Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Memoirs of John Owen Volume One Chapter Two


Owen’s connexion with the Presbyterian body — its state at that time — Baxter’s account of it — its Intolerance — Owen publishes his Duty of Pastors and People’s — His Two ‘Catechisms’ — Preaches before Parliament — Publication of the Discourse, and his Essay on Church Government — His views of Uniformity and Toleration — Leaves Fordham.

BY accepting the living of Fordham, Owen formally connected himself with the Presbyterian body, which about that time enjoyed the greatest prosperity at which it ever arrived in England. Whether Presbyterianism was the form of government which prevailed in the primitive church, it is not our object, at present, to ascertain; but, that Calvin was the first, after the reformation, who brought it into notice, and reduced it to practice, is, we believe, generally admitted. Whether it was suggested to him by the Civil Government of Geneva, or entirely by the New Testament, will be credited, according as men are the abettors or opponents of his system. Be this as it may, in the school of Geneva originated the Presbyterianism of Britain. The English exiles, driven from their native country, by the oppressions of popery and prelacy, to that city of liberty, were alienated from the system in which most of them had been educated, as well by the conduct of its supporters, as by their conviction of its contrariety to the word of God. They were thus prepared to view, with a favourable eye, a form of government and worship, which had more support in Scripture; which provided a greater degree of parity and power for all the ministers of the church; and which seemed to be productive of a large portion, both of spiritual and temporal good to men. The adoption of this system by the reformed churches of Holland, France, Scotland, and part of Germany, promoted its influence, and increased its celebrity. The writings of Calvin, Beza, and other celebrated men of the same school, were extensively read, and their authority generally respected; while the intercourse between England and those countries, greatly increased by the tyrannical measures of government, advanced the progress of its career in that quarter.
[[@Page:29]] The body of the Puritans were never entirely of the same mind on the subject of church government. Not a few of them were, without doubt, rigid Presbyterians; but many of them would have gladly submitted to a modified Episcopacy, such as that which Archbishop Usher recommended. The Divine right of classical Presbytery came to be contended for, chiefly after the Scots’ army was brought into England, and when a uniformity of faith and worship in the three kingdoms began to be enforced. As, for a considerable time, it appeared likely to gain the ascendancy, most of those who fell off from Episcopacy, from dissatisfaction with its forms, united themselves with it, though many of them were not disposed to admit all its pretensions. [1]
Owen, as far as he, was a Presbyterian, was one of this description. Speaking of his sentiments at this period of his life, and of a Treatise then published, which we shall immediately notice, he says, I was then a young man, about the age of twenty-six or twenty-seven. The controversy between Independency and Presbytery was then young also; nor, indeed, by me clearly understood; especially as stated on the Congregational side. The conceptions delivered in the Treatise were not, as appears in the issue, suited to the opinion of the one party or the other; but were such as occurred to mine own naked consideration of things, with relation to some differences that were then upheld in the place where I lived. Only being unacquainted with the Congregational way, I professed myself to own the other party, not knowing but that my principles were suited to their judgment and profession; having looked very little farther into those affairs, than I was led by an opposition to Episcopacy and ceremonies. [2]
Presbyterianism was not established in England ‘by way of probation,’ [3] as Neal expresses it, until 1645; and as presbyteries were not erected for some time after this, and in many places never erected, it is not probable that Owen was ever a member of a presbytery. This circumstance, together with his sentiments as stated in the above extract, shews that his connexion with that body was more nominal [[@Page:30]] than real. To give a correct view of its religious character about this time is not an easy task. The partiality of its friends has led them to exaggerate its excellencies, and the dislike of its enemies has induced them to aggravate and multiply its faults. It doubtless embraced many individuals, estimable for their piety, and distinguished for their learning; and not a few who had suffered much in the cause of God. In a body which contained many faithful preachers of the truth, there must have been a large portion of genuine religion; although, from its principles, many were admitted into fellowship with it, whose profession could not have borne a close investigation. [4] The testimony of Baxter, whose opportunities of judging wero abundant, and whose partiality to the Presbyterians secures hint from the suspicion of misrepresenting them, is as follows: —
‘The persons who were called Presbyterians were eminent for learning, sobriety, and piety; and the pastors, so called, were they that went through the work of the ministry, in diligent, serious preaching to the people, and edifying men’ souls, and keeping up religion in the land.’ [5] — But I disliked the course of some of the more rigid of them, that drew too near the way of prelacy, by grasping at a kind of secular power; not using it themselves, but binding the magistrates to confiscate or imprison men, merely because they were excommunicated; and so corrupting the true discipline of the church, and turning the communion of saints into the communion of the multitude, that must keep in the church against their wills, for fear of being undone in the world. Whereas a man whose conscience cannot feel a just excommunication, unless it be backed with confiscation or imprisonment, is no fitter to be a member of a Christian church, than a corpse is to be a member of a corporation. — They corrupt the discipline of Christ by mixing it with secular force; and they reproach the keys, or ministerial power, as if it were not worth a straw unless the magistrate’ sword enforce it; and worst of all, they corrupt the church by forcing in the rabble of the unfit, and unwilling, and thereby tempt many godly Christians to schisms and dangerous separations. Till [[@Page:31]] magistrates keep the sword themselves, and learn to deny it to every angry clergyman that would do his own work by it, and leave them to their own weapons, — the word and spiritual keys; “et valeant quantum valere possunt;” the church shall never have unity and peace. And I disliked some of the Presbyterians that they were not tender enough to dissenting brethren; but too much against liberty, as other’ were too much for it; and thought by votes and number to do that which love and reason should have done. [6]
