Chancellors were: William Smyth (Warden of Wadham), Brian Duppa (Dean of Christ Church), Robert Pinke (Warden of New College), Richard Baylie (President of St John’s) and Accepted Frewen (President of Magdalen).
Outside the confines of Oxford the opposition to Arminian and high-Church theology (which most Calvinists saw as necessarily linked) was much stronger. In Parliament, for example, Francis Rous made a concerted attack against Richard Montague, the Bishop of Chichester (later of Norwich).1 A reading of the debates in the Commons of that year reveals that a majority of the members assumed that Arminianism was a branch of popery, or, at least, a helpmeet to it, that its propagation was a selling out of the Church to foreign domination, that the Church of England was a Calvinist and Reformed Church, and that those who were seeking to destroy the legal religion of England were also the instigators of the destruction of English liberties and property. Defence of Calvinism also came from the learned William Twisse and the energetic William Prynne.2 Quite rightly Owen quickly perceived that the central point at issue was the doctrine of predestination. For the Calvinist it guaranteed the free, unmerited grace of God, eliminated all human merit in salvation, and ensured the preservation of a reformed attitude to both the ministry and the sacraments. For the high-Church Arminian the same doctrine seemed to make man less than human, to deny human freewill and autonomy, and to make the “apostolic” ministry of the Church as well as the Eucharist unimportant or even redundant.3
1Commons Debates for 1629, ed. Wallace Notestein and Frances Relf, Minneapolis, 1921, pp. 12–13, 15–16, 33–34. For Montague and his connections with Laud see Trevor-Roper, op. cit., pp. 73ff.
2For Twisse and Prynne see D.N.B. Twisse wrote Vindicae Gratiae, Amsterdam, 1632, and Prynne, Anti-Arminianisme, 1630.
3It seems to me that C.H. & K.G. George, The Protestant Mind of the English Reformation, 1570–1640, Princeton, 1961, minimises by careful use of quotations the basic differences of doctrine that existed in the English Church. J. P. F. New, Anglican and Puritan: the basis of their opposition, 1964, is more reliable but there is still room for a careful theological study of the period.
While we have no contemporary account of Owen’s feelings concerning the dominance of high-Church theology at Oxford in the 1630s, we do know that his first book in 1643 was a defence of the doctrine of predestination and that in his sermon to Parliament in 1646 he severely criticised the innovations of Archbishop Laud.1 As he saw the situation the “paintings, crossings, crucifixes, bowings, altars, tapers, wafers, organs, anthems, litany, rails, images, copes and vestments” were “but Roman varnish, an Italian dress” for devotions, introduced to lead men into the clutches of Antichrist. The Laudian emphasis on “the divinity of Episcopacy, auricular confession” and such-like was an attempt to make the Articles of Religion “speak good Roman Catholic” and thus lead England back into the arms of the Pope. Owen did not feel that he could remain in a College where such things were encouraged and so, after consultation with his father and others, he decided that Oxford was no place for him, at least for the time being.
1Works, VIII, p. 28.
As he considered the situation, the thought must have crossed his mind that, had he been at Cambridge instead of Oxford, there would have been no need to leave the University. Though Laud had his friends in Peterhouse, where Arminianism triumphed under Matthew Wren and John Cosin, Calvinism and Puritanism remained in the ascendant in most Colleges. The intention of the Archbishop to visit Cambridge as metropolitan never materialised and so Laudianism never gained that wide acceptance that it enjoyed in Oxford. Owen, however, did not leave Queen’s until 1637. This meant that he was probably present on the 22nd June at the solemn convocation in St Mary’s when the Statutes for the University were published and then subscribed by Heads of Houses. The inspiration behind the completion of the new Code was the Chancellor. Not even his severest critic could have reasonably denied the need for a revision, since the old Statutes were imperfect and confused: perhaps a puritan Chancellor, whilst agreeing with most of the new academic and disciplinary measures, would have made such matters as the taking of oaths and the wearing of full ecclesiastical or academic robes as optional rather than compulsory. As it was, the Statutes had the effect for four or five years of creating and continuing in the University that uniformity and order on which Laud placed so much emphasis.1 Twenty years later, when he was ruling the University in very different conditions, Owen expressed his feelings about the Statutes in a letter to Henry Cromwell. He maintained that they were “framed to the road of studies of former days” and not “expedient for the promotion of the good ends of godliness and literature.”2
1Mallet, op. cit., Π, pp. 314ff. There is as English translation in Oxford University Statutes, tr.. G. R. M. Ward, 1845. I.
2Correspondence, No. 52, p. 100.
Two months after the publication of the Statutes, the King and Queen freely chose to visit Oxford and, as it were, consecrate the achievements of Laud.1 This visit perhaps provided Owen with his first and last opportunity to see Charles I until he witnessed his execution thirteen years later at Whitehall. The royal couple lodged in Christ Church Deanery and watched several plays in the great Hall. In the Cathedral they were no doubt pleased to hear a sermon from one of the proctors which demonstrated the royal authority over all Englishmen, including Puritans, Papists and Anabaptists. Then the royal party left Oxford, not to return again until the 29th October 1642 when the City and University became a royal fortress in the civil war.
1For a description of the visit see Mallet, op. cit., pp. 341ff. and Trevor-Roper, op. cit., pp. 287ff. Professor Trevor-Roper singles out for special mention as outstanding achievements of Laud at Oxford not only the Statutes but also the building of the Canterbury Quadrangle at St John’s and the establishment of the chair of Arabic.
Owen did not go far from Oxford. Probably through his father’s help, he became chaplain and tutor in the household of Sir Robert Dormer at the Manor House in the hamlet of Ascot in the parish of Great Milton. The Dormer family owned property, including two water mills, in Stadham, which was only three miles from their home, and in 1633 Sir Robert had been given permission to erect a pew near the pulpit in Stadham Church.1 Taking a chaplaincy was of course a common puritan way both of avoiding clashes with the hierarchy of the Church and of continuing theological reading. Owen probably read services from the Prayer Book and preached in the private chapel, which had been built on to the side of the house at Ascot. Also, since he was so near to his father, we may presume that he also took services at Chislehampton or Stadham. But he did not stay long with the Dormer family. He moved some twenty miles nearer London to be chaplain in the home of John, Lord Lovelace, the second Baron, and his wife Anne, the daughter and heiress of Thomas Wentworth, first Earl of C1eveland.2 Just why Owen left Ascot for Hurley is not clear. Perhaps pressure from the Bishop of Oxford upon Sir Robert, who was not legally entitled to have a chaplain, or even economic factors played some part in the decision.
1For the history of Ascot with references to Sir Robert see Vict. History of Oxfordshire, VII, pp. 117.
2For Lovelace see D.N.B. s.v. his son of the same name. It is mistakenly stated there that Owen was the tutor to the young John from 1640 to 1650. As the boy was born in 1638 it is impossible that Owen was his tutor 1641–2. For the house at Hurley see Vict. County History of Berkshire, ed. W. Page & P. H. Ditchfιeld, 1923, III, p. 155.
With Lord Lovelace Owen had more security; being a nobleman his Lordship was allowed to keep a chaplain. Owen’s employer was probably one of the many Englishmen who was a firm Protestant and had no special love for Archbishop Laud and his religion. So, presumably, Owen was allowed to read services and to preach dressed in the minimum ecclesiastical dress. His Lordship was more interested in the character and ability of his chaplain than in his attire. Both men must have been deeply troubled by the news that came from Scotland, and must have felt that the attempt to force the Prayer Book upon the Scots was a tactless move by the King and Archbishop. They were also probably in agreement with the majority in the Short and then Long Parliaments who believed that the power of the bishops had to be restricted and the liberties of Englishmen restored. Nevertheless, as the hostility between the Long Parliament and Charles I became more obvious during 1641–2, the sympathies of Lord Lovelace gradually moved towards his King. This did not mean that he was becoming a Laudian in religion; rather, it signified that he believed that the demands of Parliament were now too radical.1
1For the political background see C. V. Wedgwood, The King’s War, 1641–1647, 1958.
Parliament’s demands are clearly highlighted in the Grand Remonstrance which was sent to Charles I in November 1641. It petitioned His Royal Highness to be
graciously pleased to concur with the humble desires of your people in a parliamentary way, for the preserving the peace and safety of the kingdom from the malicious designs of the Popish party:–
For depriving the Bishops of their votes in Parliament, and abridging their immoderate power usurped over the Clergy and your other good subjects, which have been perniciously abused to the hazard of religion, and great prejudice and oppression to the laws of the kingdom and just liberty of your people.
For the taking away such oppressions in religion, Church government and discipline, as have been brought in and fomented by them.
For uniting all your loyal subjects together as join in the same fundamental truths against the Papists, by removing some oppressive and unnecessary ceremonies by which divers weak consciences have been scrupled and seem to be divided from the rest, and for due execution of those good laws which have been made for securing the liberty of your subjects.
Owen’s later attitude would seem to indicate that he would have been wholeheartedly in favour of this petition. But perhaps the later declaration from Westminster made on the 27th May 1642 stating that the King, seduced by wicked counsellors, was making war on Parliament, would have seemed to him, as it must have done to Lord Lovelace, to be a provocative gesture. At about this time his Lordship began to follow the example of other noblemen and began to persuade his tenants and neighbours to be ready to fight for the King in what he believed would be a short war. In June 1642 he signed the declaration in favour of Charles.1 During this period, Owen remained quietly at his task continuing his theological reading and anxiously awaiting news of national affairs. In August he heard how the King had raised the royal standard at Nottingham and proclaimed the Commons and its army traitors. Two months later came news of the battle of Edgehill between the armies of the King and the Earl of Essex. This was followed by the expected news that His Majesty had been given a royal welcome by the University of Oxford. Perhaps Owen saw some of the royalist forces as they moved towards London on what was to be an unsuccessful march or as they returned to make Oxford the seat of the Court. By autumn 1642 both Lord Lovelace and his chaplain realised that the war would not end as quickly as they had previously thought. His Lordship’s sympathies were with the King but those of his chaplain were not so clear. Owen’s religious convictions led him to sympathy with the Presbyterian preachers of London who at this time were wholly behind the stated aims of Parliament, but certain family pressures (e.g., that of his Welsh uncle and benefactor) pushed him in the opposite direction. Eventually he made up his mind to go to London, where he had relatives. This move cost him the friendship and financial support of his uncle and must have seemed to him at this time only the better of two poor alternatives.2
1See D.N.B. s.v. John Lovelace and Wedgwood, op. cit., pp. 95ff.
2The loss of financial support by his uncle is mentioned in both the anonymous Life of Owen (1720) and by Asty. I cannot determine the identity of the uncle.
Owen soon came to believe, however, that the move to London was providential. Not only did it bring him into contact with the leading clerical defenders of the cause of Parliament, those puritan preachers who saw the conflict between the King and Parliament in terms of that battle of Christ against antichrist which they believed was portrayed in such vivid terms and symbols in the Book of Revelatioιι.1 It also provided the scene for an experience he could never forget. By 1642 he was convinced that the only source of authority in religion was Holy Scripture; he wholeheartedly accepted the doctrines of orthodox Calvinism and knew how and why these differed from the doctrines of Lutheranism, Arminianism and Roman Catholicism; but he had not yet experienced that personal, spiritual assurance of the Holy Spirit witnessing to his own spirit that he was a child of God. He knew that much of the literature of the Puritan brotherhood of preachers had concerned itself with the need for this sense of the reality of salvation.2 Happily, Owen found what his soul desired in St Mary’s Church, Aldermanbury. One Sunday, Asty informs us, he went with his cousin to hear the famous Presbyterian, Edmund Calamy, who was rector of the parish.3 On arrival they were told that Calamy could not preach and that a country preacher (whose name Owen never ascertained) was to deputise. Though his cousin pressed him to leave and go to hear Arthur Jackson at nearby St Michael’s, Owen decided to remain at St Mary’s. The preacher took as his text Matthew 8:26, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” It proved to be a message which Owen needed to hear and accept. An unknown preacher was the means God used to speak to him. The great preacher Charles Spшgeon was to have a similar experience over two centuries later when he experienced conversion through the ministry of an illiterate preacher who substituted at the last minute for the preacher who had been engaged to speak. Owen’s doubts, fears and worries as to whether he was truly regenerate and born anew of the Holy Spirit were removed as he felt himself liberated and knew he was an adopted son of God. This spiritual experience cannot really be over-rated for it gave Owen the inward conviction that he was a true child of God, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that God loved him and had a loving purpose for him, and that his God was the living God. In practical terms this meant that he would now see everything that happened to him and to the Church of Christ in terms of the providence and predestination of God; it meant also that he would strive to ensure that church people received both the doctrines of the Gospel and the inward presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. So began his great interest in the work of the Holy Spirit which came to fruition thirty years later in the monumental study of the Holy Spirit, A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit.
1To this period in Owen’s life we may perhaps attribute the beginnings of his serious reading of the standard books on prophecy and eschatology – e.g. the works of Brightman, Mede and Alsted. Cf. Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel: Puritan Eschatology, 1611–1660, ed. Peter Toon, 1970.
2Cf William Halleг, The Rise of Puritanism, 1957, pp. 83ff
Both before and after this encounter with God, Owen was working on his first book. It was to be polemical in character since this was the way that young men made a name for themselves, just as young scholars do today in Continental Universities. Earlier we noted that he read widely in the Arminian controversy. In Holland after the publishing of the Arminians’ Remonstrance (1610) and the consequent debates which reached their climax at the Synod of Dort (1618), this had resolved itself into five basic questions: – whether the human will is free or in bondage to sin; whether or not the saving grace of God is irresistible; whether or not God chose some to salvation before He made the world; whether Christ died only for the elect or for the whole human race; and whether it is possible for the regenerate believer to fall from grace.1 The Arminians (Remonstrants) held that the will was free, that God’s grace may be resisted, that God did not arbitrarily choose some to salvation, that Christ died for all the world and that a Christian may fall from grace. Owen’s defence of the limited extent of the atonement of Christ was to come in 1647 and of the final perseverance of the saints in 1654. In 1642 he confined himself to the doctrines of predestination and the extent of human freewill since he felt that these were the areas in which high-Church theology and Laudianism had made the greatest impact in England. Like the majority of his contemporaries Owen called the theology of the Dutch Remonstrants and the theology of the English high-Churchmen “Arminianism.” Of course people in the seventeenth century were well aware that, whilst the doctrines of grace were similar amongst these two groups, in other matters – the doctrine of the Church and sacraments for example – they were poles apart.2 His book was published in April 1643 with the title: A Display of Arminianism: being a discovery of the old Pelagian idol, free-will, with the new goddess, contingency, advancing themselves into the throne of God in heaven to the prejudice of His grace, providence and supreme dominion over the children of men.3 Modern scholarship has clearly shown that there is a great difference between the Pelagianism which horrified Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century and the Arminianism of the Dutch Remonstrants.4 The latter were genuinely trying to recover what they believed to be the original emphases of the Reformation which they felt had been somewhat hardened in the development of Reformed divinity. Pristine Arminianism had a far superior doctrine of grace to Pelagianism but in that both systems of doctrine denied the absolute predestination of God, Owen, together with most of the puritan brotherhood of preachers, saw a clear link between them, and therefore felt justified in calling both Dutch Arminianism and English high-Church theology by the term “Pelagianism.”
1For the theology of Jacobus Arminius see Carl Bangs, Arminius: A study in the Dutch Reformation, Nashville, 1971. For the Arminian controversy in Holland see A. W. Harrison, The Beginnings of Arminianism, 1926.
2There were few genuinely “Arminian” English theologians amongst Puritans and moderate Anglicans in the 1640’s. John Goodwin, with whom Owen engaged in controversy in 1654, was one of the very few Puritan Arminians. In the 1630’s and 1640’s the majority of English theologians were Calvinistic: even after 1662 an Arminian Protestant Dissenter was still a rare type!
3In Works, X., pp. 2ff.
4For Augustine and Pelagianism see Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 1967, Pt. IV., and for Arminianism see Bangs, op. cit., pp. 332ff.
Owen dedicated the book (presumably with their permission) to the “Lords and Gentlemen of the Committee for Religion,” which had been set up in March 1640 by the House of Lords to examine innovations in doctrine introduced into the Church. His aim was obviously to be noticed! He told the committee of his deep horror on hearing about the massacre in November 1641 of several thousand English Protestants in Ireland. News of this massacre, often in exaggerated form, had had a tremendous effect on the English and served to strengthen Parliament’s intention to rid England of traces of popery. Owen also went on in the dedication to argue that the Church of England could “not wrap in her communion Augustine and Pelagius, Calvin and Arminius.” In his “Epistle to the Christian Reader” he wrote:
The fates of our Church having of late devolved the government thereof into the hands of men tainted with this poison, Arminianism became backed with the powerful arguments of praise and preferment and quickly prevailed to beat poor naked truth into a corner. It is high time, then, for the lovers of the old way to oppose this innovation.
This of course was written at the beginning of the war when the men whom Laud and Charles I had put in positions of power in the Church and Universities were still entrenched even though their days were numbered. Owen’s sense of outrage at Laudian policy is well conveyed in his further remark that “had a poor Puritan offended against half as many canons as they opposed articles [i.e. 39 Articles] he had forfeited his livelihood.” Owen’s book was no masterpiece but it was a thorough defence of the Calvinist doctrine of the bondage of the will to sin and of the absolute predestination of God, with His sovereign right to elect unto salvation whom He would and to give the grace of faith and repentance to whom He would. Lacking any literary elegance and showing clear signs of his Aristotelian education, this was nevertheless the first of a long line of books in which he resolutely defended the central core of orthodox Calvinism.1 The question as to whether Owen was fair to Arminianism cannot be dealt with here. To him it was a system of doctrine that ran contrary to the Reformed Confessions of Faith and thus contrary to the true mind of Protestantism. And, as was noted above, he was trying to make his name as a scholar by scoring polemical points.
1The term Calvinism is not used in this book to describe the theology of Calvin himself but rather that of the Reformed Churches as expressed by such divines as Beza, Zanchius, Perkins, Ames etc. and systematised in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1648.
Owen did not spend all his time in 1642–3 with his relatives in London. On two occasions, in December 1642 and July 1643, he visited Scot’s Hall in the parish of Smeeth, near Ashford, Kent, as the guest of Sir Edward and Lady Scott.1 In all probability the reason for these visits was his friendship with the son of Lady Scott by her first marriage, Thomas Westrow, whom he had known at Oxford when they were students together at Queen’s. Of Westrow Owen had the highest opinion: he told Thomas’ stepfather that “his judgement to discern the differences of these times, and his valour in prosecuting what he is resolved to be just and lawful, place him among the number of those very few to whom it is given to know aright the causes of things and vigorously to execute holy and laudable designs.” If asked, Westrow would probably have described Owen in glowing terms also for after he became the M.P. for Hythe he nominated his friend as a preacher for the fast-day in April 1646. While the two young men discussed the state of the nation and of the war, they were probably joined at times by Sir Edward and by Thomas Rooke, a kinsman of Sir Edward. Rooke lived at the house and was the treasurer in Shepway for the collection for Parliament organised by the County Committee.2 Both Sir Edward and Rooke would have been busily engaged in the hasty moves to prepare the defence of their area when, late in 1642, the royalist, Sir William Brockman of Beachborough near Hythe, endeavoured to raise a rebellion in the county. The King sent him a commission of array and, at the same time, the Earl of Thanet was despatched with a regiment through Sussex to support him. In Shepway, Owen informs us, there was general fear of an “invasion of a potent enemy,” by which presumably he meant the Earl. But the revolt quickly collapsed; Brockman was arrested and the Earl surrendered.3
1Sir Edward Scott was the fifth son and eventual heir of Sir Thomas Scott (died 1611). He was Sheriff of Kent in 1625 and M.P. for Hythe in 1627. His third wife (née Mary Aldersley) whom he married in 1639 had been married first to Thomas Westrow of London and then to Sir Norton Knatchbull of Mersham.
2I cannot ascertain any details about Rooke. However, his complete series of 29 account books from 1644–1651 have survived. Alan Everitt, The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion, Leicester, 1966, p. 159.
3For a brief description of this revolt and the Kentish Rebellion of six months later see Everitt, op. cit., pp. 187ff. Owen’s brief comments about Westrow and the insurrections are in the dedicatory letter to Sir Edward in Works, XIII, p. 3.
During Owen’s second visit to Scot’s Hall, the County Committee was administering the Covenant with only moderate success. This “Sacred Vow and Covenant” had been taken on June 6 by members of Parliament.1 A few weeks later the Committee of Kent was ordered to administer it to every person of age in the county. It was to be taken in parish churches and those taking it had to affirm their belief “that the forces raised by the two Houses of Parliament were raised and continued for their just defence ... against the forces raised by the King without their consent.” One of the effects of this activity at the local level was to cause many who had previously been uncommitted in the national conflict to affirm their support for the King. Rebellion broke out at Sevenoaks. To Owen those who rebelled were “a rude, godless, multitude;” yet, we must remember, they were led by gentry from some of the oldest families of Kent, and the men who prepared to fight under them were descendants of the men who in previous centuries had marched on London under leaders of the stature of Sir Thomas Wyatt. At first the cause of Parliament in the county seemed hopeless, but, within a month, the Kentish Rebellion had been suppressed by the intervention of parliamentary forces from outside the county. While the victory of arms went to Parliament, many of the clergy and gentry never did take the Covenant and they also continued to use the Prayer Book. Perhaps it was this general lack of Puritanism in Shepway that made Owen reject the offer of a parish living there made to him by Sir Edward.2 He chose instead to go to Essex which had a long and honourable tradition of Presbyterianism and Puritanism.
1S. R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, 1893. I, p. 149.
2This information is also in the dedicatory letter to Sir Edward.
When Owen returned to London he was offered by Parliament the living at Fordham.1 The village was about five miles from Colchester and the parish church was situated in a commanding position on higher ground than the rest of the parish. As this part of Essex has little stone the church, like the large houses in the area, had to be constructed of what was available locally, which meant flint and pebble-rubble. However, the church had some Roman brick at the base of the tower. John Alsop, the rector since 1633, and also a chaplain to Archbishop Laud (who was now in the Tower of London) was sequestered because of his desertion of the parish.2 A note at the top of a page in the parish register reads: “John Owen, Pastor, Anno.Dom. July:16:1643.”3 The word “pastor” is significant suggesting that Owen did not think of his calling as that of a “vicar” or “rector,” but rather as the pastor of the faithful in the parish and evangelist to the rest. The date, the 16tlι July, was probably the day on which he was authorised to begin his ministry but as he was in Kent in July he could not have begun there until August.
1For the history of Fordham see Mary Gunary, The Story of Fordham, Fordham, 1954, and H. Smith, The Ecclesiastical History of Essex, Colchester, 1930, p. 310. The living was worth £116 per annum.
2For Alsop see Walker Revised, ed. A. G. Matthews, Oxford, 1948, p. 145.
3The Rev. Hugh Barber, rector of Fordham, kindly sent me photocopies of the appropriate pages from the parish register, which is still kept in the church. Inside the church there is a plaque giving a summary of the life of Owen.
It is quite possible that Owen’s visit to Scot’s Hall in July was connected with his marriage, which occurred about this time. According to his earliest biography he married a Miss Rooke. She was probably a relative of Thomas Rooke of Smeeth and may have been the daughter of William Rooke, a clothier whose business had been in Coggeshall (which was quite near Fordham) until his death in 1622. In his will, Rooke made provision for his very young daughter, Mary, who, it would seem, married John Owen in late 1643.1 The baptism of their first child is recorded in the parish register: “John, the sonne of John Owen, pastor of the church at Much Fordham and Mary his wife was baptized, Dec. 20, 1644.”
1The Life of Owen, 1720, p. xxxiv. Rooke’s will is in the Essex Record Office: ref. D/ACW. 9/99.
When Alsop was in residence the parish church would have been suitably adorned for High-Church worship and the parishioners would have received no evangelical teaching. To rectify this Owen went around the village, whose houses were constructed mainly of lath-and-plaster or weather-boarding, teaching both young and old the basic doctrines of Protestantism from two catechisms which he himself composed and then published in 1645.1 One was for young рeople and the other for adults. Like his father he tried to be a “painful labourer” in the vineyard of the Lord. Nevertheless, despite his endeavours, there were, to use his own words, still those in the parish who “walked disorderly ... little labouring to acquaint themselves with the mystery of godliness,” and these he tried to convert. For his faithful hearers he also wrote a little book entitled, The Duty of Pastors and People Distinguished (1644)2 in which he gave advice “for the increasing of divine knowledge in themselves and others.” His counsel included explanations of the attitude they should adopt toward their minister and teacher and the way they should approach Christian worship. From the preface to this book we also get some insight into his thinking concerning church polity. He was in favour of a system that was “Presbyterian or synodical, in opposition to prelatical or diocesan on the one hand and that which is commonly called independent or congregational on the other.” Like many middle-of-the-road Puritans he hated prelacy, which, with the London authors of the Root and Branch Petition, he believed was wholly contrary to God’s Word, but at the same time he feared “the democracy” of Congregationalism. He wanted something between the two extremes; that is, “between the valley of democratical confusion and the precipitous rock of hierarchical tyranny.” One contemporary described him as a “moderate and learned Presbyterian.”3
1They were entitled Two Short Catechisms wherein the Principles of the Doctrine of Christ are unfolded and explained, and are in Works, I, pp. 463ff. Owen, it seems, also used his theological learning in the investigation of Samuel Cock, Rector of St Giles, Colchester, who was accused before the Essex Committee of teaching error. See Correspondence, p. 15, and T. W. Davids, Annals of Evangelical Nonconformity in Essex, 1863. p. 324.
2Works, XIII, pp. 2ff.
3William Bartlet, A Model of the Primative Congregational Way, 1647, p. 23. Cf. G. F. Nuttall, Visible Saints, Oxford, 1957, P. 54.
His days, however, as a moderate Presbyterian were soon to end. In London the Westminster Assembly of divines was in session and within its learned membership differences of opinion over church government were being voiced. In 1643 five of the divines, with whom Owen was later to become friendly, published An Apologeticall Narration,1 in which they explained their adherence to the Congregational way (that is, the doctrine that to a gathered church of committed Christians Christ gives His authority for the group to appoint officers and admit and exclude members), and their reasons for dissenting from the Presbyterian views of the majority of the members of the Assembly. Two of the dissenting brethren also commended the Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven (1644) by John Cotton, who had influenced them in their views on church polity, and who was now minister of the First Church of Boston, Massachusetts.2 Owen acquired both these books and also others which defended the Presbyterian polity and studied them with diligence.
1For a facsimile edition of this tract with notes see An Apologeticall Narration, ed. R. S. Paul, Philadelphia, 1963. The five men were Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, Sidrach Simpson, Jeremiah Burroughs and William Bridge, whose careers are described by Paul. See also C.R. for Goodwin, Nye and Bridge. For a description of the Westminster Assembly see S. W. Carruthers, The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly, Philadelphia, 1943. Two recent studies of aspects of the work of the divines are J. B. Rogers, Scripture in the Westminster Confession, Kampen, 1966, and J. R. De Witt, Jus Divinum: the Westminster Assembly and the Divine Right of Church Government, Kampen, 1969.
2The two were Goodwin and Nye. A recent biography of Cotton is Latzer Ziff, The Career of John Cotton, Princeton, 1962.
Meanwhile rumours reached Fordham that Alsop, who had fled to the Continent, was dead. This meant that the patrons of the living, Sir John Lucas, who owned the Manor of Great Fordham, and a young boy named William Abell, had the right to nominate a successor.1 Owen, therefore, made preparations to move. The last entry he made in the parish register was the record of a baptism on the 28th December 1645, although he does not seem to have vacated the parsonage until about Easter 1646. Whilst he was seeking God’s guidance as to where should be his next sphere of service, he received an invitation to preach before the House of Commons on April 29. His name had been put forward by his friend Thomas Westrow and by Sir Peter Wentworth, the M.P. for Tamworth.2 Three years earlier the Long Parliament had begun the custom of a regular fast-day on the last Wednesday of each month.3 In time of war these days of prayer and preaching were a means of renewing and propagating the conviction that, in its just demands, God was on the side of Parliament and against the King and his evil advisers. Its cause was His cause. And, through the printing of the sermons, the message was made known to a much wider audience than that which sat in St Margaret’s Church.
1For John Lucas who was made a Baron in 1645 by the King see the D.N.B. s.v. Sir Charles Lucas his brother.
2For Westrow and Wentworth see D. H. Pennington & D. Brunton, Members of the Long Parliament, 1954.
3For studies of these fast-day sermons see H. R, Trevor-Roper, “The Fast Sermons,” in Religion, the Reformation and Social Change, 1967, and J. F. Wilson, Pulpit in Parliament, Princeton, 1969.
In general it may be said that underlying the sermons from 1643 to 1646 were five major themes. First, God governs the destinies of individuals and nations and thus England is the continual object of His care and providence. Second, this divine care for England is such that, to all intents and purposes, the nation may be termed an “elect nation.” Third, because of the Solemn League and Covenant, England is in a covenant relationship both to Scotland and to God. This means that the nation has Solemn responsibilities; her people must repent and seek further reformation of the Church and of their lives. Fourth, the period of civil strife being experienced is part of a time of divine shaking which will lead either to a glorious reformation such as England has not known before or to further divine judgement. Fifth, God promises a glorious future for His Church in the world, when the Turks and the Papacy will be no more and when all antichristian doctrine and ceremonies will be removed from the churches of Europe.
Owen accepted all these themes. His only quarrel with the Presbyterian preachers was, as we shall see, over the question of the toleration of orthodox Calvinists who were not Presbyterians. The time at which he addressed the Commons is significant. General Fairfax had just completed the reduction of Cornwall and was soon to take Oxford. The New Model Army had effectively dealt with the armies of Charles I and the Civil War was virtually at an end. To the young divine, the victories of the New Model Army were inspired and even predestined by God. Two years later, using imagery drawn from the description of theophanies in the Old Testament, he said that “God came from Naseby (the scene of a great victory in June 1645) and the Holy One from the West. ‘His glory covered the heavens and the earth was full of His praise’.”1 The ascendancy of the New Model on the field of battle had meant the rise to prominence (but not to a majority) in Parliament of the Independents, which in turn meant that from 1646 a growing number of preachers who were not doctrinaire Presbyterians or members of the Westminster Assembly were invited to officiate at the fast-days.2 In March, Hugh Peter, the army chaplain and known Independent, had preached at the day of thanksgiving for the reduction of royalist opposition in Cornwall.3 So Owen’s appearance was part of this new phase. And he was, as it were, by his participation, declaring his allegiance, at least in general principles, to the aims of the Independents in the Commons and the dissenting brethren in the Assembly of divines. What were these principles will become clear as we examine the printed version of Owen’s sermon.
1Works, VIII, p. 88.
2Many articles have been written in recent years (Cf. e.g. Past and Present for 1970 and 1971) on the identity of the Independents in the 1640’s and the debate continues. I use the term to describe those who did not favour either a strict episcopal or strict Presbyterian church government and who were in favour of some form of limited toleration. It is sometimes but not always synonymous with Congregationalists.
3A recent biography of Peter is R. P. Steams, The Strenuous Puritan, Hugh Peter, 1598–1660, Urbana, 1954.
A Vision of Unchangeable Free Mercy, with its appended tracts, provides us with basic information concerning Owen’s theological doctrine and how he related this to the sweep of contemporary events, government policies and religious toleration.1 It contains no specific references to battles or political events; rather, it deals with generalities and basic principles. After a suitable explanation of his text, Acts 16:9, Owen emphasised that God had exercised His sovereignty in history by causing the Gospel of Christ to be preached in some lands and not in others. “The sending of the Gospel to any nation,” he explained, “is of the mere free grace and good pleasure of God.” But perhaps the young divine went too far in his claim that one could see in recent history a clear imprint or reflection of the eternal counsel of God. Success in war, and even liberty for the preaching of the Gospel, are not necessarily signs of the divine favoιιr.2 Christianity has often fared best under a persecuting régime. But Owen, believing he could read at least part of the intricacy of the divine purpose in recent English history, felt obliged to warn that unless Parliament made full use of the current opportunities to honour Christ and propagate the Gospel, God would again cause the nation to revert to spiritual darkness. This had happened twice in tile past. The light of the Gospel had been put out by the invading Saxons in the fifth century and by Archbishop Laud in the 1630s. For the policies of the latter Owen had nothing but contempt. However, God was now wanting to bless England once more. “The reformation of England,” he prophesied, “shall be more glorious than of any nation in the world, being carried on neither by might or power, but only by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts.” Parliament should therefore observe the divine intention with regard to the future. It should provide for the preaching of the Gospel in the dark corners of the land now that victory of arms had been assured. Owen closed with an appeal:
O that you would labour to let all parts of the kingdom taste of the sweetness of your successes, in carrying to them the Gospel of the Lord Jesus: that the doctrine of the Gospel might make way for the discipline of the Gospel, without which it will be a very skeleton!
His use of the word “discipline” would not have raised many eyebrows at this point of time since the need for its implementation at the parish level in the reorganisation of the National Church was generally agreed both in the Westminster Assembly and by a Committee of Parliament.
1Works, VIII, pp. 3ff. His fellow preacher was James Nalton. Wilson, op. cit., p. 87. In a Latin dedication, Owen spoke of the Long Parliament in glowing terms: – “To the most noble Senate, the most renowned Assembly of England; most deservedly celebrated throughout the whole world, and to be held in everlasting remembrance by all the inhabitants of this island; for strenuously and faithfully asserting the rights of Englishmen; for recovering the liberty of their country, almost ruined by the base attempts of some; for administering justice boldly, equally, moderately and impartially; for dissolving the power of a hierarchical tyranny in ecclesiastical affairs, and abolishing the popish, newly-invented, antichristian rites; for restoring the privileges of the Christian people; for enjoying the powerful protection of the Most High in all these, and in innumerable other things in council and war, at home and abroad: To the illustrious, honourable, select Gentlemen of the Commons in Parliament assembled, the Discourse, humble indeed in its pretensions, but being preached before them by their desire, is now by their command published.” Here we find Owen echoing the ideological “trinity” of the English Revolution: pure religion, liberty and property. This is intermingled with the strong belief in God’s help and encouragement. Cf. Christopher Hill, God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution, 1970. pp. 211ff.
2It is possible that Owen’s words in 1646 (when he was but 30!) were capable of being interpreted in terms of the belief that success in war necessarily means that the victors enjoy of God’s favour. Much later in his life (1670) he wrote the following summary of his mature thoughts on this matter: “A cause is good or bad before it hath success one way or another; and that which hath not warrant in itself can never obtain any from its success. The rule of the goodness of any public cause is the eternal law of reason, with the just legal rights and interests of men. If these make not a cause good, success will never mend it. But when a cause on these grounds is so indeed, or is really judged such by them that are engaged in it, not to take notice of the providence of God in prospering men in the pursuit of it, is co exclude all thoughts of Him and His providence from having any concern in the government of the world.” Works, XVI, p. 269. If he really believed this in 1646 then his position was that the success in war against Charles merely confirmed the righteous cause of Parliament.
The appendix to the sermon is interesting for what it contains concerning Owen’s views on church government and religious toleration, and for the light it throws on the troubled state of the Essex clergy and churches. In “A Short Defensative” (which is the preface to the longer “Country Essay”) Owen wrote of the existence of dissension and bitterness in the county. This piece of information comes as somewhat of a surprise to the reader after the lofty words and ideals of the sermon itself: In both public and private, ministers were calling each other by a variety of “odious appellations” because of their differing views about church organisation and toleration of dissenters. Strict Presbyterians and Independents were forgetting Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 13 concerning charity. What Owen wrote thus reveals to what extent the Puritan movement, which had such a proud history in Essex, had been fragmented by the pressures of war and the liberty that accompanied it. His paragraphs also show that he was deeply troubled about this situation which brought dishonour to Christ; and he desperately hoped to be able to pacify his brethren. He believed that the situation was being aggravated by the efforts of some Presbyterians to produce signatures for petitions to be sent to Westminster. These petitions called for the full implementation of Presbyterian discipline at the parish level within the framework of the recent legislation for a Presbyterian National Church.1
1The legislation consisted of two ordinances. The first, of August 1645, established London as a test area with 12 classes and with lay elders to be appointed by a board of triers, composed of both clergy and godly citizens. The second, of March 1646, established the presbyterian government as that of the Established Church of England and the disputed issue of the exclusion of the spiritually unfit from Holy Communion was vested in the local eldership with the right of appeal to a Committee of Parliament. Cf. W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England, 1640–1660, 1938, pp. 70 and 80. A petition from Suffolk and Essex ministers was presented to the House of Lords on 29 May 1646. This called for the rigid system of lay elders at the parish level with full powers in co-operation with the minister to exclude people from Communion and discipline them. L.J., VIII, p. 388.
In London both the Westminster Assembly and the City authorities had petitioned Parliament to authorise that church discipline in the parishes be wholly exercised by the minister and lay elders as in Scotland or Geneva without the help or the interference of a body of lay commissioners appointed by Parliament.1 Owen had refused to sign any petition and he supplied four reasons to justify his action. First, he was sure that the existence of many moral evils in the parishes was not simply explained (as the petitions suggested) by the lack of strong Presbyterian discipline. Second, Parliament had already in August 1645 established the English Church as Presbyterian and this was all that was really required since it allowed a measure of liberty at the local level. Third, the origin of the request for the signing of petitions, not to mention the drafting of them, was “distant and unseen” (certain ministers in London?) and such petitions tended to undermine the authority of “our noble Parliament.” Fourth, in Owen’s own words:
A particular form of church discipline is usually, in such petitions, either directly expressed or evidently pointed at and directed unto as that alone which our covenant engageth us to embrace... Now, truly to suppose that our covenant did tie us up absolutely to any one formerly-known way of church discipline – the words formally engaging us into a disquisition out of the Word of that which is agreeable to the mind and will of God – is to me such a childish, ridiculous, selfish conceit, as I believe no knowing men will once entertain, unless prejudice, begotten by their peculiar interest, hath disturbed their intellectuals. For my part, I know no church government in the world already established amongst any sort of men of the truth and necessity whereof I am convinced in all particulars; especially if I may take their practice to be the best interpreter of their maxims.
1W. A. Shaw, A History of the English Church, 1640–1660, 1900, II, pp. 292ff. and Jordan, op. cit., pp. 80ff.
The covenant to which he referred was the Solemn League and Covenant which he had taken and which from 1643 bound England and Scotland together in a civil and religious bond. Into the article on religion the English negotiators had persuaded the Scots to add the words “according to the Word of God” to qualify the type of church organisation to be erected in England. Obviously Owen did not interpret the implications of the article in the same way as the dogmatic Presbyterians who wanted the Scottish model to be followed.
The aim of the “Country Essay” was to propose plans for an accommodation between Presbyterians, Independents and others within the context of the existing ecclesiastical legislation. Coming from a young, little-known preacher, this proposal was a rather audacious move. He began by admitting that Essex had “a rich supply of able, godly, orthodox, peace-loving pastors,” many parishioners who knew not the power of godliness, and a few souls in most parishes who were “inclined to separation” because of the unsatisfactory state of the parish churches. Then he proposed that each parish minister should continue the normal round of preaching and catechising, seeking to bring reformation to his parish. His novel suggestion was that the “visible saints” from each parish within areas of not more than 100 square miles (10 x 10) should meet at least once a month for fellowship and form themselves into a gathered church. When gathered, they should elect their local ministers as their pastor, teacher, and ruling elders. Concerning the actual membership of this gathered church Owen wrote:
Let the rules of admission into this society and fellowship be scriptural, and the things required in the members only such as all godly men affirm to be necessary for every one that will partake of the ordinances with profit and comfort-special care being taken that none be excluded who have the least breathings of soul in sincerity after Jesus Christ.
He expected that the members of this church would also attend the services of their own parishes.
The second part of the “Country Essay" deals with the subject of toleration.1 Owen found that though the word was much used few attempted to define its meaning. Among “the contestors,” he wrote, “few on the one side or the other clearly and distinctly define what they mean by toleration.” For Presbyterians it implied a “universal, uncontrolled licence” to men to teach and do what they liked with regard to religion and morals. Owen’s own position was to the left of the Presbyterians and to the right of the Separatists and Sectarians. He was firmly of the opinion that heretics as well as dissenters from the Established Church should not be punished merely because they were so, but only if they caused a public disturbance or were openly licentious. Their doctrinal errors should be countered by reasonable argument and spiritual weapons not by the power of the sword. He believed that a study of Church history revealed that persecution and punishment of heretics achieved no lasting good but rather led to tyranny. So he did not want to see either the Parliament or the Church launch into a persecution of any people with erroneous views who were not causing any civil disturbance.
1See Jordan, op. cit., for a full discussion of the whole issue of toleration. Since the rise to fame and power of the New Model Army the question of toleration had been hotly debated not only amongst the soldiers but also in Parliament and by the Westminster Assembly.
As far as is known, Owen’s proposals for a peaceful solution to the problems of Essex never got off the ground. Nevertheless, they do provide an important indication of the way in which his mind was moving. Since writing The Duty of Pastors in 1644, when he called himself a Presbyterian, he had moved rapidly in the direction of the Congregational way, stimulated by a careful study of John Cotton’s book and by his own assessment of the problems which a hard-line Presbyterianism had caused and would cause. But, as yet, he had not taken the step of gathering a church of “visible saints” in his own parish. That was to come later. At this stage we gain the impression that the thirty-year old divine was quietly confident that what he had to say was valuable and that it had important consequences for the future of his country.
Chapter II – Extending Service
When the Vision of Unchangeable Free Mercy appeared 1n print in May 1646, John Owen was described on the title-page as the “minister of the Gospel at Coggeshall.” This small town, then a prosperous centre of the wool and cloth industry, is situated on the banks of the River Blackwater and stands on the line of the old Roman military road (Stane Street) built to connect St Albans (Verulamium) and Colchester (Camulodunum). A church, with the rare dedication to “St Peter ad Vincula,” existed in the twelfth century but it was not until the fifteenth century that it was rebuilt to become one of the larger and finer churches of the Eastern Counties.1 Probably many of the wool merchants and their workers who worshipped in the church also used the facilities of the “Woolpack,” an inn situated next door to the church. For many years before Owen’s arrival the people of Coggeshall had enjoyed as vicars a series of able Calvinist divines. For the first eight years of the seventeenth century the church was served by two friends, both Cambridge Puritans. From 1600 to 1606 the vicar was Thomas Stoughton and from 1606 to 1608 it was Ralph Cudworth, whose widow married Dr Stoughton, and whose son, Ralph, became one of the famous Cambridge Platoιιists.2 Following Cudworth came the long ministry of thirty years of John Dod, the elder. During part of this period his son, Nehemiah, assisted him as curate. On the 9th November 1635 John Dod was reported as saying that the bubonic plague was in the land as God’s judgement on “the mixture of religion that is commanded in the church.”3 With such sentiments he was obviously not a Laudian! Owen’s immediate predecessor was Obadiah Sedgwick. He was presented to the living on the 6th July 1639 by Robert Rich, the second Earl of Warwick, who was a noted opponent of Laudianism and Arminianism, and generally regarded as a Presbyterian.4 Sedgwick, who was a member of the Westminster Assembly of divines, and a licenser of the press, moved in 1646 to St Paul’s, Covent Garden, London. So Owen came to a town that was accustomed to a high standard of preaching and to evangelical theology. That Owen maintained this high standard is obvious since Asty informs us that as many as 2,000 people crowded into the church each Lord’s Day to hear the young divine expound the Bible.5
1On the 16th Sept. 1940 the church was badly damaged by a bomb. The Tower, Nave and North Aisle have since been rebuilt.