The worst feature certainly of Presbytery, about this time, that which excited the greatest attention, and which ultimately ruined its influence, was its intolerance; or determined and persevering hostility to liberty of conscience. The most celebrated Presbyterian divines, such as Calamy and Burgess, in their discourses before parliament, represented toleration as the hydra of schisms and heresies, and the floodgate to all manner of iniquity and danger; which, therefore, the civil authorities ought to exert their utmost energy to put down. [7] Their most distinguished writers advocated the rights of persecution, and endeavoured to reason, or rail down religious liberty. With this view chiefly, Edwards produced his ‘Gangrena,’ and his ‘Casting down of the last and strongest hold of Satan, or a Treatise against Toleration.’!!! And, not to notice the ravings of Bastwick, and Paget, and Vicars, it is painful to quote the respectable names of Principal Baillie of Glasgow, and Samuel Rutherford, Professor of Divinity in St. Andrews, as engaged in supporting so bad a cause. The former, throughout his ‘Dissuasive,’ discovers how determined a foe he was, to what he calls a ‘monstrous imagination.’  [8] The latter, wrote a quarto volume of four hundred pages against pretended liberty of conscience.’!! It was the Trojan horse whose bowels were full of warlike sectaries, and weapons of destruction. Like the fabled box of Pandora, it had only to be opened to let loose upon the world all the ills which ever afflicted our race. It was the Diana, before whose shrine the motley groupes of dissenters from presbytery were represented as making their [[@Page:32]] devoutest prostrations. That I do not caricature the persons of whom I am speaking, let the following specimen shew.
A Toleration is the grand design of the devil — his master-piece, and chief engine he works by at this time, to uphold his tottering kingdom. It is the most compendious, ready, sure w ay to destroy all religion, lay all waste, and bring iu all evil. It is a most transcendent, catholic, and fundamental evil for this kingdom of any that can be imagined. As original sin is the most fundamental sin, having the seed and spawn of all in it; so a toleration hath all errors in it, and all evils. It is against the whole stream and current of Scripture both in the Old and New Testament; both in matters of faith and manners; both general and particular commands. It overthrows all relations, political, ecclesiastical, and economical. And whereas other evils, whether of judgment or practice, be but against some one or two places of Scripture or relation, this is against all — this is the Abaddon, Apollyon, the destroyer of all religion, the abomination of desolation and astonishment, the liberty of perdition, and therefore the devil follows it night and day; working mightily in many by writing books for it, and other ways; — All the devils in hell, and their instruments, being at work to promote a toleration. [9]
Had these been the sentiments of a few private and violent individuals only, it might have been proper to pass them by, as giving an unfair view of the principles or spirit of the party with which they were connected; but when similar sentiments and temper are discovered in the public and united proceedings of the body, the matter is very different. That this was the case with the Presbyterians, at this time, is too evident from many facts. The Presbyterian party in the Westminster Assembly defeated the attempt, recommended by the committee of the Lords and Commons, to promote a union, if possible, with the Independents. They refused even to tolerate their churches. Baxter acknowledges that they were so little sensible of their own infirmities, that they would not agree to tolerate those who were not only tolerable, but worthy instruments and members in the churches. [10] When they found the Commons would not support their violent and unreasonable [[@Page:33]] demands to suppress all other sects, they brought forward the Scots’ parliament to demand that their advices should be complied with, and to publish a declaration against toleration. [11] The whole body of the London ministers addressed a letter to the Assembly, in which they most solemnly declare how much they ‘detest and abhor the much endeavoured toleration?’ The ‘Jus divinum of church government,’ published by the same body, argues for ‘a compulsive, coactive, punitive, corrective power to the political magistrate in matters of religion.’ [12] The provincial assembly of London, the ministers of Warwickshire and Lancashire, published declarations or addresses to the same purport. [13]
Enough on so unpleasant a subject. Whatever differences existed in this party about other things, a perfect harmony seems to have prevailed on this. They were evidently startled and alarmed at the strange appearances of the religious world. They apprehended nothing less than the utter destruction of religion from the liberty which men had begun to enjoy. Their fears magnified the danger, and their attachment to the cause of God led them to express themselves in the unwarrantable manner which we have seen. It is only matter of thankfulness that they were not permitted to grasp the sword, otherwise something more dreadful than intemperate language would probably have followed.