2For Ralph Cudworth Jnr see D.N.B.
3Smith, Ecclesiastical History of Essex, pp. 56–7. Two of Nehemiah’s sons, John and Robert, were at Oxford in the 1650s. Both became Nonconformists and are in C.R.
4For Rich and Sedgwick see D.N.B.
5Asty, p. vii.
Worship in the church was centred on the Word of God and on free prayer. This was possible because the Book of Common Prayer had been set aside in 1644 by Parliament and the Directory for Public Worship brought in to replace it. Beginning with a solemn call to worship, followed by a prayer acknowledging the majesty of God and the sinfulness of man, the service proceeded with the singing of psalms and the public reading of Holy Scripture. Then perhaps another psalm was sung before the long prayer that preceded the sermon was uttered. This prayer began with a full confession of sin and a plea for divine grace and forgiveness. It continued by beseeching God for the conversion of the Jews, the fall of Antichrist (the Pope), and the hastening of the second coming of Jesus Christ; for deliverance of the distressed churches abroad from the tyranny of Roman Catholicism and from the cruel blasphemies of the Turk and for blessing upon the Church in Britain. Then came prayers of intercession for the King, Queen and Prince as well as for the Queen of Bohemia and the Elector Palatine of the Rhine. Also the divine blessing was asked for those in positions of authority in England, for Parliament, the judges, magistrates, nobles and gentry. Following this long prayer which would have taken anything from ten to twenty minutes, the people listened to a sermon which would have taken at least one hour. This contained the exposition of one or more principles of the Faith from the Word with suitable application to the needs and hearts of the hearers. Finally the worship closed with a prayer that the divine Word would bear fruit in repentant and obedient souls.
Owen believed that he was “directed by the providence of the Most High” to Coggeshall where, we learn, he had been “sought by the people of God.” Since Coggeshall had been a centre for Separatism in Essex it is just possible that Owen’s sympathy for Congregationalism, evident as we have seen in his appendix to A Vision of Free Mercy, was a factor in making him popular with some parishioners. This, however, did not prevent him from using the first opportunity to express in print his thanks to the patron of the living for admitting him. He expressed his gratitude in the dedication of Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu: or the Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647)1 to the Earl. This treatise, though not particularly easy to read because of Owen’s heavy style and Aristotelian methodology, is filled with much theological learning. It defended the orthodox Calvinist doctrine that the death of Christ was intended in God’s sovereign will to be a redemption of the elect only, not of the world in general. Being a noted opponent of Arminianism of both the Dutch and English variety the Earl would have approved this teaching. He would also have agreed with Owen’s attack upon the new doctrines from the Protestant Academy of Saumur, set forth in the writings of Cameron, Amyraut and Daillé. This “new Methodism” was a kind of half-way house between orthodox Calvinism and Arminianism although it claimed to be restoring the original emphases and principles of the Reformed Faith.2 Against all innovations Owen’s position was clear. Those upon whom God set His love before the creation of the world were the ones, and the only ones, for whom Christ died. The book has a commendation by two Presbyterians, Stanley Gower and Richard Byfield, both members of the Westminster Assembly. They describe Owen’s work as “pulling down the rotten house of Arminianism upon the head of those Philistines who would uphold it.”
1Works, X, pp. 140ff.
2For a recent study of this theology see B. G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy, Madison, Wisconsin, 1969.
Before the publication of his exposition of the limited atonement of Christ, Owen had finally adopted the Congregational way. In a rare autobiographical statement in a book published in 1657 he told his readers how he finally came to this position. Up to 1643 he had not examined the doctrine of the Church to a greater depth than “an opposition to Episcopacy and ceremonies” necessitated. But, as he explained:
Not long after (the publication of The Duty of Pastors) I set myself seriously to inquire into the controversies then warmly agitated in these nations. Of the Congregational way I was not acquainted with any one person, minister or other; nor had I, to my knowledge, seen any more than one in my whole life. My acquaintance lay wholly with ministers and people of the Presbyterian way. But sundry books being published on either side, I perused and compared them with the Scripture and with one another according as I received ability from God. After a general view of them, as was my manner in other controversies, I fixed on one to take under peculiar consideration and examination, which seemed most methodically and strongly to maintain that which was contrary, as I thought, to my present persuasion. This was Mr Cotton’s book of the Keys. The examination and confutation hereof, merely for my own particular satisfaction, with what diligence and sincerity I was able, I engaged in. What progress I made in that undertaking I can manifest unto any by the discourses on that subject and animadversions on that book yet abiding by me. In the pursuit and management of this work, quite beside and contrary to my expectation, at a time and season wherein I could expect nothing on that account but ruin in this world, without the knowledge or advice of, or conference with, any one person of that judgement, I was prevailed on to receive that and those principles which I had thought to have set myself in an opposition unto.1
1Works. XIII, p. 223.
Another decisive moment, virtually as important for the future as his spiritual experience in St Mary’s, Aldermanbury, had arrived in his life. True to his character he immediately acted on his new principles and gathered a church within the parish of St Peter’s, Coggeshall. A Congregational church claiming its origins to this point in time still worships in the town. In practical terms Owen’s new ecclesiastical position meant that he continued to hold the statutory Sunday services for the whole parish based on the Directory and at a different time of the day or on a weekday those who were visible saints met for mutual edification. Only to this gathered church would he have administered the Holy Communion. For the benefit of his parishioners and for any others who were interested he explained the principles of the Congregational way in simple terms in Eshcol, a Cluster of the Fruits of Canaan ... Or, Rules of Direction for the walking of the Saints (1648). [Works, XIII, pp. 521ff.] This eminently practical book, often reprinted in the seventeenth century, contained rules for the relationship of members of the gathered church to each other and to the pastor. Each rule is established by a body of evidence from Scripture and by a general explanation. As Goold remarks in his editorial comments “for once Owen is the master of the art of condensation.” We may illustrate this point by giving his rules to preserve Christian fellowship.
1. Affectionate, sincere love in all things, without dissimulation towards one another, like that which Christ bare to His Church.
2. Continual prayer for the prosperous state of the Church, in God’s protection towards it.
3. Earnest striving and contending in all lawful ways, by doing and suffering, for the purity of the ordinances, honour, liberty, and privileges of the congregation, being jointly assistant against all opposers and common adversaries.
4. Sedulous care and endeavouring for the preservation of unity, both in particular and in general.
5. Separation and sequestration from the world and men of the world, with all ways of false worship, until we have apparently a people dwelling alone, not reckoned among the nations.
6. Frequent spiritual communication for edification, according to gifts received.
7. Mutually to bear with each other’s infirmities, weakness, tenderness, failings, in meekness, patience, pity, and with assistance.
8. Tender and affectionate participation with one another in their several states and conditions – bearing each other’s burdens.
9. Free contribution and communication of temporal things to them that are poor indeed, suitable to their necessities, wants, and afflictions.
10. To mark diligently and avoid carefully all causes and causers of divisions; especially to shun seducers, false teachers, and broachers of heresies and errors, contrary to the form of wholesome words.
11. Cheerfully to undergo the lot and portion of the whole church in prosperity and affliction and not to draw back upon any occasion whatever.
12. In church affairs to make no difference of persons, but to condescend to the meanest persons and services for the use of the brethren.
13. If any be in distress, persecution, or affliction the whole church is to be humbled and to be earnest in prayer in their behalf.
14. Vigilant watchfulness over each other’s conversation, attended with mutual admonition in case of disorderly walking, with rendering an account to the church if the party offending be not prevailed with.
15. Exemplary walking in all holiness and godliness of conversation to the glory of the gospel, edification of the church and conviction of them that are without.
When Owen met his fellow ministers he sought to convince them of the truth he had recently found and how in the parish situation the Congregational ideal could work. On the 31st March 1648, for example, he was present at a ministerial meeting in Colchester. The purpose was to suggest to the government how the recent ordinance of Parliament “for the speedy and effectual settling of the Presbyterian government” in Essex could be achieved.1 (As yet the classical system was operative only in London and Lancashire.)2 Ralph Josselin, the minister at Earls Colne, was present and later wrote in his Diary a brief but revealing comment on Owen’s attitude: “We had much discourse concerning falling into practice, and, in the first place, seeing that elders are to be chosen, by whom it shall be done; the Parliament proposeth by the people who have taken the Covenant; others, as Mr Owen, conceived this too broad, and would have first a separation made in our parishes, and that by the minister and those godly that join unto him, and then proceed to choosing.”3 Here we see Owen making a valiant effort to fit the Congregational way into the proposed Presbyterian structures. Happily for him however the Presbyterian National Church never fully materialised in practice and he did not have to face the problem of reconciling his views with such an Organisation.
1See Smith, op. cit., p. 192 for more detail.
2Shaw, History of the English Church, 1640–1660, II, pp. 1–33.
3The Diary of Ralph Josselin, ed. E. Hockliffe, 1908. p. 48. A few days later Josselin signed the Testimony of the Ministers of Essex, which was a manifesto of orthodox Presbyterianism. Smith, op. cit., pp. 102ff. Owen refused to sign.
It is not often realised that the adoption of the Congregational way was much more than the practice of a different form of church government. In the 1640s there were important implications in the fields of eschatology and religious toleration. The writings of the dissenting brethren of the Westminster Assembly and the leading divines of Massachusetts make it clear that the creation by them of gathered churches of visible saints was seen not only as an act of obedience to Christ, the Head of the Church, but also as an expression of hope for the future. For in the millennium the purified Church militant would take the form of multitudes of gathered churches, enjoying fellowship with each other and with Christ. There were, it is true, a few Presbyterians (William Twisse, for example) who also looked forward to a millennial kingdom, but the majority of that group were content to hope for a great revival at the close of the age connected with the conversion of many Jews. The Congregationalists, however, to a man were millenarians of one kind or another and chiliasm was recognised by contemporaries as one of their peculiar doctrines.1 Now Owen did not accept any doctrine merely because others taught it and so we may suggest that he gave much attention to the topic and studied especially the millenarian writings of John Cotton. The evidence of his writings, especially the sermons he preached to the Runιp Parliament, which we shall examine below, clearly reveals the general lines of this thought. Though not explicitly millenarian, he often spoke of the latter-day glory of the Church of Christ on earth, which would follow the abolition of the power of both the Turks and the Papacy. As for religious toleration, we have already noted his views as they appeared in print in 1646. The logic of his doctrine of the Church demanded that he argue for freedom of organisation at the parish level and for some basic toleration of gathered churches, who taught orthodox Calvinism, outside the parish system. His brethren in Massachusetts, however, believing they alone had the true doctrine of the church, refused to tolerate others who differed from them and this became in time an embarrassment to him and his English colleagues.2
1Cf Wilson, Pulpit in Parliament, pp. 223–230, and Nustall, Visible Saints, pp. 146ff.
2See Correspondence, pp. 145–6 for a letter on this issue.
Soon after the meeting at Colchester to discuss the implementation of Presbyterianism in Essex a second civil war began. Charles I was not willing to make an effective compromise with the House of Commons and on the first day of May news reached London and Essex that in Pembroke a high-ranking army officer had been killed by neo-royalist rebels. This rebellion in Wales was followed by a Scottish invasion of England led by Hamilton and by scattered risings in many parts of England, especially in the heavily-taxed South-East. The army acted quickly. John Lambert went North to meet the Scots. Edmund Waller went West to Cornwall; Oliver Cromwell moved into Wales and Thomas Fairfax stayed in the London area. There was discontent all over the country caused in part by the bad harvest of 1647 and the current crippling taxation.1 The area in which Owen lived was no exception. An army of both old and new royalists under the Earl of Norwich was at Braintree on the 11th June intending to march direct to Norfolk and Suffolk where help was expected from the gentry and where supplies by sea would be available. But, at the suggestion of Sir Charles Lucas, a tried and capable soldier with family connexions in Essex, they turned aside to seek to attract recruits from Colchester. On the night of the 11th there was much excitement at Coggeshall as Sir Thomas Honeywood, a member of the unpopular County Committee, waited with (in Owen’s words) “a poor handful of unskilful men,” of whom not more than three had ever fought in a war, to ambush the royalists. The latter, however, chose a different route and were eventually admitted into Colchester, taking with them some members of the County Committee whom they were holding captive. Not far behind them was General Fairfax who crossed the Thames at Tilbury and arrived with his army at Coggeshall on the 12th. During the next day he attacked Colchester hoping to achieve the same success there that he had recently enjoyed at Maidstone in Kent. This was not to be; he was repulsed and a long siege became necessary.2 A few days later he was joined by Henry Ireton and the rest of the army who had successfully taken Canterbury on the 8th. Because of his known Independent principles, Owen was invited to minister to the soldiers who were now encamped outside Colchester. This work gave him the opportunity to have long conversations with the senior army officers as well as with many of the men; and friendships were hereby formed that were to last for many years. Writing after the siege, Owen said that he had had “the happiness for a short season to serve His Excellency (Lord Fairfax) in the service of Jesus Christ.”3 The parliamentary army did not actually gain entrance into Colchester until the 27th August at which time the County Committee was released and two of the leaders of the insurrection, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, were executed.
1For a description of the second civil war and the siege of Colchester see S. R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, 1891, III, pp. 391ff.
2The dislocation of life locally is seen in the fact that Ralph Josselin had to take his wife and children to stay with Lady Honeywood for ten weeks. Smith, op. cit., pp. 217–8.
3See his dedicatory epistle to Fairfax in Ebenezer (1648).
At the day of thanksgiving which followed the siege Owen was the preacher. He was also the speaker at another day of rejoicing held a few weeks later at Romford. Both sermons were from Habakkuk 3:1–9 and were printed as one treatise, Ebenezer: a Memorial of the Deliverance of Essex County and Committee.1 The passage from the prophet contains a prayer which begins with a request to God to have mercy on the nation but it soon develops into a description of a theophany in which God visits the earth in judgement. From these verses Owen drew out twenty-one observations or principles which the supporters of Parliament could take to heart. These observations present an interesting combination of sound advice on prayer, faith and divine chastisement in the life of the believer with an attempt to see in the events of the second civil war, especially in the siege of Colchester, the distinct providence of God. His first principle – “prayer is the believer’s constant, sure retreat in an evil time” – no Christian would challenge. His fourteenth principle – “God’s dealings with His enemies in the season of the Church’s deliverance is of especial consideration” – is rather more speculative if taken out of its Old Testament context, where God supports Israel against her enemies. But Owen used this principle to introduce a long section in which he sought to explain just how God’s sovereign providence had worked in local affairs first of all to allow the rebellion in Essex and then to crush it. Without any inhibitions he stated that God had caused the ruin of the royalist forces at Colchester. Under the twentieth principle he expounded his belief that God caused the second civil war to take place (that is, by His inscrutable provocation of the minds of the royalist leaders) in order to have the enemies of the Gospel finally defeated and to unite the saints in the common cause. Had God not caused the war then the persecution and tyranny of former days would have returned. Owen claimed that in the activities of the rebellious army led by the Earl of Norwich he could discern “sundry instances of how God mixed a perverse spirit of folly and error in all their counsels” in order eventually to engineer their defeat. Or, put another way, “God hath interposed in our quarrels from heaven.” Owen’s view of the Essex rebellion was necessarily biased since he understood everything in terms of God’s judgement, chastisement or deliverance of His saints on earth. He did not think it important to consider what we may term “secondary causes” – excessive taxation, patriotism and fear of the future. For him God was so vitally concerned with every aspect of English life that he felt the need to explain any changes in that life in terms of God and His providence only. Needless to say Owen’s views were in the main highly subjective even though he believed that they were wholly based on objective reality. It is always dangerous to try to see God’s providence and judgements at work in the complex affairs of a nation or people, except that nation be the Jews of old.
1Works, VIII, pp. 72ff
Whilst Fairfax had been victorious in Kent and Essex, the other army commanders enjoyed success in the rest of the country and the royalist cause was soon in ruins. Meanwhile commissioners from both Houses of Parliament waited on the King at Newport, Isle of Wight, but made little progress in their discussions. From the army came a crescendo of calls for what they termed “impartial justice” on all offenders and on the 20th November An Humble Remonstrance was presented to the Commons, which, tactlessly, laid it aside.1 In this document the army officers warned of the danger of continuing to negotiate with the King and expounded the justice and expediency of bringing him to trial. The draft of this document was the work of Henry Ireton, who, as we have noted, had come to be a personal friend of Owen at Colchester. So it is a distinct possibility that the soldier and the divine had discussed between themselves some of the ideas contained in this document. Just over two weeks after its presentation, members of Parliament found troops from the regiment of Colonel Pride around the Palace at Westminster, guarding the entrance to the Commons. Certain members who were known to be against the general aims of the army officers were prevented from entering. After this incident the purged Parliament acted speedily. The King was brought to Windsor in readiness for an early trial and on the 1st Jaιιuary 1649 the Commons declared it treason in the King to levy war on the Parliament and kingdom and a special high court of justice was set up. Thirty days later, by the will of a small minority of powerful men and without the general consent of the nation at large, Charles I was executed outside Inigo Jones’s handsome Banqueting Hall in Whitehall. People everywhere were amazed.
1Gardiner, op. cit., III, p. 508.
At the monthly fast-day in December the Commons had been somewhat embarrassed by a sermon from Thomas Watson, a Presbyterian divine, who accused the members of making “religion a cloak for their ambition.”1 So when they made preparation for the next fast, due in the crucial month of January, they chose two men whose views were known to them and who could be expected to say the right things. One was John Cardell, minister at All Hallows in Lombard Street, London, and John Owen was the other. Sir Henry Mildmay of Essex, a member of the County Committee, was asked to pass on the invitation to the Coggeshall minister.
1Wilson, op. cit., pp. 155–7.
Since the execution of the King was to be on Wednesday, January 30, the fast-day was delayed for one day. Owen was in London to witness the dreadful ceremony and it was perhaps to the nights of January 28, 29 and 30 that he referred when he described his sermon as “a hasty conception and like Jonah’s gourd the child of a night or two.” But even if the discourse itself was prepared in a hurry the sentiments it contained were the result of several years of thought, observation and voluntary support of the Independent cause. Based on Jeremiah 15:19–20 and entitled in print Righteous Zeal encouraged by Divine Protection,1 it compared ancient Judah in the time of Jeremiah the prophet with England in the seventeenth century. Because of the sins of King Manasseh and his people Jerusalem was destroyed and many of its inhabitants taken into exile. Likewise, God had judged England in the civil wars and in the execution of the King. To obtain God’s favour for the future, those who ruled England must remove from the nation all traces of false worship, superstition and tyranny and wholeheartedly support religion based on Holy Scripture. Although there is nothing remarkable about the sermon itself it was an appropriate message in a difficult hour. The dedicatory letter to the “right honourable, the Commons of England” confirms, however, that Owen understood the removal of the King in eschatological and apocalyptic terms. “God Almighty having called you forth, right honourable,” he wrote, “at His entrance to the rolling up of the nation’s heavens like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4–5), to serve Him in your generation in the high places of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16), you shall be sure not to want experience of that opposition which is raised against the great work of the Lord, which generally swells most against the visible instruments thereof.” It is perhaps not necessary to discuss, as nonconformist historians were prone to do in the nineteenth century, whether or not Owen condoned the execution, or whether or not he was able to refuse to preach on this occasion.2 Had he not wished to preach he could have declined the invitation; there was no compulsion. And his subsequent actions and sermons make it perfectly clear that he believed God had condemned the house of Stuart (not kingship as such) for its support of false religion and tyranny, and that, on this basis, the execution was part of God’s righteous judgement.
1Works, VIII, pp. 128ff. On 21 July 1683 the University of Oxford condemned this sermon as pernicious and damnable. It was then publicly burned along with other books by Independents of this period.
2See e.g. Orme, pp. 67ff.
Attached to the printed sermon was an important tract with the title “Of Toleration: and the Duty of the Magistrate about Religion.” As we have seen this topic had been exercising Owen’s mind for over three years and now at a critical moment in the history of the nation, he hoped to influence any future religious settlement by potently presenting his own case which was essentially the same as what he expounded in 1646 and that of other men of the Congregational way.1 He maintained that it was the duty of magistrates and churches to preserve the truth of God and oppose error by the spiritual sword and spiritual hammer of the Word of God and by proper use of church discipline. With many references to past history, he showed that persecution of people who hold erroneous opinions has never achieved any lasting good. Furthermore, he argued that the punishment of heretics is not required by God’s Word unless they cause civil disorder. The duty of Parliament, being the supreme magistrate, is to provide for the preaching of the Gospel in the whole nation and to remove all antichristian worship. This meant retaining the organisation of the National Church into parishes but in such a way that ministers holding different views on church polity could serve God’s people in harmony. In conclusion he suggested that Parliament should organise and listen to a debate about religious toleration so that having heard contrary opinions it could make up its own mind in full knowledge of the facts. Though he did not specifically say so, Owen gave the impression that he would be prepared to participate in the debate against those of the Presbyterian school who wanted to have one form of religion in the whole number of parish churches with no dissenters of any kind. As far as we know this debate never took place although religious toleration was a topic often raised for discussion in the army.2
1Cf. for example the views of Thomas Goodwin and Jeremiah Burroughs as explained in Jordan, Development of Religious Toleration … 1640–1660, pp. 347ff. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1903, I, p. 97 asserts that Owen’s views resembled those of the Agreement of the People presented to Parliament by army officers. R. S. Paul, The Lord Protector, 1955, pp. 256–7 traces the similarities to a common cause. Henry Ireton and his fellow officers had the same ecclesiastical views as did Owen. Orme, pp. 72ff. ascribes too much originality to Owen’s views on toleration.
2Whilst Owen was in London, Presbyterian ministers who opposed both the execution of the King and the proposals of the Agreement of the People composed and later published The Essex Ministers Watchword. Cf. Smith, op. cit., p. 103.
Owen obviously proved to be a popular preacher and in April he was back again in London to preach to the Commons. The fast-day was originally planned for March but it was postponed twice and was finally held on the 19th April. His text was Hebrews 12:2, “I shake not the earth only but also heaven.” He entitled the sermon The Shaking and Translating of Heaven and Earth.1 Quickly his hearers found out that he was not speaking of the conflagration of the universe. He explained that “heaven” referred not to the celestial regions but rather to the “political heights and glory” which men had framed for themselves. It meant “the grandeur and lustre of their dominions.” Likewise, “the earth” did not mean the soil but the people who lived on the soil. So the explanation of the text was straightforward:
The Lord Jesus Christ, by his mighty power, in these latter days, as antichristian tyranny draws to its period will so far shake and translate the political heights, governments and strength of the nations, as shall serve for the full bringing in of his own peaceable kingdom: – the nations so shaken become thereby a quiet habitation for the people of the Most High.
1Works, VIII, pp. 244ff.
He then proceeded to expound this theme of the coming kingdom of Christ, preceded by the “fall of Babylon;” the overthrow of the political and religious power of the papacy, being clearly prophesied in Revelation 17, was certain. Those nations in Europe which traditionally had been the spheres in which the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed both spiritual and temporal power would rise up in revolt against Rome and remove from their midst all antichristian tyranny. Although Owen did not mention the fact, there were in Europe in this period a whole series of revolutions and this might have contributed to the strength of the interpretation of Revelation 17 amongst the Independents.1 Apart from revolutions in Christendom he also spoke of the forthcoming destruction of the Turkish Empire and the conversion of the Jewish people to Christ. The whole tenor of the sermon reveals that Owen’s mind was extremely excited by the events through which he was living because to him they were part of God’s activity in the last days. Happily, he did not let his eschatological views overpower his understanding to the extent of becoming a Fifth Monarchist; but even so, his views were capable, in the minds of lesser men, of causing a wholly distorted view of politics and religion. A few years later he was accused by a Fifth Monarchy preacher of deserting the cause, which suggests that his views in 1649 were cherished by sectarian groups in London.2
1Cf. R. B. Merriman, Six Contemporaneous Revolutions, 1938, and Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution, 1965, pp. 132–3.
2For the views of the Fifth Monarchists see B. S. Capp, “Extreme Millenarianism” in Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel, ed. P. Toon. The criticism of Owen is in the “Epistolary Perambulation” by John Rogers in The Time of the End (1657) by John Canne.
Sitting amongst those who listened to this outline of future events and to the identification of the cause of Parliament with the cause of God was Oliver Cromwell. He himself was very interested in the interpretation of prophecy: writing to John Cotton in 1651 he asked the Massachusetts divine “What is the Lord a-doing? What prophecies are now fulfilling?”1 So, naturally, he was deeply impressed with Owen’s ability to relate those affairs in which he, as an army commander, had such a great stake to the will of God for the future of Christianity in Europe. Providentially (so both men came to believe) the soldier and the preacher met the next day.2 Owen had called to pay his respects to General Fairfax at his home in Queen Street but was kept waiting. During this period Cromwell arrived with other officers. Seeing Owen, he walked over to him and, laying his hand upon the minister’s shoulder, said, “Sir, you are the person I must be acquainted with.” To this unexpected compliment the young divine answered, “That will be much more to my advantage than yours.” Shortly afterwards, as they walked in the garden, Cromwell replied, “We shall soon see that,” and then proceeded to tell him of his forthcoming expedition to Ireland in order to put down rebellion there and of his desire that he should accompany him as a chaplain and make a survey of the state and future prospects of Trinity College, Dublin. Owen was not ready to give an immediate answer and asked for time to consider the offer. The idea of leaving his church and parish was repugnant to him. He had not been back in Coggeshall for very long when a letter addressed to his church asking for his release arrived, and his brother, now Captain Philemon Owen, came to persuade him on Cromwell’s behalf to accept the invitation to go to Ireland.3 A request had virtually turned into a command and so, after conferring with local ministers, Owen agreed to go. Once more he had taken what must have been a painful decision, but, like earlier momentous decisions, it was to have important consequences for his future and for that of many other people.
1The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, ed. W. C. Abbott, Cambridge, Mass., 1937–47, II, p. 482.
2Asty, p. ix.
3The letter mentioned by Asty is no longer extant.
Before the expedition left London in July, Owen had to fulfill another preaching engagement in the City. On the 7th June in Christ Church, Newgate Street, he preached with Thomas Goodwin at a special day of thanksgiving held to commemorate the suppression of the Leveller mutiny at Burford on the 15th May by Cromwell and Fairfax.1 The origins of the Leveller party may be traced to the disappointment of some of the more radical supporters of Parliament in the Civil War at the way the victorious House of Commons was acting after the War. For example, it imprisoned people without trial and refused to receive petitions from ordinary people. Receiving support mainly from artisans in London and soldiers in the army the Levellers demanded that there be a new written constitution based on the sovereignty of the people and limiting the powers of Parliament. They also proposed reforms in education and in respect to the paying of tithes; but they were neither atheists nor anarchists. They merely wanted to take the revolution that step further than did the Independents and senior army officers. The mutiny at Burford was caused by frustration since they felt they were getting nowhere.
1For the Leveller mutiny see Gardiner, op. cit., I, pp. 30ff. A recent study of the Levellers is J. Frank, The Levellers, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1955, but H. N. Brailsford, The Levellers and the Eιιg1ish Revolution, (new edition ed. C. Hill), 1961, is still useful, and so is A. S. P. Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty, 1938.
Owen spoke to the congregation of aldermen, M.P.’s and army officers from Psalm 76:5, “the stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep.” He began by reaffirming a doctrine that he had often expounded – that the care of the churches and the ordinances of the Gospel lies “at the bottom of God’s powerful actings and workings among the sons of men.” His hearers were witnessing in their generation the glorious work of God in overthrowing ungodly tyranny. Even so, the defeat of the Levellers, when compared with the victory over the army of Charles Stuart, that agent of popery, was but an “appendix of good will for the confirming of the former work which God had wrought.” They should view the recent uprising as a trial of their faith, since the Levellers were political radicals whose views if implemented would lead to the dethroning of the Gospel and the prevention of its propagation.
As we would expect, Owen’s views were in harmony with those of the army leaders and he showed no sympathetic or careful understanding of the motivation or aims of this group of men, many of whom were guided by high ideals. Again, as with the royalists at Colchester, his evaluation of them was in terms of how he thought they would prohibit the general propagation of the Gospel and the maintenance of the Christian ministry. And he condemned them in God’s name for not fitting into his own attempts to understand God’s will for England.
In the sermon there was one interesting and revealing question discussed the answer to which gives us interesting insights into Owen’s mind. It was as follows: when God is shaking and changing the nations, and when governments are being overthrown, how can any nation be sure that its own government would not topple? Perhaps behind this question lay the public discussion about the legality of the Rump without the presence of the excluded members. Owen’s answer was given in what he called six “scriptural principles.” They were that God will not overthrow a government if He has honoured its undertakings for Him with success, if its members devote themselves wholly to His cause, if they subject their power to the power of Christ, if they are supported by the prayers of God’s elect saints, if they courageously and sincerely fulfill the work of Christian magistracy, and if they have not the “qualifications of that power (Roman Catholicism) which in the latter days God hath promised to destroy.” Whilst he did not say so, it appears that Owen believed that the government of England in 1649 fulfilled these principles and therefore could expect the continued blessings of God. No wonder he could condemn the Levellers.
The sermons in Christ Church were followed by a sumptuous feast in Grocers’ Hall. This banquet was a farewell dinner for the army before it left for Ireland. Next day in the Commons, Owen and Goodwin were thanked for their sermons and invited to print them but neither of them did.1 Also an Act was read for settling £100 on Owen for his help at the siege of Colchester, and there was discussion about the promotion of Goodwin and Owen to be Heads of Oxford Colleges.2 Owen’s advancement was necessarily delayed but Goodwin soon became the new President of Magdalen College. During the discussion of his future by the Commons, Owen was probably on his way back to Coggeshall to set his affairs in order before leaving for Ireland. He had to arrange for the care of his family as well as for the continued preaching of the Gospel at St Peter’s.3 By the 11th July he was back in London participating at Whitehall in the great prayer meeting which preceded the stately departure of the army. Cromwell, with Colonels Goffe and Harrison, expounded relevant portions of Scripture concerning the judgement of God on the enemies of the Gospel and the expedition was commended to the protection and mercy of the Almighty.4 Owen’s thoughts as he joined the army probably centred on his task of ensuring as far as he was able that military action did not cloud the need for the propagation of the Gospel and the training of more preaching ministers in Trinity College.
1C.J., VI, p. 226. Goodwin and Owen chose not to print their sermons but that of Owen was preserved and first printed in 1721. See Works, IX, pp. 197ff.
2B. Whitelocke, Memorials of English Affairs, 1732, p. 406.
3It is possible that Constantine Jessop who had been minister at nearby Fyfield preached for him in his absence and acted as an assistant minister at other times. This is assumed on the List of vicars on the south wall of the church. During her stay at Coggeshall, Mary Owen had at least three children. Mary was baptised on 4 July 1647 but died three weeks later. Another Mary was baptised on 23 February 1650 and an Elizabeth on 10 February 1651. I am grateful to the County Archivist of Essex, Mr F. G. Emmison, for sending me photocopies of the relevant pages from,the parish register.
4See Writings and Speeches of Cromwell, II, pp. 92ff.
Reaching Bristol by the 15th July, the army faced a long wait until the embarkation in mid-August. As the troops prepared to board ship at Milford Haven there came news of a victory in Ireland over the chief royalist adversary, the Earl of Ormonde, whose forces Colonel Michael Jones had routed at Rathmines. So at a time when the royalist forces needed to be at their greatest strength to resist Cromwell they had been decisively weakened. Nevertheless, they still held Drogheda, an important town on the banks of the Boyne and at a strategic point on the road from Dublin to Ulster. Anticipating success and believing that providence was already working on his behalf, Cromwell sailed on the 13th August and two days later arrived in Dublin, where he was greeted by the roar of cannon and a great crowd of people. They included no Roman Catholics since Colonel Jones had previously dispelled them from the city. A week after Cromwell’s triumphant arrival, Ireton arrived with the rest of the army in eighty-four ships. The next few days were spent in organising resources and preparing to deal with the enemy in the North. The first task was to take Drogheda, some thirty miles from Dublin, but when the army marched out of Dublin at the end of August Owen did not go with it. This means that he did not witness the capture of Drogheda and the massacre of those who unsuccessfully had sought to defend it. Having no record of Owen’s reaction to the news of the massacre, we must presume that he interpreted it in much the same way as did Cromwell.1 That is, it was a necessary and indeed merciful policy, aimed at striking terror into the enemies and thereby preventing future bloodshed, and the possibility of a foreign invasion of Ireland. From the divine standpoint it was to be seen as a judgement upon those who were enemies of Christ and who were seeking to defend a monarchy and a religion that God had condemned. (As the Ireland of the twentieth century experiences the civil, religious and political aftermath of the English colonisation of Ireland, Christians now surely regret that God was made the excuse for policies that have led to war, slaughter, massacre and long resentment. Sadly we so very rarely learn from history.)
1At least this is what his sermon The Steadfastness of the Promises noticed below would seem to indicate. For Cromwell’s views see C. Hill, God’s Englishman, pp. 112ff.
Whilst living in Dublin Castle, Owen concerned himself with preaching, which according to two contemporary testimonies was well received.1 Apart from this he made a survey of Trinity College, now in its fifty-eighth year. It was in a bad state of repair and virtually devoid of both staff and students. Since it had included amongst its Provosts several famous Puritans, one of whom was the famous Presbyterian, Walter Travers, and amongst its graduates many learned men, of whom the greatest, Archbishop James Ussher, was still alive, Owen would have had a deep respect for this institution and would have longed for it to return to its former intellectual and numerical strength.2 Ireland was much in need of preachers and Trinity had such all important role to play in the production of these men. Apart from his preaching and administrative duties, Owen also found time to write a short book, Of the Death of Christ, which was a reply to criticism of his earlier Salus Electorum made by Richard Baxter, the “reformed pastor” of Kidderminster, whose views on the atonement of Christ were similar to those of Amyraut. The fact that Owen felt it was a right use of his time to defend the doctrine of the limited atonement of Christ when there were so many things to do in the troubled country of Ireland reveals just how important the preservation of orthodox Calvinism was to him. Any compromise with Arminianism, and this is what he felt Baxter’s views were, would lead people down the slippery slope to Arminianism itself, which, in turn, would lead either to popery or Socinianism. He finished the book on December 20 1649 and in its last paragraph he left a very brief description of his life in Dublin. “For the present,” he wrote, “being by God’s providence removed for a season from my native soil, attended with more than ordinary weakness and infirmities, separated from my library, burdened with manifold employments, with constant preaching to a numerous multitude of as thirsting a people after the Gospel as ever yet I conversed withal, it sufficeth me that I have obtained this mercy, briefly and plainly to vindicate the truth from mistakes.”3
1John Rogers, Ohel or Bethshemesh, 1653, bk. II, ch. vi, and see also Nuttall, Visible Saints, p. 73.
2For the early history of Trinity College see J. P. Mahaffy, An Epoch in Irish History: Trinity College, Dublin, 1591–1660, 1903. For Travers see S. J. Knox, Walter Travers, 1962, and for Usshеr see R. B. Knox, James Ussher, Cardif, 1967.
3Works, X, p. 479. Baxter’s criticisms of Owen’s theology were in an appendix to his Aphorisms of Justification (1649).
By the time he wrote this conclusion to his book the English army under Cromwell had captured Wexford, taken possession of Cork, temporarily abandoned the siege of Waterford and established winter quarters at Youghal. Owen did not remain to see the Spring campaign. He returned to London, intent, it would seem on pressing upon the Council of State the need to ensure that provision was made for the orderly preaching of the Gospel in Ireland. When he preached before the Commons on the last day of February 1650 this was his major theme. In the dedicatory letter printed in the published sermon he admitted that it was “a serious proposal for the advancement and propagation of the Gospel in another nation.” The following quotation from near the end of The Steadfastness of the Promises [Works, VIII, pp. 208ff.] shows how Owen viewed the duty of the British government.
God’s work whereunto you are engaged is the propagating of the kingdom of Christ and the setting up of the standard of the Gospel. So far as you find God going on with your work, go you on with his. How is it that Jesus Christ is in Ireland only as a lion staining all his garments with the blood of his enemies; and none to hold him out as a Lamb sprinkled with his own blood to his friends? Is it the sovereignty and interest of England that is alone to be transacted there? For my part, I see no farther into the mystery of these things but that I could heartily rejoice that, innocent blood being expiated, the Irish might enjoy Ireland so long as the moon endureth, so that Jesus Christ might possess the Irish. But God having suffered those sworn vassals of the man of sin to break out into such ways of villainy as render them obnoxious unto vengeance, upon such rules of government amongst men as he hath appointed; is there, therefore, nothing to be done but to give a cup of blood into their hands? Doubtless the way whereby God will bring the followers after the beast to condign destruction for all their enmity to the Lord Jesus, will be by suffering them to run into such practices against men as shall righteously expose them to vengeance, according to acknowledged principles among the sons of men. But is this all? Hath he no further aim? Is not all this to make way for the Lord Jesus to take possession of his long since promised inheritance? And shall we stop at the first part? Is this to deal fairly with the Lord Jesus? – call him out to do battle and then keep away his crown? God hath been faithful in doing great things for you; be faithful in this one – do your utmost for the preaching of the Gospel in Ireland.
Following this eloquent appeal he exclaimed:
I would that there were for the present one gospel preacher for every walled town in the English possession in Ireland ... The tears and cries of the inhabitants of Dublin after the manifestations of Christ are ever in my view ... If their being gospelless move not our hearts, it is hoped their importunate cries will disquiet our rest, and wrest help as a beggar doth an alms.
Perhaps some of those present recalled how that four years earlier he had made a similar plea for the propagation of the Gospel in the dark corners of England and Wales. This great concern that people should hear of and receive Christ reveals the true spirituality of Owen. At the height of military victory his first thoughts were to ensure that the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ was not ignored.
He was probably consulted at some stage in the composition of the “Act for the better advancement of the Gospel and Learning in Ireland” which went through the Commons on the 8th March.1 By this the property of the late Archbishop of Dublin and the Dean and Chapter of St Patrick’s Cathedral was vested in fifteen trustees. Apart from Owen these included Henry Ireton, Henry Cromwell (son of Oliver), Jonathan Goddaгd (physician to Oliver) and Jenkin Lloyd, Bursar of Jesus College, Oxford. The Act provided for the maintenance of Trinity College and also for the erecting of another College and a Free School. Neither of the latter seem to have been founded but efforts were made to make Trinity a great centre of Christian learning. Owen himself was consulted on various occasions concerning the College and it was probably he who suggested the name of Samuel Winter, a Yorkshire minister, as Provost.2 Furthermore, it was perhaps in response to Owen’s persuasive lobbying that Parliament resolved to send over six able ministers to Ireland, but the finding of suitable volunteers was to prove difficult.3 Finally, as it were, to crown Owen’s achievements of that cold March day, the Council of State announced that he was to be one of its official preachers at Whitehall with a salary of £200 a year. Gradually, it seemed, he was being weaned away from his first love, the pastoral office. He was provided with lodgings, probably those formerly occupied by the late Archbishop Laud, and required to offer prayers and Bible readings at the beginning of Council meetings and preach a weekly sermon on Fridays in Whitehall Chapel. This appointment in which he replaced Thomas Goodwin, who moved to Oxford, placed Owen at the very centre of the affairs of the Commonwealth and ensured that he knew the men who were deciding, under God, the future of the country. His acceptance of the appointment confirms what has already become clear; he was wholly committed to the new Republic and believed that he could influence its policies, especially in religious matters.
1For the Act see Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660, ed. C. H. Firth & R. S. Rait, 1911, II, p. 355.
2Mahaffy, op. cit., pp.295ff. For Winter, who was Provost from 1651–60, see C.R.
3Cf. the letters written by the Commissioners in Dublin to Owen asking for his help in finding preachers. Correspondence, No’s 1 and 9, pp. 50 and 59.
One of these policies was made clear on the 10th June, three weeks after the triumphant return of Cromwell to London. It was resolved that an English invasion of Scotland was the only means of preventing a Scottish invasion of England.1 Six days later Parliament adopted the resolution without a dissentient vote. There was fear that the Scots would invade England both to restore the Stuart monarchy in the person of the young Charles and to establish Presbyterianism. Having decided on the necessity of the invasion, the next problem the Commons had to face was who should lead the invading army. Fairfax, being a moderate Presbyterian, was the obvious choice for he would have given a respectability and morality to the expedition by his very presence with the army. Unfortunately for the Council of State, Fair did not wholeheartedly see matters in its way and so, under pressure, he resigned his commission in the army, giving as his reason “disabilities both in body and mind,” words that were capable of more than one interpretation. He was succeeded by Cromwell who now became the Captain-General and Commander-in-Chief of all the forces of the Commonwealth in England. Having a great respect for Fairfax, Owen must have been disappointed that he was leaving the army; but the cause was greater than any individual and being a firm friend and admirer of Cromwell and confident of his abilities and concern for the Gospel, he was no doubt happy that the expedition to Scotland was in the hands of such a brave and godly man.
1For the background of the decision to invade Scotland see Gardiner, op. cit., I, chap’s viii and ix.
When the army left London on the 28th June for the North, Cromwell had with him Charles Fleetwood as Lieutenant-General and John Lambert as Major-General. William Good and John Owen served as chaplains. Their route took them through Cambridge, York, Durham and Newcastle. In the latter town Owen visited the Congregational church and gave some help.1 By the side of the river Tyne the army kept a fast and called upon God to bless its endeavours on His behalf. Owen was one of the five ministers who helped with the devotions. During the encampment at Newcastle, Cromwell and his advisers composed A Declaration of the Army of England ... to all that are Saints and Partakers of the Faith of God’s Elect in Scotland, which was to be sent on ahead to Edinburgh. This explained the English government’s interpretation of the Solemn League and Covenant, the civil wars, the execution of Charles I and the actions of the young Charles. Since the English army was undertaking the invasion of Scotland in the “full assurance that their cause was just and righteous in the sight of God,” they prayed that the true saints of God in Scotland would not oppose them. The theological assumptions of this Declaration, especially the claim to see God’s hand at work against Charles I and his policies, were basically the same as those Owen made in his sermons to Parliament and to the Essex County Committee. These same assumptions were also clearly evident in the Vindication of the Declaration which was composed for Cromwell at Berwick, the next halting place, by several ministers of whom Owen was one.2 In Berwick, the gateway to Scotland, Owen also preached on the Lord’s Day, the 20th July. As the clergy of the country that was about to be invaded were adamant in their divine-right Presbyterianism, Owen chose to expound the Congregational understanding of the nature of the Church, the Body of Christ. He wanted to be sure that the soldiers knew what it was for which they were to fight.
1For the Scottish campaign see Writings and Speeches of Cromwell, II, pp. 260ff. Perhaps it was at this time that Owen’s long and deep friendship with Fleetwood was born. For a reference to Owen’s visit to the Congregational church see Memoirs of Ambrose Barnes, ed. W. H. D. Longstaffe, 1867.
2Cromwell stated that the Vindication was written by the ministers in the letter he later wrote to the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, Writings and Speeches, II, p. 302.