Their violent sentiments and proceedings must have alienated many from their cause, and led moderate men to doubt the foundation of a system which seemed to require such support. These, in fact, were the things which entirely ruined their interest. If the leading Presbyterians in the Assembly and city had come to a temper with the Independents, on the footing of a limited toleration, they had in all likelihood prevented the disputes between the army and parliament, which were the ruin of both; they might then have saved the constitution, and made their own terms with the king; but they were enchanted with the beauties of covenant uniformity, and the Divine right of [[@Page:34]] Presbytery, which, after all, the parliament would not admit in its full extent.” [14]
It required, indeed, considerable enlargement of mind, to examine impartially the causes of the confusion of practice and conflict of opinion, which were then operating on the country. Few were capable of looking through the tempest which was then howling, to a period of peace which would certainly follow; when the novelty of liberty should subside into the enjoyment of its sweets; and when the ebullitions of party should give place to ‘quietness and assurance for ever.’ Milton took the true view of the state of the country, when he exclaimed, in all the felicity of the poet and the fervour of the patriot, Methinks I see a noble and puissant nation rousing herself, like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. ‘Methinks I see her, as an eagle, muing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam; purging and unsealing her long abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.’ [15]
We have no reason to think that Owen ever approved of the sentiments and spirit of the body with which he was, to appearance, for a time connected. It seems rather probable that its violent temper tended to shake any attachment he ever had to it. The moderation of his views, even while a Presbyterian, appeared in the next production of his pen, and which was published not long after his settlement in Fordham: this was ‘The Duty of Pastors and People distinguished, touching the administration of things commanded in Religion, especially concerning the means to be used by the people of God, distinct from Church Officers, for the increasing of Divine knowledge in themselves and others,’ &c. 4to, pp. 56, 1644. [16] Though it has the date of 1644, it was published in 1643. It is dedicated to his ‘Truly noble and ever honoured friend, Sir Edward Scot of Scots [[@Page:35]] Hall, in Kent, Knight of the honourable order of the Bath.’ In the dedication he tells Sir Edward that he had published it in consequence of the solicitations of some judicious men who were acquainted with its contents; and thanks him for many favours, and especially for the free ‘proffer of an ecclesiastical preferment, then vacant, and in his donation;’ but which circumstances had prevented him from accepting. I know nothing of Sir Edward Scot, but Owen makes most honourable mention of him in this address. From one passage it would seem that he had been some time in Sir Edward’s family; and as it does credit to the worthy Knight, and shews something of the troubled state of the country, it is worth quiffing. ‘Twice, by God’s providence, have I been with you when your county has been in great danger to be ruined; once by the horrid insurrection of a rude, godless multitude; and again by the invasion of a potent enemy prevailing in the neighbour county. At both which times, besides the general calamity justly feared, particular threatenings were daily brought to you. Under which sad dispensations, I must crave leave to say, that I never saw more resolved constancy, or more cheerful, unmoved Christian carriage in any man.’