After Cromwell had delivered a speech to his men telling them of the difficulties ahead, the army crossed the Tweed on the 22nd July and by Friday, the 26th, was at Dunbar, helping to unload provisions from the fleet. No resistance had been met as yet since all the men from the border counties had been ordered to leave their homes and go to the Scottish army, camped near Edinburgh. This army was not united for if it had been then it could probably have successfully defended the centre of Scotland in the days ahead. Its leader, David Leslie, an experienced soldier who had served under Gustavus Adolphus and who had fought with Cromwell at Marston Moor in the first civil war, had been given a very difficult task as commander since there was disagreement in Edinburgh as to whether or not “malignants” (i.e. those royalists who were not zealous for the Covenant) should be allowed to fight.1 Eventually the zeal of the covenanting party triumphed and it was definitely ordered that the army should be purged. Meanwhile the opposing armies first confronted each other at Musselburgh, a few miles east of Edinburgh. Leslie had fortified the Edinburgh-Leith line and on the 29th some of his regiments were visited by Charles to whom, it seems, certain officers rashly promised that they would capture Cromwell. And this promise may have been the motive behind the attempt by Major-General Montgomery and the best cavalry to reach the English camp that night. They took Robert Lilburne’s regiment by surprise and rushed towards Musselburgh. By this time the English army was aroused and a counterattack by their horse scattered the Scots, who fled towards Edinburgh. They were intercepted by a party of English dragoons who killed some of them and took a number of prisoners. Owen witnessed some of these events and in a letter to John Lisle, a prominent member of the Council of State, he made reference to them. The letter was read out in the Commons but only a part of it has survived:2
I dare not write the particulars of the fight, being assured that you have it from better hands: the issue, that they were repulsed by an handful, and an hundred and eighty taken prisoners; among them, Straughan’s major himself reported to be slain: the whole party pursued to their works; four ministers came out with them, but being not known, received the lot of war, three of them killed and one taken.
This was the party they most relyed upon, as being especially consecrated by the Kirk to this service.
Their ministers told the people before our army came that they should not need to strike one stroke, but stand still, and they should see the sectaries destroyed.
1J. D. Douglas, Light in the North: the Story of the Scottish Covenanters, Exeter, 1964, pp. 34ff. For Leslie see the D.N.B.
2Part of Owen’s letter is in (Sir W. Scott), Original Memoirs written during the Civil War, Edinburgh, 1806, pp. 244–5. Cf. Writings and Speeches, II, p. 301.
Amongst the “better hands” who had sent a report of the fight was Cromwell.1 He likewise referred to Colonel Strachan and his leader Major-General Montgomery as “two champions of the Kirk” on whom the Covenanters had placed great hopes.
1Writings and Speeches, II, pp. 299ff. In fact neither Strachan nor Montgomery were killed in this incident.
Whilst the Scottish army was being purged of “malignants” and whilst the English soldiers were busy digging trenches in Musselburgh, Cromwell wrote what has become a famous letter to the General Assembly.1 He asked the clergy of Scotland to reconsider their position and then went on to say:
Your own guilt is too much for you to bear: bring not therefore upon yourselves the blood of innocent men, deceived with pretences of King and Covenant, from whose eyes you hide a better knowledge. I am persuaded that divers of you, who lead the people, have laboured to build yourselves in these things wherein you censure others, and established yourselves upon the Word of God. Is it therefore infallibly agreeable to the Word of God, all that you say? I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.
Probably both Cromwell and the Covenanters were in part mistaken but for them to realise and accept this was to ask too much. The exchange of letters merely confirmed each side in its own convictions and the war continued. Owen, however, whose duties as preacher to the Council of State necessitated his return to London, left the scene of battle.
1Writings and Speeches, II, pp. 302–3.
In Owen’s absence, Cromwell achieved his crowning achievement in arms. This was at Dunbar on the 3rd September and he interpreted it as a miracle wrought by the Almighty. In practical terms it wrecked the Covenanters, weakened the power of Charles in Scotland and ensured the continuance of Independency in England. With the English army in Edinburgh and there hotly engaged in a battle of words with the stalwart Presbyterians, Cromwell felt the need not only of supplies of every kind for his men but also of competent Independent divines to combat the spiritual propaganda of the Scottish Kirk. So on the 13th September the Commons ordered that Joseph Caryl, a preacher in Westminster Abbey, and Edward Bowles, a preacher in York Minster, together with Owen, should go to Scotland.1 For Owen this meant another long journey but happily it was not yet winter. By the 20th October Caryl and Owen were in Edinburgh, for on that day Caryl preached before the Lord General and his officers.2 The two ministers found that the Castle was still in Scottish hands and that Cromwell was seeking to intervene in the internal Scottish disputes to his own advantage. And, at least on one occasion, Owen himself preached before the General, taking as his theme, that which he had previously expounded at Berwick. The doctrine of the nature of the Church was currently much under discussion and so Owen once more expounded the New Testament ideal of the Body of Christ. Making one short treatise of the two sermons, Owen published it in Edinburgh so that both parties in the conflict could read it. Attached to The Branch of the Lord the Beauty of Zion was a dedicatory letter to Cromwell dated the 26th November.3 In this the Congregational divine stated that his aim in joining the army was “to pour out a savour of the Gospel upon the sons of peace” in Scotland. Addressing himself particularly to the Lord General he wrote:
I do present them to your excellency, not only because the rise of my call to this service, under God, was from you; but also, because in the carrying on of it I have received from you, in the weakness and temptations wherewith I am encompassed that daily spiritual refreshment and support – by inquiry into and discovery of the deep and hidden dispensations of God towards his secret ones – which my spirit is taught to value.
This suggests that the two men spent many hours together discussing the “deep things of God.” Here probably was laid the foundation of the deep trust in each other’s integrity which marked their relationship for the next six years.
1C.J., VI, p. 468. For Caryl and Bowles see C.R.
2Letters and Speeches, II, p. 355.
3Works, VIII, p. 283.
Much of the rest of Owen’s time was spent with the Scots seeking to persuade them of the folly of supporting the son of Charles I and of the need to establish Protestant Churches in which there was a measure of freedom so that men of differing churchmanship could effectively serve Christ together. One of the men to whom he talked was Alexander Jaffray, the Provost of Aberdeen. In his Diary, Jaffray wrote the following about his meetings with Owen and the grandees:1
During the time of my being a prisoner, I had good opportunity of frequent conference with the Lord General, Lieutenant-General and Owen; by occasion of whose company, I had first made out unto me, not only some clear evidences of the Lord’s controversy with the family and person of our King, but more particularly, the sinful mistake of the good men of this nation about the knowledge and mind of God as to the exercise of the magistrate’s power in the matters of religion – what the due bounds and limits of it are. The mistake and ignorance of the mind of God in this matter – what evils hath it occasioned! Fearful scandals and blasphemies on the one hand and cruel persecution and bitterness among brethren on the other!
1The Diary of Alexander Jaffray, ed. J. Barclay, 1833, pp. 58–9. The expression “grandees,” though meaning persons of high rank and position, was used specifically in the Interregnum to describe the senior army officers.
In fact the conversion of Jaffray, who had been taken prisoner at Dunbar, eventually found its fulfillment in his becoming a Quaker, a fact which could not have been very pleasing to Owen who, as we shall see, regarded the teaching of this sect with horror. The notion of the Lord’s controversy with the family of Stuart, a theological idea much used by the Independents, was taken from the messages of the prophets of ancient Israel. They spoke at times of Jehovah’s controversy with their King and nation.1 It was easily adapted to the Stuart monarchy since preachers at this time were prone to describe England (or Britain) as enjoying a relationship with God similar to that enjoyed by the Israelites of old.2 As we have noted, the general framework of this concept was in Owen’s mind as he preached to the Commons on the day following the execution of Charles I. Though many would find such a viewpoint repugnant today, the army commanders throughout Scotland were of another mind. For example, Robert Lilburne, the commander at Hamilton, wrote to Cromwell to ask for “some of Mr Owen’s sermons” to disperse amongst the Scots, who had expressed an interest in reading them.3
1E.g. Jeremiah 25:31, Hosea 4:12, 12:3, & Micah 6:2.
2For the idea of the elect nation see William Haller, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and the Elect Nation, 1967, and Wilson, op. cit., pp. 173ff.
3J. Nickolls, Original Letters and Papers of State, 1743, pp. 48–9.
Edinburgh Castle surrendered on Christmas Eve 1650. This did not mean, however, that military activities were at an end or that Scottish resistance was completely broken. Charles II, who was crowned at Scone on the 1st January, and Leslie had yet to be overcome. So the army had still much to do when Owen set off once again on the long journey back to London. Here he remained until the 8th March when he was given permission by the Council “to repair into the country for six weeks.”1 Before he left London he heard that Oliver Cromwell had accepted the office of Chancellor of Oxford in succession to the Earl of Pembroke. This appointment must have made him feel that his own preferment to the University was soon to come. And whilst he was at Coggeshall with his family the Commons voted by a small majority to appoint him as the new Dean of Christ Church.2 This fulfilled the intention of the House made on the eve of his departure for Ireland.
1C.S.P.D. (1651), p. 74.
2C.J., VI, p. 549.
The small majority at Westminster reveals just how much uncertainty there was surrounding the appointment. The House had debated the possibility of allowing Edward Reynolds1 to continue as Dean even though he had refused to take the Engagement, the promise to be faithful to the Commonwealth of England established without King or House of Lords.2 Also it had studied the report from the Committee for the Universities in which it was stated that Joseph Caryl had refused to accept the office of Dean since he preferred to remain in London. The confusion and negotiations which took place at Oxford before Owen’s appointment are seen in the contents of a series of letters which Robert Payne, an ejected Canon of Christ Church, wrote from Abingdon and Oxford to Gilbert Sheldon, the ejected Warden of All Souls and future Archbishop.3 On the 11th November 1650 the news was that Philip Nye, the Congregational incumbent of Acton, Middlesex, and Stephen Marshall, who had preached so many times before the Commons, were being mentioned as the possible successors of Reynolds, who was objecting to taking the Engagement since it clashed with the previous commitment he had taken in the Covenant. By the 24th February it was anticipated that Caryl would take the appointment even though Reynolds was still living in the Dean’s lodgings. Not until the 24th March was Payne able to inform his correspondent that “Owen, sometime scholar to Thomas Barlow of Queen’s College is voted by the House ... Dean of Christ Church and that Reynolds must certainly leave it after all the means he hath used to hold it.” The day before this letter was written Ralph Josselin wrote in his Diary: “Mr Owen hath a place of great profit given unto him, viz. Dean of Christ Chιιrch.”4 Under normal conditions, and the 1650s were not so, the profit was about £800 a year.5 According to Asty, the senior Students of Christ Church, glad that at least the uncertainty was over, wrote a letter to Owen expressing their great satisfaction with his appointment.6
1For Reynolds see D.N.B. He had been Dean since 1647; before then he was a prominent member of the Westminster Assembly.
2The Engagement was a Declaration ordered by an Act of 2 Jan. 1650 to be taken by all men over 18 years. Acts and Ordinances, II, pp. 325, 391, 503, 830. When Owen took the Declaration is not known.
3For the letters see Nicholas Pocock, “Illustrations of the State of the Church during the Rebellion”, in Theologian and Ecclesiastic, Vols VI–XV, especially Vol VII. Pocock took much of his material from Br Museum Harleian MSS 6942.
4The Diary of Ralph Josselin, p. 84.
5In contrast the average parish minister received between £75 and £100.
6Asty, p. x. The letter is not extant. In Christ Church a Senior Student was the equivalent of a Fellow.
Christ Church was therefore to have as its leader a clergyman of thirty-five years of age who was a personal friend of the new Chancellor. The new Dean believed as intensely in the righteousness of the parliamentary cause as Samuel Fell, the Dean whom Reynolds replaced in 1647, believed in the righteousness of the King’s cause. Owen held that in opposing and then executing the King as well as in the invasion of Ireland and then Scotland the army had been doing the will of God. It had been uprooting the influence of antichrist from the nation in order that the Gospel of Jesus Christ could be freely preached and the Church purified. Indeed, the battles fought and the victories won, were clearly prophesied in Revelation 17–19 as part of God’s programme for the last days. The latter-day glory of the Church would soon dawn. Before that great time arrived, however, it was the duty of the saints to make the best of the available means and opportunities. So whilst he had no wish to abolish the long established system of parish churches he did want to ensure that the organisation of the churches was such that it was not controlled by either a prelatical or Presbyterian tyranny. He wanted to see a flexible system that allowed ministers who taught orthodox doctrine a measure of freedom. He saw his primary task at Oxford as that of providing the right atmosphere, means, teachers and opportunities for the Gospel to be expounded, defended and instilled into the hearts and minds of the young scholars, and through them to the nation.
Despite the historical associations of Oxford with prelacy it was Owen’s high regard for traditional learning, conservative approach to ancient institutions that God had not condemned, and sense of divine providence which led him to accept the appointment. That his acceptance of the Deanery was to some extent a compromise of his Congregational principles he would probably have denied. In defence of his action, had he thought it necessary to give it, he would probably have argued that the saints had a responsibility to reform existing educational institutions in order to make them suitable places for training young men in the cultivation of the mind and spirit. During his days with the army he must have heard the radical views of some soldiers that the Universities were centres of heathen and papist learning; to stifle these, as well as to ensure that Oxford be a centre of solid Calvinist learning, he determined to do his part with God as his helper.
Chapter III – Dean and Vice-Chancellor
“About two years ago,” wrote John Owen in early 1653, “the Parliament of the Commonwealth promoted me, while I was diligently employed in preaching the Gospel by their authority … though with reluctance on my part, to an office in the very celebrated University of Oxford.” This promotion came, he confessed, despite the fact that he “dreaded almost every academic position” and felt “unequal to the task.” In particular he regarded public lecturing in theology as the most demanding aspect of the work, for it required in his opinion the whole time of the most grave and experienced of divines – something which he did not claim to be.1 The fact was that being Dean of Christ Church involved much more than academic work and his administrative duties were greatly increased when he became Vice-Chancellor. These duties were increased yet more when he also became a member of a small commission to which the Chancellor, Oliver Cromwell, delegated his powers in 1652.2 Indeed, Owen only accepted the office of Vice-Chancellor because Cromwell insisted that he should. “I have been called upon,” he told Convocation after his appointment, “by the partiality and too good opinion of him whose commands we must not dispute, and with whom the most earnest requests to be excused were urged in vain.”3
1The information and quotations come from the preface to Diatriba de Divina Justitia (1653) in Works, X, pp. 492–3, with the English title A Dissertation on Divine Justice.
2The letters from Cromwell authorising this authority shared by Owen, John Wilkins, Jonathan Goddard, Thomas Goodwin and Peter French, are in Correspondence, No. 3, pp. 52–4. For Wilkins see B. J. Shapiro, John Wilkins, Berkeley, 1969, and for Peter French Alumni Oxonienses, ed. J. Foster.
3Oxford Orations, p. 5.
Whatever inhibitions Owen had concerning his academic or administrative responsibilities, he was probably somewhat comforted by the knowledge that the University had been restored to the beginnings of what could prove to be, if well managed and with God’s favour, a flourishing condition. When General Fairfax had called for the surrender of Oxford in May 1646, he had told the royalists in the city that “he very much desired the preservation of this place, so famous for learning, from ruin.”1 Happily, Oxford surrendered without incident and the city did not suffer harm. Two months later Parliament set up a committee for the regulation of the University, which had virtually ceased to exist as a centre of learning. Then in September six Presbyterian ministers, including Edward Reynolds, were sent to preach good Reformed doctrine in the churches and chapels to prepare Oxford for reform. The task of the preachers was made difficult by the jeering of undisciplined students and by the dissemination of somewhat unorthodox divinity by such army preachers as William Erbery and Colonel John Hewson.2 The existence of both these problems did not augur well for the future as Owen himself was to find out. Parliament, however, continued its plans for further reformation by appointing twenty-four Visitors on the 1st May 1647. Their task was to enquire into all disorders, to ascertain which members of the University had failed to take the Covenant, and to list those men who had actually opposed the parliamentary forces in the recent war.3 Each College had possessed by Statute its own Visitor, usually the King or a Bishop, and there was deep-seated opposition to the existence of one general Board. The fact also that the new Board represented the Presbyterian interest did not endear it to those who still lived in the Colleges and Halls, and who remembered with nostalgia former days.
1Mallet, History of the University of Oxford, II, p. 369, quoting a news-journal.
2For Hewson see D.N.B. He was appointed one of the judges of Charles I and later a member of Cromwell’s House of Lords. Erbery engaged in debate with the learned Francis Cheynell and Oxford opinion judged that Erbery had the better of the Presbyterian. For Erbeгy see B. R. White, “William Erbery (1604–54) and the Baptists,” Baptist Quarterly, XXIII, No. 3, 1969.
3For the ordinance see Acts and Ordinances, I, pp. 925ff.
During 1648–9, whilst Owen was still a minister in Essex, the removal of a large number of royalist Heads of Colleges, Professors, Fellows and tutors was accomplished. Only at Oriel, Lincoln, and Queen’s was there no change of Head. At Christ Church Dean Samuel Fell was removed after much resistance and with him went all the Canons except John Wall.1 The professorships in the University were filled by its own graduates and by men from Cambridge and Dublin. Henry Wilkinson, who had been an Essex minister, became Principal of Magdalen Hall and Professor of Moral Philosophy whilst Francis Cheynell, who had been ejected from Oxford in 1638 for his opposition to Laudianism, became President of St John’s and Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity. From Cambridge came Seth Ward and John Wallis to be the Professors of Astronomy and Geometry and Lewis Du Moulin, who was also a graduate of Paris, to become the Camden Professor of Ancient History. And from Dublin came Joshua Hoyle to the important post of Regius Professor of Divinity. Edward Pococke, the learned Orientalist, kept his professorship of Arabic and Hebrew to which Laud had appointed him.2 About one quarter of the 200 vacant fellowships went to Cambridge graduates. Anthony Wood, not an unbiased observer, wrote of poor curates and schoolmasters from country areas, and of rude men, careless of formalities, discipline and dress, being intruded into the Colleges.3
1H. L. Thompson, Christ Church, 1900, pp. 54ff.
2For Wilkinson and Cheynell see C.R. and for Ward, Wallis, Moulin, Hoyle and Pococke see D.N.B.
3Wood, History of University of Oxford, II, p. 604.
When Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, fresh from their victory over the Levellers, arrived in Oxford in May 1649 to be entertained in the Warden’s lodgings at All Souls, they found that the University was being reorganised and that lectures, tutorials and disputations were being resumed.1 Congregation and Convocation were also meeting regularly.2 The curriculum in Arts, Law and Medicine remained the same as in former times but Theology had assumed a different emphasis. The sovereign grace of God in predestination and His irresistible grace in regeneration were again being discussed and taught. In the parish churches and College chapels, which were now purified of their high-Church adornments, the Directory had replaced the Book of Common Prayer as the basis for public worship. Arminian innovations and ceremonialism had been abandoned. Some attempts, which proved to be unsuccessful, were being made to remodel the Statutes of individual Colleges and to collect rent arrears from tenants of lands and properties owned by the Colleges and the University. Efforts were also being exerted by the Visitors and Heads of Houses to control discipline and insist on the use of Greek or Latin in both academic work and ordinary conversation. Coffee-houses were beginning to supply an alternative to taverns as places of recreation and discussion. So when Owen arrived in 1651 he faced a situation which was, though much improved since 1649, still far from satisfactory from his point of view. While the Colleges had for the most part settled down and accepted the new order, in some quarters an angry and sullen spirit was still evident. Compared with the high standard of student behaviour which Owen expected, most of the Oxford scholars were, as he himself put it, a “mere rabble and the subject of talk by the rabble.” Astrologers and sectaries even speculated as to how long the University would last.3 Notwithstanding this, Owen was quietly confident that Oxford, and her sister institution at Cambridge, were to be, by God’s grace and protection, great centres of Christian learning and evangelism.
1For the visit of the generals see Mallet, op. cit., II, p. 385.
2The House of Congregation was subordinate to the House of Convocation. The membership of Congregation included the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Proctors and all the Regent Masters. Its main duties were connected with the granting of degrees and the incorporation of students from other Universities. See Oxford University Statutes, trans. G. R. M. Ward, 1845. I, pp. 81ff.
3In 1657 Owen told Convocation that “our critical situation and our common interests were discussed out of journals and newspapers by every Tom, Dick and Harry. Nobody was so abjectly stupid as not to have either fear or hope on account of the situation. Such, indeed, was the will of the Sovereign Disposer of events – so that whatever is mortal would be held in lesser esteem among mortals.” Oxford Orations, p. 41. Here we see again his habit of seeing everything in terms not of social or economic problems but of the will of God.
To simplify this account of Owen’s career at Oxford, we shall not describe it chronologically, as this would make for very complicated reading. Instead we shall look first at his work as Dean and secondly at his work as Vice-Chancellor. Little reference will be made to his activities outside Oxford since his involvement in national affairs will be the subject of the next two chapters.
DEAN OF CHRIST CHURCH
Front the foundation of Christ Church by Henry VIII to the year 1651 there had been sixteen Deans.1 The first of these, Richard Cox, was known as an ardent reformer and opponent of popery; during his period of office Peter Martyr, the celebrated continental reformer, occupied a Canonry at Christ Church and was also Regius Professor of Divinity. Ten years later a Puritan occupied the Deanery. He was Thomas Sampson, who had been in exile during the reign of Queen Mary, and who eventually lost his place under Elizabeth for his nonconformity. Brian Duppa and Samuel Fell, the last two Deans before Reynolds, were of a different theological tradition for they were supporters of the religious policies of Archbishop Laud. Reynolds himself, Owen’s immediate predecessor, was an able Calvinist divine who was greatly respected by his Presbyterian brethren and who had played a prominent part in the theological discussions of the Westminster Assembly. He was not, however, a doctrinaire Presbyterian of the Scottish type and would have been quite happy with a modified and reformed episcopacy as the basic of the National Church. In December 1648 he took most of the Prebends with him to London to protest against the plan to sell the lands of the Dean and Chapter.2 Though they arrived at Westminster when Colonel Pride was “purging” Parliament, their cause triumphed because the Independents who controlled the Commons knew that Christ Church was a special case, being both a College and a Cathedral, and had therefore to be treated differently from the Cathedrals which were only the seats of bishops.3 A year later the Chapter was in further difficulties with the same Parliament, which required all the Heads, Fellows and graduates of the University to take the Engagement. Under the leadership of Reynolds, the Oxford Convocation asked that those who had reservations in their conscience about the Engagement be allowed instead to give a promise to live peacefully, but Parliament would not agree to this compromise. The result was that Reynolds himself with two of the Canons, John Mills and Edward Pococke, and Francis Cheynell were ejected. Cheynell was replaced as Lady Margaret Professor by Henry Wilkinson, a Canon of Christ Church, whilst Owen replaced Reynolds; Peter French, brother-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, and Ambrose Upton, a Devonshire man, were made Canons, to fill the two vacancies caused by the ejection of Mills and Pococke.4
1Thompson, op. cit., pp. 1–68.
2Wood, History of University of Oxford, II, p. 613.
3Henry VIII united the episcopal see of Oxford with the collegiate corporation of Christ Church in 1546. Previously the see was linked to the Abbey at Oseney. Thompson, op. cit., p. 11.
4This Henry Wilkinson, known as “Long Harry,” is not the same man who was Professor of Moral Philosophy. Both are in C.R. For Upton see Alumni Oxonienses.
The eight Canons, who by tradition occupied the eight stalls in the former Cathedral during divine worship as well as the lodgings assigned to each stall, included Presbyterians, Independents and a moderate Anglican. The latter, John Wall, was appointed in 1633 and by careful compromise and moderation held his place until his death in 1666. Had he but written his autobiography before his death we would have had a most important source for comparing life in three or four fascinating decades in Christ Church. It seems, however, that all he published were a few sermons under the title, Christian Reconcilement (1658). The three Presbyterians were Henry Cornish, Henry Langley and Henry Wilkinson. All three were Oxford graduates who had been sent to the University in 1646 as preachers and who had been rewarded for their services by being appointed as Prebends. They had lived through and participated in the expulsions and reformation that occurred between 1646 and 1651. Wilkinson had been deeply involved in these changes as they affected the internal workings of the University since he was a member of the Board of Visitors. Langley, being also the Master of Pembroke, had experienced the changes as they affected a small College. Cornish, likewise, had been involved in reformation and change from the beginning. All three men became Nonconformists in 1662. Of the four Independents – Christopher Rogers, Ralph Button, Ambrose Upton, and Peter French – Rogers had the longest association with the University having been Principal of New Inn Hall since 1626. Button, the Public Orator, was a Fellow of Merton whilst Upton was a Fellow of All Souls. French was a Cambridge graduate whose appointment was probably due, at least in part, to the influence of Oliver Cromwell. Together with these eight men, and especially with Wilkinson, the sub-Dean in 1651–2, Owen had to guide until 1660 when he was removed the fortunes of an institution which had been both a Cathedral and College but was now only the latter. Their collective duties included the provision of services of worship in the former Cathedral, the choice of Students including the elections of boys from Westminster School, the appointment of chaplains, the provision of tutorial facilities, the administration of discipline, the oversight of property, the collection of rents and tithes, the gift of livings and the care of almsmen in Christ Church hospital.1 Owen probably chose the actual tutors himself.
1From its foundation Christ Church was required to support 24 almsmen. Cf. Correspondence, No. 8, p. 58 for a letter from the Committee of Public Revenue to Christ Church asking for a place to be given to a Mr Cornish.
Unfortunately, very little material is available from which to construct and evaluate Owen’s work as Dean. The manuscript Chapter Book is extant but it is chiefly, though not entirely, taken up with details of decisions concerning lands and property. Also a few pages of the manuscript Disbursements Book remain.1 Owen himself wrote very little in his books about his experience in the College and his extant correspondence relating to Christ Church comprises no more than eight letters. Nor does it seem that any of the Canons left descriptions of their experiences. There are, however, a few references in letters and diaries of the period which help to supply minor pieces of information.
1I am grateful to the Dean and Chapter for permission to see these books.
There is little doubt, as we noted above, that Owen regarded his preaching in and around Oxford and his lecturing and debating in the University as the most important and demanding aspect of his work. He seems to have taken administrative work in his stride and not let it worry him. Most probably he preached regularly in Christ Church oil the Lord’s Day and he may also have participated in the weekly lecture of the Canons there. On alternate Sundays between 1652 and 1657, he preached with Thomas Goodwin at St Mary’s, the University Church. Explaining Owen’s ability and popularity as a preacher, Anthony Wood declared that “his personage was proper and comely and he had a very graceful behaviour in the pulpit, an eloquent elocution, a winning and insinuating deportment and could, by the persuasion of his oratory ... move and win the affections of his admiring auditory almost as he pleased.”1
1Wood, Athena., Oxonienses, IV, col. 102.
The type of material on which his sermons were composed may be seen from a perusal of On the Mortification of Sin (1656) and Of the Nature and Power of Temptation (1658), both of which were published in Oxford,1 and which were, in origin, sermons preached to the University. In the preface to On the Mortification of Sin he made his aims in preaching and publishing clear. “I hope,” he wrote, “I may own in sincerity that my heart’s desire unto God, and the chief design of my life in the station wherein the good providence of God hath placed me, are, that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own and in the hearts and ways of others, to the glory of God, that so the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things. The sermons were based on Romans 8:13 (“If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”), and explained the principles of mortification according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. The book of sermons on temptation originated in his observation that many people were being tempted to believe erroneous and strange things concerning God’s providence in English affairs. In the introduction Owen expressed his concern that the mid-1650s were filled “with fearful examples of backsliding such as former ages never knew.” Anyone who did not realise that there was “an hour of temptation” come upon the world to “try them that dwell upon the earth” was either under the power of some lust or stark blind. So, from Matthew 26:41 (“Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation”), he examined the nature of temptation, how it prevails in human experience, and the ways laid down in Scripture to prevent its success. Being series of sermons both books are not balanced treatments of their themes: Owen was far too busy to rewrite and replan their contents. However, they do reveal that Owen was becoming an exponent of the puritan spirit – if by that term is meant the cultivation of personal godliness as exemplified in the sermons of such men as William Perkins and Thomas Taylor.2 For the Works of the latter Owen wrote, or at least signed, a preface.3
1The two treatises are in Works, VI.
2For Perkins see William Perkins, ed. Ian Breward, Abingdon, 1970, and for Taylor see D.N.B. For the “puritan spirit” see Haler, The Rise of Puritanism, chap’s iii and iv.
3The Works were published in 1653 and, along with Owen, Caryl and Goodwin also signed the preface.
From two other books we gain some insight into his academic, Latin disputations and lectures. In Diatriba De Divina Justitia (1653), from which we have already quoted, he expanded the position that he had defended in a public disputation. It concerned the intellectual question as to whether it was necessary for God to punish sin, and was a theological problem which had much concerned some Calvinist divines. Owen held that God, by virtue of His holy and righteous nature, could not forgive guilty sinners without an atonement being made for their sins. Other divines argued that God, being God, could forgive, if He so wished, without the atonement of Christ. In Theologoumena Pantodapa (1661),1 a Latin treatise with a Greek title, he outlined the nature, rise and progress of “true” theology from the time of Adam to the fully developed and revealed theology of the New Testament. He argued that the true statement of Biblical theology was to be found in Calvinist orthodoxy. This was a theme he must often have lectured upon. This work, which was highly valued in Dissenting Academies in the eighteenth century contains a Latin poem by T.(homas) G.(oodwin).2 Unfortunately the Theologoιιmena has never appeared in a complete translation and by now has been superseded by other books on the history of the development of Christian theology.
1Works, XVII, pp. 1ff.
2Cf Works, I, p. x, for the comments of Goold and references to writers and teachers who appreciated this Latin treatise.
The Dean’s belief in the importance of preaching and expounding Biblical theology is seen in three of the earliest orders of the Chapter after he moved into Christ Church. On the 15th May 1651 it was ordered that College chaplains who were Masters of Arts and others of suitable ability should preach in neighbouring vacant pulpits on Sundays. One young man affected by this ruling was Philip Henry, who later became a distinguished Nonconformist minister and father of the famous Bible Commentator, Matthew Henry. In his Diary for the 9th January 1653, Philip wrote: “I preacht my first sermon at South Hincsey in Oxfordshire, the text, John 8:34.”1 On the 2nd June 1651 it was ordered by the Chapter that glass pictures representing God or angels should be taken out of the windows of the former Cathedral and the glass used to repair broken windows in other parts of the foundation. To have allowed such pictures to remain would have appeared to Owen and his brethren as an open violation of the commandment to make no graven images. In June 1651 it was also required that all scholars give a report to their tutors of the sermons they heard each Sabbath. This helped to ensure that they listened carefully to what they heard and missed no opportunity of receiving the salvation of God.
1Diaries and Letters of Philip Henry, ed. M. H. Lee, 1882, p. 14. As the Chapter Book is not consistently paginated no folio references are supplied. South Hinksey is now in Berkshire.
Since Owen was as much committed to the ideal of the Congregational way as to the necessity of preaching the Gospel, it is somewhat surprising to find a curious lack of information about his own church membership whilst he lived in Oxford. Some years later one of his critics alleged that he had tried to form a gathered church in Christ Church.1 In 1657, John Beverley, the Congregational pastor at Rothwell in Northamptonshire, virtually accused the Dean of forgetting the churches of visible saints, suggesting that Owen was so busy with University matters and government business that he had no time left to help the Congregational churches.2 The fact that Beverley treated Owen as a fellow Congregationalist as well as the fact that Owen was a prominent member of the Savoy Assembly in 1658 prove that he was in good standing in the churches and thus a member of a gathered church. But the problem is: of which church was he a member and in which church did he hold office from 1651 to 1659? If there was a gathered church in Christ Church then the problem is solved but unfortunately there is no evidence to prove that one ever existed. In Magdalen College, where Thomas Goodwin was President, there was a church of visible saints but in the list of members provided by Goodwin’s son, Owen is not mentioned – which suggests that he was not a member.3 The only other possibility seems to be that he gathered a church in the house which he bought at Stadhampton, the village of his youth. From 1660 to 1662 he held services of worship there and it could be that these were the continuation of earlier services of a gathered church. Of the three possibilities the existence of a church in Christ Church seems the most probable.
1George Vernon, A Letter to a Friend, 1670, p. 15.
2For this letter see Correspondence, No. 47, p. 96.
3The Works of Thomas Goodwin, ed. J. C. Miller, Edinburgh, 1861, II, p. xxxiv. Included in the membership were Thankful Owen, Francis Howell, Theophilus Gale, Stephen Charnock, Samuel Blower, and Edward Terry, all of whom are in C.R.
A Congregational Dean in what was a former seat of a prelate was vulnerable to criticism from both the right and the left. If Beverley, a moderate Independent, was angered by Owen’s seeming lack of concern for the churches, the sectarians and radicals were even more incensed by the attachment of Owen and his colleagues to the old order and its institutions. They made a concerted attack upon the Universities both in 1653 and again in 1659; the former attack was deeply felt by Owen and we shall make reference to it later in this chapter. Criticism from the right came from at least two former members of Christ Church and concerned Owen’s views on episcopacy and the use of the Lord’s Prayer.
The religious services in Christ Church were carefully watched by former members of the House and from one of them came a report that Owen had put on his hat at the close of a service as a mark of disapprobation when a preacher ended the service by asking the congregation to recite the Lord’s Prayer. When he heard this gossip, Owen vehemently denied it and claimed that he had no opposition to the Lord’s Prayer. To emphasise his belief that the Prayer was truly divine he had printed in both French and English a denial that he was opposed to the Lord’s Prayer.1 In fact what he was opposed to was worship based on a written liturgy for he believed that it “quenched the Spirit of God,” and he looked upon the Lord’s Prayer as the most perfect prayer ever prayed. But the gossip could not be silenced and from two Anglicans came written critícism.2 And ten years later the charge was repeated once more by an Anglican rector.3 In reply Owen affirmed that he had always believed the Lord’s Prayer to be part of canonical Scripture and that it was composed by the Lord Jesus. However, it was not necessary. to repeat it in every service of worship. Rather it was a model to be imitated.
1Owen referred co this printed statement in Reflections on a Slanderous Libel, in Works, XVI, p. 278. I have not been able to trace a copy of it.
2Meric Casaubon published A Vindication of the Lord’s Prayer, and Thomas Long published An Exercitation concerning ... the Lord’s Prayer. For Casaubon and Long see D.N.B.
3George Vernon, rector of Bourton-on-the-Water, in A Letter to a Friend, 1670.
With Henry Hammond, the former Canon and University Orator, and the current leader of the high-Churchmen, Owen was involved in private meetings, correspondence and printed controversy concerning two matters. They were first, whether or not the so-called letters of Ignatius of Antioch were genuine, and, secondly, to what extent if any, Hugo Grotius, the learned Dutch writer, was guilty of teaching Socinian theology in his Biblical commentaries.1 The contents of the letters of Ignatius were considered crucial at this time for the determining of the origin and early development of diocesan episcopacy, and it was to be expected that Hammond, a committed episcopalian, should entertain different views about them and their value to those of Owen. Indeed, it must have been a humiliating experience for Hammond to see a learned opponent of diocesan episcopacy occupying the lodgings of an office which should, in his opinion, have provided an advocate of diocesan episcopacy. Modern scholarship has declared in favour of Hammond’s views on the genuineness of the epistles but is still divided about the nature of the early development of the episcopate. On a further point, the late addition of the vowel points in the Hebrew Bible, it has also vindicated the views of Hammond and of his friend, Brian Walton, who became Bishop of Chester in 1660.2 Owen engaged in controversy with Walton concerning the printing of variant readings of the various manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Biblia Polyglotta of which Walton was the editor. Owen believed that these would provide papists with further ammunition to defend the Latin Vulgate, which they held to be the only valid and reliable text of the Old Testament. In the course of the controversy Owen set forth his view, which was shared by many of his learned contemporaries, that the vowel points in the Hebrew text were as ancient as the letters themselves.3 It is significant that Owen prefaced his attack upon Walton’s views with a letter addressed to the Canons and senior Students in Divinity of Christ Church. He wished to commend to them the diligent study of Holy Scripture. Satan, he told them, was daily seeking “to assault the sacred truth of the Word of God in its authority, purity, integrity or perfection.” Satan’s attack came from all sides and so students of theology had to be prepared.
1J. W. Packer, The Transformation of Anglicanism, 1643–1660, with special reference to Henry Hammond, Manchester, 1969, pp. 45, 96–7, 103, 201–2. As far as I am aware none of Owen’s letters to Hammond is extant. See also Owen’s prefaces to The Doctrine of the Saints Perseverance (1654) in Works, XI, Vindiciae Evangelicae (1655) in Works, XII, and A Review ... (1656) in Works, XII.
2For Walton see D.N.B. For his relationship with Hammond see Packer, op. cit., p. 99.
3In A Vindication of the Hebrew and Greek Texts in Works XVI. For the significance of this debate see F. F. Bruce, Tradition Old and New, Exeter, 1970, pp. 154–162.
Before printing this written exhortation to his colleagues, Owen had been pressing the same duty upon them for seven years. Indeed, it may be said that he had tried to establish the whole life of the College upon the Word of God. But of necessity, since he was a man of the seventeenth century, much of what he thought was agreeable to the Scriptures was in fact a reflection of the Protestant, Puritan culture of his day. Whilst his great emphasis on the need for preaching and the efficacy of the Word is in the spirit of the New Testament, his administration of a class system in the College was much the same as that of former days and was based upon contemporary views of society.1 The following order concerning. food in College reflects this class system and also shows that the students needed much discipline:
For the repressing of the immoderate expenses of youth in the College, no gentleman-commoner shall battel in the buttery above five shillings weekly; no under-commoner above four shillings weekly; and the butler is hereby required to give notice to the Dean or Sub-Dean at the end of the week of such as shall exceed this allowance.
1At least one member of the nobility was at Christ Church. He was Henry Herbert, son of Lord Herbert of Cherbury. Correspondence, No. 11, p. 61, Lord Herbert to John Owen.
Twelve days earlier a Master of Arts was admonished because he had been seen at a “tippling house on the Lord’s Day.” John Busby, who came to Christ Church from Westminster School in 1647, was expelled in 1653 for a speech he made at a funeral, which contained “matter of profanation and abuse of Scripture.” Happily the emphasis on discipline, the maintenance of the social order and the preservation of ancient academic customs were balanced by Owen’s exercise of compassion. He was “hospitable in his own house,” wrote Asty, “generous in his favours, charitable to the poor, especially poor scholars, some of whom he took into his own family and maintained them at his own charge.”1 In particular there was one poor scholar whose mastery of Latin so impressed the Dean that he took him into his own house to teach his own children. In addition, he was so impressed with the hospitality shown by other Colleges that in his oration at the Act in 1657 he made special mention of the kindness shown to young men from foreign churches who were studying at Oxford.2
1Asty, p. xii. Wood, Fasti Oxonienses, ed. P. Bliss, pp. 190–1 speaks of Hungarians receiving free meals in Christ Church.
2He referred to “many outstanding youths, the hope and seed of many churches” which the generosity of the University “had sustained and nourished ... for more than five years.” Oxford Orations, p. 36.
It seems, however, that Owen’s personal influence was somewhat diminished by his frequent absence from the College when national and University affairs caused him to make journeys to London. Though he obviously chose tutors who shared his religious views, they could never have the influence over the younger scholars and older graduates which was open to him if he was in residence.1 From its foundation Christ Church had been required to have one hundred Studentships for young men resident on the premises.2 These were usually taken up by undergraduates at the time of matriculation and retained for anything from four to thirteen years. The holders were called “Students of Christ Church.” Senior Students were the equivalent of Fellows in other Colleges. With the Studentship went a small allowance of up to ten pounds each year. There is every reason to believe that in the 1650s the Studentships were all taken and that when vacancies occurred the Dean and Chapter immediately elected suitable young men to the places. Certainly Studentships were found each year for at least three scholars from Westminster School (otherwise called St Peter’s College, Westminster).3 Since 1561, when Queen Elizabeth assigned certain of its Studentships, as well as certain places at Trinity College, Cambridge, to boys educated at her royal foundation of St Peter’s, Christ Church had received some of her most able scholars from the school. Each year the Dean of Christ Church and the Master of Trinity, appearing in person or by deputy, visited St Peter’s College for several days in order to meet the candidates and to hear selected boys recite declamations on appointed theses before the final choice was made. How many times Owen visited the school in person is not known but he does not seem to have been impressed with it and is reported to have said that it would never be well with the nation until the school was suppressed. Had this been so Christ Church would have lacked one of its most honoured evangelical students who went from Westminster to Oxford some seventy-five years later – Charles Wesley, the hymn-writer. Perhaps Owen felt that the Master of the School, Richard Busby, was too much of a royalist and too little committed to practical godliness, with the result that the scholars were being educated by a man whose principles were in reality contrary to those of the leaders of the University of Oxford. It was probably with this in mind that Owen urged Busby in 1656 to take as his second Master, Edward Bagshaw, a Student of Christ Church and a man of strong puritan convictions.4 Unfortunately Busby and Bagshaw did not get on well together and so the latter was forced to leave Westminster and return to Oxford.
1It is not easy to determine who were the tutors since there are no records which specifically name them. Only the name of Thomas Cole, John Locke's tutor, is sure. (For Cole see C.R.) However, the names of the following young men appear in the Chapter Book as those who supervised disputations and studies and they were also probably tutors. Samuel Bishop, Charles Blackwell, Anthony Brett, Henry Bold, John Dod, William Hawkins, Thomas Johnson, Charles Pickering, Anthony Ratcliffe, John Singleton, Henry Thurm Edward Veal and Thomas Vincent. Veal, Vincent and Singleton became Nonconformists and are in C.R. For the rest see Alumni Oxonienses.
2Thompson, op. cit., p. 12.
3John Sargeaunt, Annals of Westminster School, 1898, pp. 21ff., and John Welch, The List of the Queen’s Scholars of St Peter’s College, Westminster, 1852. The pages of the Disbursements Book of Christ Church for 1659 reveal that 100 young men were in receipt of quarterly payments which varied from IS. 0d to £2. 10s. 0d. The Chaplains of the House were listed as Students so it is difficult to ascertain exactly who they were but the following were recognised as Chaplains in 1660 (Cf. “The Restoration Visitation of Oxford”, ed. F. J. Varley, in Camden Miscellany, XVIII, 1948): Benjamin Berry, John Hibbeтt, John Ward, Andrew Bruce and Richard Washbourne. Berry became a Nonconformist and Bruce a Professor at St Andrews. The rest became Anglican clergy.
4Sargeaunt, op. cit., pp. 79ff. For Bagshaw see C.R.
Few of the scholars who came from Westminster proved to be of the type that had sufficient puritan conviction or inclination to become Nonconformists after 1662. Indeed, only one, Samuel Angier, actually became a nonconformist mínister.1 The most well-known scholars of this period who came from Westminster to Oxford were all Conformists in and after 1662. William Godolphin, elected in 1651, was knighted in 1668 and then became Ambassador to Spain. Robert South, also elected in 1651, became Public Orator of the University in 1660 and a noted opponent of Protestant Nonconformists. In 1657 South insisted on using the Prayer Book in Christ Church and greatly annoyed Owen who sought to oppose his graduation as Master of Arts. Perhaps the most famous Student of all, who came from Westminster in 1652, was John Locke, the distinguished philosopher. Owen placed Locke in the care of Thomas Cole and from him Locke may have gained the rudiments of his doctrine of religious toleration and his belief in the independency of churches. In general the young Locke found his undergraduate course rather boring. He felt that disputations were not the best way of arriving at truth. However, he enjoyed the friendship of the other young men. The accounts he kept during his first winter reveal some of the expenses of a Student.2 On his arrival he had to buy the furniture and fittings from the young man whose rooms he was taking over. Other expenses included fees to his tutor and to the butler. And for one shilling he received “an antidote against infection from the small-pox.” The allowance he received as a Student could not have covered more than one-fifth of his total expenses.