His object in this treatise is to steer a middle course between those who ascribed too much power to ministers, and those who gave too much to the people. ‘Some,’ says he, ‘would have all Christians to be almost ministers, others none but ministers to be God’s clergy: those would give the people the keys, these use them to lock them out of the church. The one ascribing to them primarily all ecclesiastical power for the ruling of the congregation, the other abridging them of the performance of spiritual duties, for the building of their own souls. As though there were no habitable earth between the valley, I had almost said, the pit of democratical confusion, and the precipitous rock of hierarchical tyranny.’ [17] His design, therefore, is to show how ‘The sacred calling may retain its ancient dignity, though the people of God be not deprived of their Christian liberty.’ [18]
In prosecuting this discussion he declares himself to be of ‘the belief of that form of church government, which is [[@Page:36]] commonly called Presbyterial, in opposition to Prelatical on the one side, and that which is commonly called Independent on the other.’ He was then, as appears from what we have already quoted, very ignorant of Independency,but was more nearly allied to it in sentiment than he himself knew. Hence referring afterwards to this very tract he says, ‘Upon a review of what I had there asserted, I found that my principles were more suited to what is the judgment and practice of the Congregational men, than those of the Presbyterian. Only, whereas I had not received any farther clear information in these ways of the worship of God, which since I have been engaged in, I professed myself of the Presbyterian judgment, in opposition to democratical confusion; and, indeed, so I do still, and so do all the Congregational men in England that I am acquainted with. So that when I compare what I then wrote with my present judgment, I am scarce able to find the least difference between the one and the other; only a misapplication of names and things by me, gives countenance to this charge.’ [19]
An examination of the tract itself confirms this view of it. It is very different from the Reformed Pastor of Baxter, or the Pastoral Care of Burnet. Both these small works, which contain much important matter, are occupied with stating and enforcing the duties of ministers; while Owen’s is devoted to pointing out the rights and duties of the people. The greater part of it is employed in preliminary disquisition respecting the condition of the people of God before the coming of Christ; so that it is only towards the end of it, that he treats of their duty now, in extraordinary and ordinary circumstances. Without seeming to advocate lay preaching, he argues from various considerations, that ‘truth revealed to any carries along with it an immoveable persuasion of conscience, that it ought to be published and spoken to others.’ From Acts viii. 1-4. he says it appears ‘that all the faithful members of the church, being thus dispersed, went everywhere preaching the word, having no warrant, but the general engagement of all Christians to further the propagation of Christ’s kingdom.’ In extraordinary or peculiar circumstances, therefore, he [[@Page:37]] contends that it is the duty of every man to make known as extensively as possible, the portion of truth with which he is acquainted. In ordinary circumstances he maintains, that it is the duty of the people of God, ‘for the improving of knowledge, the increasing of charity, and the furtherance of that holy communion that ought to be among the brethren, of their own accord to assemble together, to consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works, to stir up the gifts that are in them, yielding and receiving mutual consolation by the fruits of their most holy faith.’ He endeavours to shew that such practices soberly conducted, are not interferences with the pastoral office; but ought to be encouraged by all the servants of Jesus Christ, as much calculated to promote the progress of knowledge and holiness. While he every where discovers sufficient respect for the institution of the gospel ministry, there is none of that selfish and narrow jealousy of encroachment upon its rights; none of that morbid fear of its honour and dignity; — none of that supercilious treatment of the people — the Laity, which have so frequently been discovered by men in office, and which savour more of the pride of power, and the spirit of corporation, than the liberality of Christianity, and disinterested zeal for the salvation of men.
In the course of this Treatise, Owen mentions twice a Latin tract, ‘De sacerdotio Christi contra Armin. Socin. et Papistas.’ Besides treating of the priesthood of Christ, it seems to have been intended as an answer to the views of the Dutch Remonstrants on Liberty of Prophesying. This production was designed, at first, for the satisfaction of a few private friends, and was, he tells us, ‘nondum edito,’ when he published his Duties of Pastor and People. Nor does it appear to have been ever published; as before this could take place, his niind underwent an important change on the subject of religious liberty. As every thing on this subject is interesting, the candid avowal of his change of sentiment on this important topic, contained in the following passage, is worthy of attention
‘I remember about fifteen years ago, that meeting with a learned friend, we fell into some debate about the liberty that began then to be claimed by men, differing from what had been (Episcopacy), and what was then likely to be [[@Page:38]] established (Presbytery); having, at that time, made no farther inquiry into the grounds and reasons of such liberty, than what had occurred to me in the writings of the Remonstrants — I delivered my judgment in opposition to the liberty pleaded for, which was then defended by my learned friend. Not many years after, discoursing the same difference with the same person, we found immediately that we had changed stations; I pleading for an indulgence of liberty, he for restraint. Whether that learned and worthy person be of the same mind that then he was, I know not directly. My change I here own; my judgment is not the same in this particular that it was fourteen years ago, and in my change, I have good company, whom I need not name. I shall only say, it was at least twelve years before the Petition and Advice, [20] wherein the Parliament of the three nations is come up to my judgment.’ [21]
This passage exhibits the openness and candour of Owen in a very interesting light; and also shews that his changes did not follow, but precede the revolutions of public opinion. It must have been no small gratification to him to see his sentiments afterwards embraced by so large and enlightened a portion of the community. And it is gratifying to the biographer of Owen to have it in his power to state, that the changes of sentiment and progress of public opinion during more than a century and a half since Owen’s alteration, so far from detecting the mistakes, or exposing the danger of his sentiments, have only more fully elucidated their importance, and established their truth beyond controversy, and he trusts, also, beyond danger.