1For Angier see C.R. In 1660 he lived with Owen for a few months. Other young men in Christ Church at this time who became nonconformist ministers were Edward Bagshaw, Benjamin Burgess, Thomas Cole, William Crompton, Thomas Curl, Richard Dyer, Samuel French, Philip Henry, Obadiah Hughes, James Janeway, John Jennings, John Kempster, William Maddocks, John Manduit, Thomas Newnham, Price Owen, John Sayer, William Segary, John Singleton, John Thompson, Edward Veal, Nathaniel Vincent, Thomas Vincent and Edward West. All are in C.R.
2For Godolphin and South see D.N.B. For Locke’s views on toleration see H. R. Fox Bourne, The Life of John Locke, 1876, I, pp. 72–9 and for a brief description of Locke’s life at Oxford see Maurice Cranston, John Locke, a biography, 1957. The MSS in which are Locke’s accounts for the year 1653/4 are Bodleian Library MSS. Locke, F. 11.
Apart from the scholars who held Studentships, Christ Church also had young men attached to the House who lived in premises adjoining the College. So the total membership of the House must have been in excess of one hundred and twenty people. About twenty or thirty new scholars were admitted each year. An average of fifteen gained the B.A. and another ten the M.A. each year.1 Amongst those who graduated were several who had interesting backgrounds or careers. Cyril Wyche, for example, who graduated in 1652 was named after the Patriarch of Constantinople where he had been born. After graduation he became interested in experimental science and was one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal Society. Nathaniel Hodges received the M.A. in 1654 and the M.D. in 1659. His claim to fame rests on his work in London during the great plague when he gave himself unreservedly to the service of those who suffered. Jonathan Edwards entered the College in 1655. In 1662 he became a Fellow of Jesus College and twenty-four years later its Principal. He is chiefly remembered as a controversialist and he took part in both the Socinian and Antinomian controversies of the 1690s. Henry Stubbe gained his M.A. in 1657 but became a critic of the organisation and curriculum of the University so that he was removed from his Studentship in 1660. After the Restoration he went to live in Jamaica but ill-health drove him back to Britain where he practised as a physician.2 Also among the young men at Christ Church were two of the Dean’s relatives. One was his nephew, John Singleton, and the other was Roger Puleston, the son of his cousin, Elizabeth Puleston of Flintshire.3
1The average annual number of graduations for the whole University was about 130 for B.A. and 70 for M.A. I base these numbers on the lists of graduates in the “Register of Congregation, 1647–1658,” in the University Archives.
2For Wyche, Hodges, Edwards and Stubbe see D.N.B.
3For Singleton see C.R., and for the father of Roger Puleston, Judge John Puleston, see D.N.B.
Owen’s letter to Lady Puleston dated the 26th January 1658 and her reply contain the only two extant references to Mrs Mary Owen in this period.1 She and her children lived with their servants in the Dean’s lodgings. Her life cannot have been completely happy since in 1655 two of her children died in the plague which affected Oxford in that year.2 The other children probably had an exciting life with plenty of servants and scholars to play with them. One thing they would not have seen, however, was the presence of builders in the College grounds. Unlike Brian Duppa, Owen does not seem to have felt the need or possessed the money to embark on a new building programme: he judged that there were more important matters with which he had to deal. So there was as yet no Peckwater Quadrangle or Library. Neither was Wren’s Tom Tower put over the gate-house. Only the Cathedral, the Hall, the small Quadrangle and three sides of the great Quadrangle were then as they are today.
1Correspondence, No's 55 and 56, pp. 103–4.
2The Report of the Manuscripts of the Earl of Egmont, 1905, I, Pt. II, p. 576. The death of the boys is mentioned in a contemporary letter.
It was on the 26th September 1652 that Daniel Greenwood, who was then Vice-Chancellor, handed a letter from Lord General Cromwell to the senior Proctor, Francis Howell, so that he could read it aloud to Convocation.1 By this letter John Owen was recommended to those present as the new Vice-Chancellor for the year 1652–3. Convocation solemnly assented to the nomination and Greenwood left the seat of honour and handed over the ensigns of his authority, the statute-book, the keys and the seal of office, to the Proctors. Owen was then asked to accept the office of Vice-Chancellor and to pledge to perform faithfully its duties. After sitting down in the Vice-Chancellor’s chair and receiving the ensigns of office, he proceeded, according to ancient custom, to deliver a brief Latin Oration.2
1For the letter see “Register of Convocation, 1647–1658,” p. 170. It is printed by Abbott in Writings and Speeches, II, p. 577. The office of Vice-Chancellor lasted one year but there was the possibility of being invited for further periods of one year. Owen was reelected in 1653, 1654, 1655 and 1656.
2The ceremony of installation was governed by statute. See Oxford University Statutes, I, p. 180. For the Oration see Oxford Orations, pp. 5ff.
He began by expressing his inadequacy:
I am well aware, gentlemen of the University, of the grief you must feel that, after so many venerable names, reverend persons, providers and depositaries of the Arts and Sciences, the fates of the University should have finally placed him as leader of the company, who should almost come last of all. Neither, indeed, is this state of our affairs ... very agreeable to myself, which compels me, having returned after a long absence to the alma mater I have greatly missed, to engage, as a sort of prelude, in the performance of a laborious and difficult office.
The office was a difficult one in the best of times but the situation at Oxford in 1652 made it the more difficult. Sectarian bitterness between Independents, Presbyterians, and less orthodox groups as well as the shocking behaviour of some scholars were to blame for this.
In what difficult times, what manners, what diversities of opinion – dissension and calumny raging everywhere because of party spirit; what bitter passions and provocations and emotions beset with what arrogance and envy our academic authority has occurred I both know and lament. Nor is it only the character of the age that perplexes us, but another calamity to our literary establishment, which is daily becoming more conspicuous. Indeed, with no attention paid to the sacred authority of the laws, the reverence due to superiors, or the watchful envy of evil-wishers; and treating almost with disdain the tears and sobs of our ailing alma mater; with eternal damage to the good name of the whole of the gowned community, and not without danger to the whole academy, detestable audacity and a licentiousness almost Epicurean, a very large section of the students are now – alas – wandering beyond all bounds of modesty and piety.
In his own strength Owen could not remedy such a situation; all he could do was to work diligently and cast himself on the mercy of the Lord, trusting in the divine promises. His aims were clear:
We ought to attempt in our own sphere greater things, corresponding in some measure to the notable attempts of all kinds, the like of which former ages had never produced. Or is it the wish of the Universities alone to remain inglorious when the fame of the English has been extended through all the world? Europe stands agape at the acts of Parliament, the laurels of our soldiers and the enhanced glory, both civil and military, which the Parliamentarians and commanding generals ... have achieved. Let it not be, gentlemen, that our special trust, the honour of religion and literature, should alone be debased as though we were completely unequal to the demands of the age.
One thing was certain. If determination and commitment had anything to do with it, Owen himself intended to be equal to the demands of this revolutionary age.
In an institution which was just recovering from the severe problems caused by civil war and which was under a new type of leadership, the duties of, and pressures upon, the new Vice-Chancellor were manifold. He was a leading member of the Board of Visitors, he had to ensure that sermons, lectures, disputations, and academic exercises were duly carried out, that offenders were punished, that heretical sermons and books were suppressed, that the goods and possessions of the University were preserved, that the Oxford market was kept well supplied and clean, that the Vice-Chancellor’s Court was properly run, and that the Halls and Inns were carefully supervised. Furthermore, he had to attend the meetings of the Delegates of Convocation, preside at meetings of Congregation and Convocation, and participate in the Vesperia and Comitia at the close of the academic year. With all these duties in mind we shall look first of all at his contribution to the work of the Visitors. Following this we shall examine his reaction to the attack on the Universities in 1653, his attempts to reform aspects of University life and administration and his general view of discipline.
The first appearance of Owen’s name in the Register of the Board of Visitors is in the entry dated the 1st April 1652.1 It occurs again on the 13th April after which the Register is silent for fourteen months. The silence was due to the dissolution of the Committee for the Universities and the subsequent doubt whether the Visitors could act without it. During this period some senior members of the University, including Owen, agitated for a new, smaller, resident Board to complete the work of reformation.2 Their request was eventually granted and a temporary Board of ten members was appointed. They sat for the first time on June 20 1653 and continued to meet regularly until September 1 1654, when a revised and permanent Board replaced them.3 Owen was certainly the dominant personality on this temporary Board. It met twice a week during terms at the Dean’s lodgings “at one of the clocke in the afternoone” until “six at the furthest.” Much of the work was concerned with the administrative and disciplinary problems within the Colleges and Halls. One man who gave the Board a great deal of trouble was Dr Daniel Vivian, a Fellow of New College. When he was away in Ireland on government service he believed that he was unjustly deprived of his College dues. On his return he petitioned the Visitors who at first sympathised with him but later, on the production of more evidence, found him guilty of “many misdemenours and miscarriages” of justice and ordered his expulsion.4
1Register of the Visitors of the University of Oxford, 1647–1658, ed. Montagu Burrows, 1881, p. 353. The manuscript Register is in the Bodleian Library.
2Wood, History of the University, II, p. 650.
3Register of the Visitors, pp. 356ff. The members of the Board were John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, Peter French, Jonathan Goddard, John Conant (Rector of Exeter), Edmund Staunton (President of Corpus Christi), Thankful Owen (President of St John’s), Samuel Basnett (Fellow of All Souls) and Francis Howell (Fellow of Exeter).
4Register of the Visitors, pp. 363–385
The emphases of the first Board were maintained. Reckless behaviour or profane language was punished. On the 22nd August 1653, for example, two young men from New College were disciplined “for abusing a maid in the fields.”1 Scholars were required to use either Latin or Greek in academic work and in public conversation in Halls. Though social distinctions were recognised, gentlemen-commoners and the sons of noblemen were required to do the same academic exercises as their socially inferior contemporaries.2 A public register of all tutors was made and it was ordered that tutors be godly men, fit and able to spend some time each evening between the hours of seven and ten in prayer with their charges. One important order, as far as the independency of the Colleges was concerned, was the procedure in the appointment of Fellows and Chaplains. Candidates had first to convince the Visitors of their “godliness, studiousness and good proficiency in learning” before they were allowed to stand for election.3 Another important order of 14 November related to preaching:4
Upon consideration that the one maine end of the University is to traine up men as well in Divine as Humane Learning that they may be able (when the providence of God shall call them) to publish the Gospell of Christ to the conversion and building up of soules to eternal life, and that exercise in the things of God doth much increase knowledge and savour therein: the Visitors think it meete that there should be frequent preaching in every Collegde in this University, as far as the number of persons qualified for that service will allow.
1Ibid, p. 361.
2Ibid, p. 366.
3Ibid, p. 369.
4Ibid, p. 372.
Since there was no effective control available at this point in time for the central direction of the National Church (the Presbyterian legislation being a dead letter), Owen and his colleagues obviously saw the Universities as the places which must produce the evangelical and ministerial leaders of the community. This order also had added urgency since it was made at a time when, as we shall discuss below, the traditional role of Oxford and Cambridge as the places where ministers and gentlemen were trained was under attack in London in the Barebone’s Parliament. [See below.]
Being Vice-Chancellor Owen was also a member of the new Board that began work in January 1655.1 Burrows assumes that it was under the dominant influence of Thomas Goodwin, whom he mistakenly thinks was theologically opposed to Owen since he confuses him with John Goodwin, the noted Republican and Arminian.2 Burrows bases his view on two basic grounds. First, the claim of Anthony Wood who stated that Goodwin placed on the Board “several of his own confidants ... and none of Owen’s, making him sit thereby as a cipher;” as a result Owen left them “and would not at all act among them but by way of revenge sided with the University.”3 Secondly, the fact that Owen’s signature is absent from the minutes of the Board for the first three years. But, though Owen’s signature is not found in the minutes between 1655 and 1657 the meetings were often held in his lodgings at Christ Church, which strongly suggests he was present. Furthermore, Wood himself specifically states that Owen was at a meeting in February 1655.4 What seems to have happened was this. Goodwin and Owen differed as to whether the temporary Board should continue after the calling of the Protector’s first Parliament in September 1654. Goodwin felt that a new Board should be created by the government and then its existence and membership be confirmed by the Parliament, but Owen favoured the continuance of the small (temporary) Board coupled with a reverting to a modified form of the former practice whereby each individual College had its own Visitor. However, it was Goodwin who had the ear of the Protector in this matter and so it was he who suggested the membership of the new, permanent, central Board of Visitors. This in turn led to Wood’s comment about “confidants” of Goodwin. This explanation fits the facts and allows for a little bitterness between Goodwin and Owen, who normally were the very best of friends.
1Register of the Visitors, p. 400. The members of the Board who were also members of the University were: Christopher Rogers, Henry Wilkinson, Peter French and John Owen from Christ Church; Thomas Goodwin and James Baron from Magdalen; Robert Harris from Trinity; Jonathan Goddard from Merton; John Conant from Exeter; Philip Stephens from Hart Hall and Francis Howell from Exeter. The non-resident members, who seem to have played no effectual part in the work of the Board were mostly London politicians – Bulstrode Whitelockes for example.
2For John Goodwin see D.N.B.
3Wood, History of the University, II, p. 662.
4Ibid, p. 665.
The other half of Wood’s comments, relating to Owen siding with the University, had its origin in what happened after January 1655.1 Before the actual Ordinance for the Visitation was put into operation, that is before the Visitors first met, there were moves both inside and outside Convocation, instigated by Owen, to send a petition to the Lord Protector asking him to annul or change the Ordinance. A large group, who included at least four Heads of Houses, favoured the reinstitution of some form of College Visitors and the right of Convocation to nominate members of any future central Board of Visitors. A meeting was arranged between the new Board and representatives of Convocation on the 9th February 1655 but this came to nothing. So Peter French and Jonathan Goddard, both closely associated with the Protector and his family, and both in London at this time were asked to try to have the ordinance annulled but their efforts were unsuccessful. Perhaps because of this failure Owen did not attend some of the early meetings of the Board. Nearly a year earlier, Convocation had expressed its confidence in his leadership by electing him as its burgess to sit in the Protector’s first Parliament. One of his aims in allowing himself to be nominated and elected was obviously to represent the interests of Convocation with regard to the Visitation; but he failed to do this, being deemed to be ineligible for membership of the Commons since he had been ordained by a Bishop. The University protested on Owen’s behalf but failed to have its burgess take his seat.2
1Ibid, pp. 666ff.
2Cf. M. B. Rex, University Representation in England, 1604–1690, 1954, p. 188, and see “Register of Convocation, 1647–1658,” p. 254 for the letter of protest from Oxford to Westminster. Owen was removed on the basis of the Clerical Disabilities Act of 1642 – The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, ed. S. R. Gardiner, p. 254.
Owen’s disagreement with Goodwin cannot have been too intense since both men continued to preach at St Mary’s. Further, Cromwell still had sufficient confidence in Owen to reappoint him as his Vice-Chancellor in 1655 and 1656.1 Also the five members of the new Board who had not been on the previous temporary Board were not opponents of Owen. Rogers and Wilkinson were Canons of Christ Church and Stephens worked closely with Owen in 1655 when preparations were made to defend the University from a possible royalist attack.2 And the emphases of the new Board were essentially the same as those of the two earlier Boards. Measures were taken to remedy the neglect of public worship, to ensure that prayers were said regularly and to provide for the regular catechising of scholars. Owen’s last recorded appearance at a meeting of the Visitors was on the 11th January 1658 and the Board itself ceased to meet after the 8th April of that same year.3
1For Cromwell’s two letters to Owen stating this see Correspondence, No’s 35 and 45, pp. 84 and 94.
2The fear of an attack followed the rising in Wiltshire for which see A. H. Woolrych, Penruddock’s Rising, 1955. In a letter to Secretary Thurloe Owen described his preparations: Cf. Correspondence, No. 32, pp. 82–3. See also Wood, op. cit., Π, p. 668 for the role of Captain Stephens.
3Register of the Visitors, pp. 438–9.
The Registers of the Visitors and of Convocation bear little obvious trace of the fact that during 1653 the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge believed themselves to be under a real threat of being closed down or totally remodelled. Nevertheless, a perusal of the titles of books published in 1653–4, of the contents of the annual orations of the Oxford and Cambridge Vice-Chancellors, of the pages of the weekly news-journal Mercurius Politicus, and of the proceedings of the Barebone’s Parliament, clearly demonstrates that there was a general panic at this time.1 The views of the educational reformers – be they of the moderate variety like Samuel Hartlib and John Durie, or of the radical variety like certain Fifth Monarchists and Quakers – received wide recognition, or, at least, reached a wide public 2 Criticisms of the Universities (or for that matter of the inns of Court) were not new. The English Separatists, for example, led by such men as Henry Barrow and Robert Browne had severely criticised the content of University education and stated that it was basically unsuitable for the preparation of godly preachers.3
1See F. Madan, Oxford Books, Oxford, 1931, Vol. III and Catalogue of the Pamphlets, Books, Newspapers collected by George Thomason, 1640–1661, 1908, Vol. II for details of books. Owen’s orations are in Oxford Orations; for Cambridge orations see John Lightfoot, Works, ed. J. R. Pitman, 1824. V, pp. 391–2, and John Arrowsmíth, Tactica Sacra, 1657. Lightfoot was Vice-Chancellor in 1655; Aпowsmíth was Master of Trinity. For details of the Barebone’s Parliament see Tai Liu, “Saints in Power,” Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University, 1969.
2See further Charles Webster, Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning, Cambridge, 1970, and R. L. Greaves, The Puritan Revolution and Educational Thought, New Brunswick, 1969, and Hugh Kearney, Scholars and Gentlemen, 1970, pp. 110ff.
3Kearney, op. cit., pp. 71ff.
But the calling of the Long Parliament, followed by civil war, the abolition of prelacy and the execution of the King, provided the atmosphere in which would-be reformers could publish their revolutionary views for the complete reconstruction of the Church and social institutions. Many of them were inspired by the belief that the end of all things was at hand and that new institutions were necessary which would survive into the coming millennium. One of the earliest attacks in the two revolutionary decades against the claim of the Universities to be the proper training ground for ministers of religion came from the “mechanick” preacher, Samuel How, in his widely read and several times reprinted book, The Sufficiency of the Spirit’s teaching without humane learning (1640).1 A typical sentence reads: “If a man have the Spirit of God, though he be a Pedler, Tinker, Chimney-sweeper, or Cobler, he may by the help of God’s Spirit give a more public interpretation than they (i.e., men trained in the Universities).” This emphasis was taken up and developed by radicals of all types. Often it was allied with the protests of the socially-underprivileged groups in society. The Levellers and Diggers, for example, criticised Oxford and Cambridge in 1649 not only because of their scholastic curriculum and reliance on Greek and Latin but also because they restricted the professions to a limited social class who could afford to attend their Colleges and then if necessary go on to the Inns of Court.2 So when the decision was taken by Cromwell to call a Parliament of nominated saints radical opinion saw its opportunity. Both before the Barebone’s Assembly met and during its short life, the Universities, Church, tithe-system, legal and medical professions came under attack from the left wing the puritan movement. Petitions, sermons and books called for radical changes in the basis of the social structure of the institutions and learned professions of the nation.
1For How see Haller, Rise of Puritanism, pp. 267–8. The 1655 edition had a commendatory preface by the Baptist, William Kiffin.
2Kearney, op. cit., pp. 111–2.
At both Oxford and Cambridge the Colleges were compared, not as most of their incumbents would have preferred, with the “schools of the prophets” of ancient Israel, but rather with the idolatrous high places dedicated to Baal in ancient Canaan. Whilst a few daring spirits in Oxford called for the closing of the famous Bodleian Library,1 Cambridge saw a bitter exchange of views between, on the one side, Joseph Sedgwick of Christ’s and Sidrach Simpson of Pembroke, and, on the other, William Dell of Caius.2 In a sermon at Great St Mary’s on the 1st May 1653 Sedgwick protested against the “spirit of enthusiasm and pretended inspiration that disturbs and strikes at the Universities.” His protest, which was extended when the sermon was printed, was in part aimed at Dell who, though Head of a College, had printed an attack upon the traditional curriculum at Cambridge in his Stumbling Stone (1653). Sedgwick felt it necessary to defend the following propositions all of which were under debate in Oxford and Cambridge that year: “A National Church is not antichristian; that a congregation of external believers and professors is an apostolic church; that set times and places are designable under the Gospel; that the ministry of the Gospel requires ecclesiastical ordination; that all believers are not ministers; that the teaching of the Spirit is not enablement enough to the ministry; that philosophy, arts and sciences accomplish a minister; that tongues are necessary to a full understanding of Scripture; that University habits and degrees are lawful and speak nothing of antichristianism; and that the institution of the University for the supply of the ministry is according to Christian prudence and the duty of the Christian State.”3 With most of these propositions Owen agreed.
1This is what Owen reported in Oxford Orations, p. 11.
2For a description of their contest see J. B. Mullinger, The University of Cambridge, Cambridge, 1911, III, pp. 448ff. A recent study of Dell is E. C. Walker, William Dell, Master Puritan, Cambridge, 1970.
3Sedgwick, A Sermon preached at S. Maries, 1655, pp. 25–6.