Previously to Owen’s introduction to the parish of Fordham, the parish itself, and the surrounding country, had been exceedingly neglected. Immediately, therefore, on obtaining the living, he set himself most resolutely to correct the evils in which it was immersed. Publicly, and privately, he appears to have laboured for the people’ good. Among other means which he employed, was that of catechising them from house to house; a mode of instruction peculiarly adapted to their condition, and which [[@Page:39]] has often been blessed to the souls of men. To enable him more effectually to prosecute this plan, in the end of the year 1645, he published, “ The Principles of the Doctrine of Christ, unfolded in two short Catechisms; wherein those principles of religion are explained, the knowledge whereof is required by the late ordinance of Parliament, before any be admitted to the Lord’ Supper: 12mo. pp. 60. [22] The first part of this small production he calls the lesser Catechism, intended for young persons, and to be committed to memory; the second, the greater Catechism, designed for the instruction of the grown up people, and to assist them in instructing their families. They are both tolerably simple, and on the whole, well adapted to the purpose for which they were prepared.
The Address to his ‘Loving Neighbours and Christian Friends,’ discovers the deep anxiety he felt for their spiritual welfare, and notices some of the means he bad employed to promote it. ‘My heart’s desire and request unto God for you is, that ye may be saved: I say the truth in Christ also, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart, for them amongst you, who as yet walk disorderly. and not as beseemeth the gospel, little labouring to acquaint themselves with the mystery of godliness. You know, brethren, how I have been amongst you, and in what manner, for these few years past; and how I have kept back nothing that was profitable unto you; but have shewed you and taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying to all repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. With what sincerity this hath been by me performed, with what issue and success by you received, God, the righteous Judge, will one day declare. In the mean time, the desire of my heart is, to be servant to the least of you in the work of the Lord; and that in any way, which I can conceive profitable unto you, either in your persons or your families.’ This language shews bow much he was in earnest about his work, and discovers the same spiritual and benevolent mind, which he cultivated and maintained to the end of his course.
Both Catechisms are strictly of a doctrinal nature: the [[@Page:40]] omission of moral duties he explains, by declaring his intention to publish, in a short time, an Exposition of the Lord’ Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, with the Articles of the Creed, in the same form. Before this intention could be executed, however, he was either removed from Fordham, or his mind had undergone a change which prevented the fulfilment of his promise.
The fame of Owen was now beginning to extend, which occasioned his being called to appear in a wider field of labour and influence. On the twenty-ninth of April, 1646, being the day of the monthly fast, observed by Parliament, he was appointed to preach before that august assembly. The sermon, which was published by command of the House, and for which he received its thanks, by Mr. Fenner, and Sir Peter Wentworth, was founded on Acts xvi. 9., and is entitled, ‘A vision of unchangeable free mercy, in sending the means of grace to undeserving sinners.’ [23] It contains a great variety of matter, and toward the end an earnest expostulation about the destitute state of Wales, and some other parts of the country. ‘When manna fell in the wilderness from the hand of the Lord,’ he exclaims, ‘every one had an equal share. I would there were not now too great an inequality, when in the hand of man. Some have all, and others none; some sheep daily picking the choice flowers of every pasture, others wandering upon the barren mountains, without guide or food.’
His dedication of the sermon to the long Parliament is in Latin, and on account of the high eulogium which it pronounces on that body, deserves to be here introduced. ‘Amplissimo Senatui, &c. &c. To the most noble Senate, the most renowned assembly of England; — most deservedly celebrated through 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, 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  —  [[@Page:41]] preservation 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, this Discourse, humble, indeed, in its pretensions; but being preached before them by their desire, is now by their command published,’ &c.
It must be acknowledged that this is not ordinary praise. But when we consider the conduct of the long Parliament till this period; how natural it was for a lover of liberty, justice, and religion, to view all its conduct in the most favourable light; and the admissions even of its enemies in its favour; the language of Owen will occasion less surprise. Lord Clarendon acknowledges, ‘that there were many great and worthy patriots in the House, and as eminent as any age had ever produced; men of gravity, of wisdom, and of large and plentiful fortunes.’ Hume, almost in the words of Owen, calls it a ‘famous Assembly, which bad filled all Europe with the renown of its actions.’ After this, it will not excite wonder that Milton should praise its ‘illustrious exploits against the breast of tyranny, and the prosperous issue of its noble and valorous counsels.’ Without bestowing unlimited or indiscriminate approbation, it may be safely affirmed, that it comprehended many whose stern integrity, and high independence of mind, would have done honour to the proudest periods of Roman glory; and that many of its measures have never been excelled in the wisdom with which they were framed, the boldness with which they were advocated, or the intrepidity and perseverance with which they were executed.
But the chief value of Owen’s discourse now, is the assistance it affords us in tracing the progress of his mind, on some of the subjects which then agitated the country, and at which we have already glanced. From the Sermon, and a ‘Country Essay for the practice of Church Government’ annexed to it, it appears that though he still remained in the Presbyterian body; it could scarcely be said that he was of it. The discourse itself contains his decided disapprobation of the views and spirit of many in that profession. ‘They are,’ he says, ‘disturbed in their optics, or having. got false glasses, all things are represented to them in dubious colours. Which way soever [[@Page:42]] they look, they can see nothing but errors, errors of all sizes, sorts, sects, and sexes, from beginning to end; which have deceived some men, not of the worst, and made them think, that all before was nothing, in comparison of the present confusion.’ Referring to the same thing in the Essay, he says: ‘Once more, conformity is grown the touchstone amongst the greatest part of men, however otherwise of different persuasions. Dissent is the only crime, and where that is all that is culpable, it shall be made all that is so.’
About this time it appears that he had much discussion with the ministers of the county of Essex, on the subject of Church Government. This occasioned his being very variously represented, and led him at the suggestion of others to put together, in a great hurry, his thoughts on Church Government, and publish them with his sermon. The substance of it had a good while before been circulated in manuscript; and the great object of it is to try to unite both parties — the Presbyterian and Independent; or, at least, to moderate their warmth. While he professes to belong to, or hold some of the principles of the former, he, at the same time, explicitly d eclares, ‘that he knew no church government in the world, already established, of the truth and necessity of which he was in all particulars convinced.’ The details of the plan, however, contain more of Independency than of the other system; perhaps, as much of it as could be acted on, along with obedience to Parliamentary injunctions. He intimates also his conviction that ‘all national disputes about Church Government would prove birthless tympanies.’
The tract contains an explicit declaration of his sentiments on two important subjects, — the folly and uselessness of contention about uniformity, and the necessity and importance of toleration. He protests against giving men odious appellations, on account of their religious sentiments; and exposes the absurdity of that species of exaggeration in which both parties then indulged. ‘Our little differences may be met at every stall, and in too many pulpits, swelled by unbefitting expressions to such a formidable bulk, that poor creatures are startled at their horrid looks and appearance; while our own persuasions are set [[@Page:43]] out in silken words and gorgeous apparel, as if we sent them into the world a-wooing. Hence, whatever it is, it must be temple-building, — God’s government, — Christ’s sceptre, throne, kingdom, — the only way — that for want of which, errors, heresies, sins, spring among us; plagues, judgments, punishments, come upon us. Such,big words as these have made us believe, that we are mortal adversaries, that one kingdom, communion, heaven, cannot hold us.’ He had given great offence by refusing, it appears, to subscribe petitions to Parliament about Church Government, for which he assigns very satisfactory reasons: but which show that he was far alienated from the religious party then in power.