Two months after the delivery of Sedgwick’s sermon, Simpson also used the opportunity offered him in the preaching of the Commencement sermon, that is in July 1653, to defend the traditional role of the Universities. They were, he maintained, as the outwork to the citadel of religion and as the outer court to the Temple of the Gospel. Dell, who heard the sermon, was incensed by it and printed a reply. “Human learning,” he wrote,1 “mingled with divinity, or the Gospel of Christ understood according to Aristotle, hath begun, continued and perfected the mystery of iniquity in the outward Church.” Following his attack on the scholastic curriculum he condensed into six pages his own suggestions for “the right reformation of learning.”2 He wanted schools to be founded in all cities, towns and large villages offering a wide range of subjects related to the needs of an area; he deprecated the monopoly of higher education by the two ancient Universities. From another former army chaplain, who had studied as a youth at Cambridge, came a further attack upon traditional education. He was John Webster and he dedicated his Academiarum Examen to Major-General Lambert, a fellow Yorkshireman. In his opinion Oxford and Cambridge placed too much emphasis on the use of Latin and on the writings of Aristotle. He wanted to see greater emphasis placed on the contribution of mathematics and the practical disciplines associated with it, on a practical medical education which included such activities as dissection, and on a study of recent philosophy, the writings of Descartes for example.
1Quoted by Mullinger, op. cit., p. 454, from Dell’s Tryal of Spirits.
2Dell, The Right Reformation of Learning, 1654. Cf. Walker, op. cit., p. 161.
Webster proved an easy prey for the dialectical skill of two former Cambridge men who were now prominent at Oxford. The Vindiciae Academiarum, written by John Wilkins and Seth Ward of Wadham College, sought to show that Webster was ill-informed as to what went on at Oxford. The two men, however, carefully avoided the basic issue of changing the curriculum. To the scientific society, which met at Wadham and which developed into the Royal Society, science was a subject to be studied outside the normal curriculum by mature students.1 This is confirmed by the note-book belonging to a certain Nicholas Floyd, an undergraduate at Wadham, which clearly shows that he and his colleagues pursued the old-style scholastic curriculum as in former times and that this was unaffected by what was done in the scientific society. Similar notebooks of scholars at Christ Church and Exeter reveal the same emphasis in those Colleges.2 Professor Kearney attributes the continuance of this old tradition at Oxford primarily to the influence of Thomas Barlow, Owen’s former tutor. Barlow, Bodley’s Librarian and Provost of Queen’s from 1657, wrote a guide for young scholars which seems to have been widely used and whose basic premise was that the liberal arts are the handmaids of divinity.3
1For the Oxford society see Marjery Purver, The Royal Society 1967, and Shapiro, John Wilkins, chap. 5. On pp. 122ff., Purver confuses John Owen with Thankful Owen; it was the latter who helped in the work of cataloging books on science.
2Three notebooks are in the Bodleian: MSS Rawlinson D. 233, 254, and 258. One is in the Br. Museum: Sloane MS 1472.
3Kearney, op. cit., pp. 124–5.
Simpson, Sedgwick, Wilkins and Ward, together with others who defended traditional learning, had the full support of Owen. Though the Vice-Chancellor did not himself write a defence of Oxford education, he saw to it that the University congratulated the City of London when the latter petitioned the Barebone’s Parliament on the 2nd September 1653 that the precious truths of the Gospel should be preserved, that faithful ministers should be encouraged and that the two Universities be zealously preserved and maíntained.1 Also he expressed his relief in July 1654 at the Act that the University was “not so far breathing its last as to have need to draw up its last will and testament.” He was glad to report to the crowds who had come to Oxford that “Almighty God still had men who were actively engaged vigorously to preserve His worship and the University still had men similarly engaged to watch over its preservation.”2 Even in 1657, in his parting oration to the University, he still vividly remembered the attacks on learning made in 1653 and God’s gracious deliverance of the University from ruin.
No man among us, I believe, is ignorant of the position of the gownsmen and that state of our affairs at the beginning of my term of office and since then. For the first two years we were a mere rabble and a subject of talk to the rabble. Our critical situation and our common interests were discussed out of journals and newspapers by every Tom, Dick and Harry. Nobody was so abjectly stupid as not to have either fear or hope on account of our situation. Such, indeed, was the will of the Sovereign Disposer of events – so that whatever is mortal would be held in lesser esteem among mortals. Further, it was not perhaps equitable that, whilst decay was invading empires and the highest ornaments of the world, the University alone should keep its blossom unimpaired. Meanwhile, very few ventured to the best of their powers to defend our cause, which ought to have been held sacred but was exposed to the greatest hazards. Indeed, such was the pitch of madness that to have stood up for the gownsmen was designated as a violation of religion and piety. On the other hand, everything that is rejected by respectable men and which is truly criminal was most plentifully charged on you every day by the malicious ... After it had become only too obvious to what an extreme, the audacity, rage and ignorance of some, from whom better things might have been expected, would have gone, the Governor of all things so quickly defeated all their councils and all their attempts that with difficulty were those able to provide for their own interests who, three days before, were most eagerly intent on swallowing up ours.3
The last sentence obviously refers to what happened in the Barebone’s Parliament in its final week, when, after a report from the Committee on Tithes had been rejected by a very small majority, its brief existence came to an end.4
1Correspondence, No. 10, p. 59, Oxford Convocation to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London.
2Oxford Orations, p. 11. John Evelyn was present at this Act from 6–10 July and left a very brief description. See The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. E. S. De Beer, 1959, p. 339.
3Oxford Orations, p. 41.
4S. R. Gardiner, History of Commonwealth and Protectorate, II, p. 327.
Part of the attack of the radicals on the Universities was directed at the actual granting of degrees in divinity and the wearing of academic costume, which was, in origin, derived from medieval monastic dress. Within the Reformed Churches of Europe there had been differing views as to whether or not Protestant Academies should grant the degree of Doctor of Divinity. In Scotland, for example, no degree of D.D. was awarded from the Reformation until the reign of James VI, and from 1638 to 1661.1 As if to emphasise that it wished to remain as conservative as possible, the Oxford Convocation decided, just a few days after the end of the experiment of the rule of the saints, to bestow the D.D. degree on Thomas Goodwin, Peter French, and John Owen. The latter’s diploma, dated the 22nd December 1653, described his theological and philosophical powers in glowing terms.2 But, as he later explained, it was only gratitude and “respect unto them” who had conferred it upon him which made him “once own it:” for “freed from that obligation” he would never have used the title. And as for the title Reverend “I have very little valued it,” he wrote, “ever since I considered the saying of Luther – ‘nunquam periclatur religio nisi inter Reverendíssimos’.”3 He preferred to be called “John Owen” as the Quakers addressed him. So in this matter at least he did have some basic agreement with the critics of the Establishment.
1Cf G. D. Henderson, Religious Life in Seventeenth-Century Scotland, Cambridge, 1937. p. 41. For the radicals and academic dress see Greaves, op. cit., pp. 135–6.
2For the Latin wording of the Diploma see “Register of Convocation, 1647–1658,” p. 229.
3For these statements of Owen see Works, XIII, p. 302. Cf. Nuttall, Visible Saints, p. 90. Luther’s statement literally means: “religion is never put in danger except amongst the most reverend.”
He did also with regard to academic dress. According to Anthony Wood’s colourful description, Owen “scorned all formality and undervalued his office by going in quirpo like a young scholar, with powdered hair, snakebone bandstrings, lawn bands, a large set of ribbons pointed, and Spanish leather boots with large lawn tops, and his hat mostly cocked.”1 In other words, Owen regarded the usual square cap and hood (which are still part of academic dress) as “Romish” and therefore in order not to appear to be in any way associating with popery he dressed in a cocked hat, a velvet coat and jack-boots with cambric tops. During 1656 he made determined efforts in meetings of Convocation and its delegates to persuade the University to make the wearing of “habits” optional.2 A somewhat exaggerated report of his activities reached his old friend, Ralph Josselin, who wrote in his Diary on the 8th July 1656: “Heard how Dr Owen endeavoured to lay down all the badges of scholars distinction in the Universities; hoods, caps, gowns, degrees ...: he is become a great scorne, the Lord keep him from temptations.”3 Convocation rejected Owen’s proposal on the 10th April. This was a memorable day at Oxford for, as Anthony Wood put it: “I think we may well say that there was more of real public reformation voted at one Convocation than had been before by the Visitors since their first meeting.”4 Whilst Convocation agreed to the introduction of new exercises in divinity and to the removal of certain promissory oaths,5 Owen’s further, important, proposal that the Act, which closed the academic year, be abolished was rejected. He believed that it made no valid contribution either to the academic progress of scholars or to the general propagation of the Gospel. It simply allowed the young men and the crowds who came to Oxford for the occasion to behave in an unseemly manner. Though Convocation was willing to agree to the introduction of certain reforms in the activities, Owen was not really interested; for him it was all or nothing. Righteously indignant at the failure of the Senate of the University to do what he believed was the will of God, Owen called the Visitors together and asked them to use their powers to impose on the Convocation an order to abolish the Act. Whilst Goodwin, Thankful Owen, Francis Howell and James Baron from the Board agreed with him, the other members doubted whether the Visitors had such powers over Convocation. So Owen decided to take the matter to London. He also wanted to remodel the constitution of Convocation. He believed that his proposals to abolish the Act and to make “habits” optional had been rejected on account of the large number of young Masters of Arts who had equal voting rights with the older, more experienced men. Yet all his efforts came to nothing – except that perhaps moderate opinion in Oxford and in London was antagonised and made more conservative.
1Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, IV, col. 98.
2Wood, History of University, II, pp. 668ff. The Laudian Statutes made academic dress obligatory. In 1658 John Conant made further efforts to make it optional. See Walter Pope, The Life of Seth, Lord Bishop of Salisbury, ed. J. M. Bamborough, Oxford, 1961, pp. 36ff. Pope was a Proctor in 1658.
3The Diary of Ralph Josselin, p. 116.
4Wood, History of University, II, p. 671.
5At matriculation all boys aged 16 years had, according to the Laudian Statutes, to subscribe to the 39 Articles and take their corporal oath to acknowledge the supremacy of the King, to be faithful to the University, and to observe its Statutes, privileges and customs. On becoming Regent Masters, the young Masters of Arts had to take further oaths of loyalty to the House of Congregation etc. Admission to offices of the University (Proctor, Orator, Registrar etc.) meant more oaths. As both Presbyterians and Independents regarded the taking of an oath as the making of a binding promise they wanted oaths kept to a minimum. For oaths see Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. xxii, and Savoy Declaration of Faith, chap. xxiii.
Owen’s desire to reform the closing ceremonies of the year proceeded from his understanding of the nature of education and the need for discipline and godliness. As a young student, and now as Vice-Chancellor, Owen knew how manners and morals deteriorated in the festive atmosphere. On one occasion, probably in 1657, Owen intervened in the proceedings to arrest a student who was acting and speaking irresponsibly in his capacity as the terrae filius, the elected wag of the students. “When one from Trinity College was terrae filius,” wrote Asty, “before he began the Doctor stood up and in Latin told him he should have liberty to say what he pleased, provided that he would avoid profaneness and obscenity, and not go into any personal reflections. The terrae filius began, and in a little time transgressed in all the foregoing particulars; upon which the Doctor did several times desire him to forbear those things which reflected so much dishonour on the University; but, notwithstanding, he went on in the same manner: at length, the Doctor seeing him obstinate sent in his beadles to pull him down; upon which the scholars interposed and would not suffer them to come near him: then the Doctor resolved to pull him down himself; his friends dissuaded him for fear the scholars should do him mischief; but he replied, ‘I will not see authority trampled on’; and hereupon he pulled him down and sent him to Bocardo (the Oxford prison), the scholars standing at a distance amazed to see his courage and resolution.”1 At the close of the Act for 1657 he felt moved to speak of the revelry and gluttony of the weekend. In this extract he speaks in the third person:
Someone ... not so long ago, disgusted with these ineptitudes, has dared in his ignorance to overturn this order of things amongst us, which he has always found prohibited, always condemned and always retained. He wanted, indeed, that jokes pleasantries and lies should be banished from the Comitia of the University, celebrated by the crowded gathering of earnest men from all parts: that we should have a richer crop of exercises and disputations in all branches of learning; a dearth of insults, malice and most inept jokes; and that there should be no remembrance in posterity of inert and gluttonous men, who know nothing except to live in disgrace and die of laughter every day, who flock to our ceremonies in great crowds.2
It must have been one of Owen’s greatest disappointments at Oxford that he failed to reform the Comitia.
1Asty, p. xi. For an example of a typical terrae-filius speech see that of Robert South given in this period and printed in his Opera Posthuma Latina (1717).
2Oxford Orations, p. 32.
As Vice-Chancellor Owen was the man primarily responsible for discipline within the University. We have noticed above that as Dean and Visitor he did not shirk from this duty. Likewise, with his deputy, Edmund Staunton, the President of Corpus Christi, he sought to use his powers to keep the scholars in good behaviour. On the 28th February 1654, for example, Staunton issued an order to all scholars.1 There had been some disorders in Oxford caused by the `rude carriage" of certain young men. If this occurred again they would be expelled. Meanwhile tutors were required to have "a more vigilant eye" over their respective scholars. Owen also issued a Latin proclamation on the 29th January 1656 which warned that dissident influences had wormed their way into the University й order to foment trouble. Students were to refrain from all forms of fighting either with fists or stones and were to conduct themselves in a sober manner.2 If they did not, they would be sent home.
1The original is in the Oxford Archives. A Bibliography of Printed Works relating to the University of Oxford, ed. E. H. Cordeaux and D. H. Merry, Oxford, 1968, item 1267.
2Ibid, item 1268.
Eighteen months earlier two young ladies had been banished from Oxford.1 In June 1654 Oxford was visited by a group of Northern Quakers, whose missionary zeal was pushing them into Southern England. Two brave but eccentric girls, Elizabeth Fletcher and Elizabeth Homes, sought to preach to the students and reveal to them the unchristian nature of University learning and their need for the inner light of the Holy Spirit. The rough treatment they received from the excited undergraduates so moved Miss Fletcher that she felt God was calling her to be a living testimony for Him. Accordingly, in the style of an Old Testament prophet, she took off her clothing and walked semi-naked through the streets, proclaiming the terrible day of the Lord. For the young men this was at best a great joke and they drove her into the grounds of St John’s College where they pumped water over her and her friend. On the following Sunday, seemingly unaffected by their rough ordeal, the young ladies visited an Oxford church and in Quaker fashion interrupted the service in order to utter a warning from heaven. They were arrested and put in prison. Next day, since the city authorities were hesitant to punish them, the Vice-Chancellor was called. He accused them of Speaking blasphemy and abusing the Spirit of God. He ordered that they be whipped and driven out of Oxford. They were punished not for being Quakers but because their behaviour incited civil disorder, being aimed at the downfall of the University.2
1Cf. Here followeth a true Relation of some of the Sufferings inflicted upon the Servants of the Lord who are called Quakers (1654), and A True Testimony of Oxford-Professors and University-Men who for zeal persecute the Servants of the living God (1654). The former was anonymous; the latter was by a Richard Hubberthorne.
2Owen attacked Quaker doctrine in Exercitationes adversus Fanaticos (1658) in Works, XVI. The use of Latin was deliberate; it emphasised his defence of traditional learning against a group who would have abolished it.
In contrast to his treatment of the Quakers, Owen “suffered to meet quietly three hundred Episcopalians every Lord’s Day, over against his own door (in the house of Dr Willis) where they celebrated divine service according to the Liturgy of the Church of England; and though he was often urged to it, yet would he never give them the least disturbance.”1 Possibly they recited the services from memory and were thus technically not breaking the law. Possibly also Owen did not feel powerful enough to risk antagonising such men as Willis, who was greatly respected as a scientist. Or maybe, since this group did not threaten the peace of Oxford, and were not actively propagating Anglicanism, he decided it was best to leave them alone. Certainly it was not necessarily, as Asty seems to suggest, an exercise in religious toleration.
1Asty, p. xi. Included in this group were John Dolben, who became a Canon in 1660, John Fell, who became Dean of Christ Church in 1660 and Richard Allestree, who became Regius Professor in 1663.
Owen’s term as Vice-Chancellor came to an end in October 1657. Oliver Cromwell had resigned as Chancellor on the 3rd July 1657 and Convocation had invited his son, Richard, to succeed hím.1 The latter was installed in a ceremony at Westminster on the 29th July.2 After this Owen persuaded the new Chancellor that another person should now assume the office of Vice-Chancellor.3 Richard agreed and John Conant, the Rector of Exeter College, was appointed. At a ceremony in Convocation on the 9th October Owen handed over the ensigns of office to Conant and delivered his final oration as Vice-Chancellor.4 He rejoiced that the University was safe and once more a great centre of learning. “Behold your ship, the University, tossed by mountainous billows, is now safe and sound,” he boldly affirmed, “even beyond the expectations of almost all hope – stronger than she normally is when fitted with all her trimmings, very soon to be entrusted to the hands of a skilled captain while fortune smiles and the sea is calm.” To God alone the praise was due for the settled state of things and for the great improvement in the University.
1For Cromwell’s letter of resignation addressed to Owen see Correspondence, No. 45, p. 98.
2The ceremony is described in Mercuris Politicus, No. 373, and the description is reprinted in Zachary Grey, An Impartial Examination, 1739, p. 200.
3Cf. Oxford Orations, p. 40 where Owen states that he “sought to persuade very important men to allow” him to resign.
4Oxford Orations, p. 47.
Professors’ salaries lost for many years have been maintained; the rights and privileges of the University have been defended against all the efforts of its enemies; the treasury is tenfold increased; many of every rank in the University have been promoted to various honours and benefices; new exercises have been introduced and established; old ones have been duly performed: reformation of manners has been diligently studied despite the grumbling of profligate brawlers; labours have been numberless; besides submitting to enormous expense, often when brought to the brink of death on your account, I have hated these limbs and this feeble body which was ready to desert my mind; the reproaches of the vulgar have been disregarded; the envy of others has been overcome: in these circumstances I wish you all prosperity and bid you farewell.
The new Captain, John Conant, was taking over the ship in a calm sea, but, concluded Owen, there was still need for full cooperation from the members of Convocation.
Though Owen remained as Dean of Christ Church for two more years, he seems to have resided very little in Oxford during 1658 and 1659. He was not, for example, in Convocation on the 12th April 1659 when the important petition against the foundation of the University of Durham was drafted and approved in order to be sent to Richard Cromwell.1 Therefore it will be convenient now to make a brief assessment of Owen’s work at Oxford. As has been emphasised, he saw his task, and that of all the Heads of Colleges, as an extremely important aspect of the work of the kingdom of God in England. He told his colleagues in 1654: “The whole of your employment, I confess – both in the general intendment of it for promoting and diffusing of light, knowledge and truth in every kind whatever, and in the more special design thereof, for the defence, furtherance, and propagation of the ancient, inviolable, unchangeable truth of the Gospel of God – is, in the days wherein we live exposed to a contention with as much opposition, contempt, scorn, hatred and reproach, as ever any such undertaking was, in any place in the world wherein men pretended to love light more than darkness.”2 Their aim and his was the propagation of the Calvinistic view of God, the universe and salvation and in this they were probably very successful. Theology was central and of this Owen was proud. In 1654 he told the crowds at the Act that “theology, the queen and mistress of the other branches of learning” was again highly honoured at Oxford. Not “that confused theology drawn from the ditches of the scholastics, nor the theology that is merely common and teachable material handed down in a variety of manuals ... but theology that is free, pure, and undefiled drawn in from the fountain of fountains with the Holy Spirit and the power of the Almighty aiding – and indeed completing – the whole task.”3 Efforts were made in teaching, debating and disciplinary action to achieve the great end of the propagation of the Gospel, and Owen’s special emphasis was to insist that the whole academic curriculum be submerged in preaching and catechising and prayer. He wanted the graduates of Oxford not only to be proficient in the Arts and Sciences but also to aspire after godliness. Nor were academic standards allowed to suffer because of the stress on practical godliness. Lord Clarendon admitted this when he wrote that Oxford “yielded a harvest of extraordinary good and sound knowledge in all parts of learning.”4
1“Register of Convocation, 1647–1658,” pp. 340ff.
2Works, XI, p. 8. Dedicatory letter to Heads of Houses, prefacing The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance.
3Oxford Orations, p. 15.
4Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion, Oxford, 1849, IV, p. 284. Matriculations were high: cf. Register of Visitors, p. cxxx.
Not a few students, who later became Protestant Nonconformists, believed that God had specially blessed Oxford during the 1650s. Philiр Henry, for example, “would often mention with thankfulness to God, what great helps and advantages he had then in the University, not only for learning, but for religion and piety. Serious godliness was in reputation, and besides the public opportunities they had, there were many of the scholars that used to meet together for prayer, and Christian conference to the great confirmation of one another’s hearts in the fear and love of God and the preparing of them for the service of the Church in their generation.”1 George Trosse, who became a nonconformist minister in Exeter, greatly enjoyed his life at Oxford. “I thank God from the bottom of my heart,” he wrote,2 “that I went to Oxford when there were so many sermons preached and so many excellent and practical divines to preach them ... Then, Religion was in its glory in the University and was a qualification for respect and advancement.
1Matthew Henry, An Account of the Life and Death of Philip Henry, 1698, p. 19.
2J. Hallet, The Life of... Geo. Trosse, 1714, p. 81.
Yet, whatever their achievements, Owen and many of his colleagues were really misfits at Oxford. The University had been a centre of Anglicanism and royalism since the days of Henry VIII and would continue to be so after 1660. The Laudian statutes seemed hardly to blend with the anti-prelatical emphasis of the Independents and Presbyterians. The rule of the two Cromwells and their Vice-Chancellors was but a brief interlude in Oxford’s continuing history and tradition. Indeed, Owen’s activities reveal a basic tension between a conservative academic and social outlook and a fairly radical religious viewpoint. On the one hand he favoured the retention of the scholastic curriculum, the use of Latin and the preservation of higher education as the rightful domain of the sons of clergy, gentlemen and noblemen, whilst, on the other hand, he attempted to change the ancient customs of Oxford with regard to the membership and rights of Convocation, academic dress and the annual Act. Neither he nor his Independent colleagues satisfactorily resolved this tension. In their own way their critics on the right (e.g. Hence Hammond) and on the left (e.g. John Webster) were more logical.
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