On the subject of toleration he had made great advances, though he had not yet arrived at the maturity of his sentiments on this subject. ‘Toleration,’ he says, ‘is the alms of authority, yet men who beg for it think so much at least their due. I never knew one contend earnestly for a toleration of dissenters who was not one himself; nor any for their suppression, who were not themselves of the persuasion which prevaileth.’ He does not, however, maintain the necessity of a universal toleration; and yet when his limitations come to be examined, and the means be would employ in repressing error, and supporting truth, attended to, his views arc, on the whole, highly enlightened and liberal. He uses some strong language about the iniquity of putting men to death for heresy, declaring that he ‘had almost said, it would be for the interest of morality to consent generally to the persecution of a man maintaining such a destructive opinion.’ ‘I know,’ says he, ‘the usual pretences for persecution, — “such a thing is blasphemy:” but search the Scriptures, look at the definitions of divines, and you will find heresy, in what head of religion soever it be, and blasphemy very different. — “To spread such errors will be destructive to souls:” so are many things which yet are not punishable with death; let him that thinks so, go kill Pagans and Mahometans. — “Such a heresy is a canker:” but it is a spiritual one, let it be prevented by spiritual means; cutting off men’ heads is no proper remedy for it. If state physicians think otherwise, I say no more, but that I am not of the college.’
[[@Page:44]] There is a prodigious contrast between these sentiments, and those of the Presbyterian writers quoted in this chapter. Their violence and illiberality appear more dreadful and improper, when brought into contact with the moderation and liberality of Owen. His mind was rapidly maturing in the knowledge of the great principles of civil and religious freedom; by advocating which he was destined to acquire to himself a distinguished reputation, and to confer on his country a most invaluable boon. He was already in the career of discovery advanced considerably beyond most men of his time. — Undismayed by the collisions and disorders which seemed to arise out of the enjoyment of liberty, his generous soul exulted in the important blessing, and confidently anticipated from it the most glorious ultimate results. Satisfied that the cause of God required not the support of man’s puny arm, or the vengeance of his wrath, he fearlessly committed it to him who has engaged to preserve it, and who hath said, ‘To me belongeth vengeance, I will repay.’
On a report that the sequestered incumbent of Fordham was dead, the patron presented another to the living, and dispossessed Owen. From this it would appear that in such cases, the parliamentary presentations did not permanently interfere with the rights of the patron; and that a person presented in the room of one who was ejected for insufficiency, held the parish only during the life of the sequestered minister. With the loss of Fordham terminated Owen’s connexion with the Presbyterians; for which, his mind had been for some time in a state of preparation.
Every change of religious sentiment is important to the person who makes it, and ought to be gone into with cautious deliberation. To be given to change is a great evil, and indicates a weak and unsettled mind. On the other hand, to be afraid of change is frequently the result of indifference to truth, or of sinful fear of consequences. It is the duty of every Christian to follow the teaching of the Spirit in the word of revelation, and to recollect that for his convictions he must he accountable at last. The attempt to smother them is always improper; and when successful, must injure the religious feelings of their subject. To allow hopes or fears of a worldly nature to [[@Page:45]] overcome our persuasion of what the word of God requires, is to forget the important intimation of our Lord, — that, if any thing is loved more than Himself, it is impossible to be his disciple. By such conduct the tribulations of the kingdom may often be avoided, but the consolations and rewards of it will also be lost. ‘If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be; If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.’

[1] Baxter’s own Life, i. p. 97. et passim.
[2] Review of the true nature of Schism.
[3] Hist. of the Puritans, iii. chap. vi. p. 295.
[4] Baillie’s Dissuasive, pp. 154-174.
[5] Baxter’s own Life, part ii. p. 140.
[6] Baxter’s own Life, part ii. pp. 142-145.
[7] ‘Crosby’ History of the Baptists, i. pp. 176, 177.
[8] Pref. to part ii.
[9] Edward’s Gangrena, part I. p.58.
[10] Neal iii. ch. vi. pp. 302-510.
[11] Neal, RI, ch. vi. pp. 310, 311. Crosby, i. p. 188.
[12] p. 73.
[13] ib. 190.
[14] Neal, iii. oh. vi. pp. 309, 310.
[15] Areopagitica, Works, p. 393. Ed. 1697.
[16] Works, vol. xix. p. 1.
[17] Works, vol. xix. p. 8.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Works, vol. xix, p. 273.
[20] The Petition and Advice were presented to Parliament in 1657. So that Owen’s change of sentiment about religious liberty, must have taken place in, or about, 1645.
[21] Preface to Defence of Cotton against Cawdry, Works, vol. xis. p. 367; pub. limited in 1658.
[22] Works, vol. v. p.3.
[23] Works, vol. xv. p. 5.

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