« PreviousContinue »
his father's care, and a promising prospect of his son's advancement, induced him to give him a liberal education; and the youth, of an excellent genius, made such early improvements in literature, that about the 15th year of his age, he was entered a student at Christ's Church College in Oxford.
Now began his ardent desire after pure and spiritual religion to shew itself; of which he had before received some taste or relish, through the ministry of Thomas Loe, one of the people called Quakers; for he, with certain other students of that university, withdrawing from the national way of worship, held private meetings for the exercise of religion, where they both preached and prayed among themselves this gave great offence to the heads of the college, and he, being but sixteen years of age, was fined for nonconformity. Which small stroke of persecution not at all abating the fervour of his zeal, he was at length, for persevering in the like religious practices, expelled the college.
From thence he returned home, but still took great delight in the company of sober and religious people; which his father knowing to be a block in the way to preferment, endeavoured both by words and blows to deter him from; but finding those methods ineffectual, he was at length so incensed, that he turned him out of doors.
Patience surmounted this difficulty, till his father's affection had subdued his anger, who then sent him to France,d in company with some persons of quality, that were making a tour thither. He continued there a considerable time, till quite a different conversation had diverted his mind from the serious thoughts of religion: and upon his return, his father finding him not only a good proficient in the French tongue, but also perfectly accomplished with a polite and courtly behaviour, joyfully received him, hoping his point was gained; and indeed for some time after his return from France, his carriage was such as justly intitled him to the character of a complete young gentleman.
Great, about this time, was his spiritual conflict: his natural inclination, his lively and active disposition, his acquired accomplishments, his father's favour, the respect of his friends and acquaintance, did strongly press him to embrace the glory and pleasures of this world, then, as it were, courting and caressing him, in the bloom of youth, to accept them. Such a combined force might seem almost invincible; but the earnest supplication of his soul being to
the Lord for preservation, he was pleased to grant him such a portion of his holy power and spirit, as enabled him in due time to overcome all opposition, and with an holy resolution to follow Christ whatsoever reproaches or persecutions might attend him.
About the year 1666, and the 22d of his age, his father committed to his care and management a considerable estate in Ireland, which occasioned his residence in that country. Being at Cork, he was informed by one of the people called Quakers, that Thomas Loe, whom we mentioned before, was to be shortly at a meeting in that city; he went to hear him, who began his declaration with these words, "There is a faith that overcomes the world, and there is a faith that is overcome by the world;" upon which subject he enlarged with much clearness and energy. By the living and powerful testimony of this man, which had made some impression upon his spirit ten years before, he was now thoroughly and effectually convinced, and afterwards constantly attended the meetings of that people, even through the heat of persecution.
On the third of the 9th month, 1667, being again at a meeting in Cork, he, with many others, were apprehended and carried before the mayor, who observing that his dress discovered not the Quaker, would have set him at liberty, upon bond for his good behaviour; which he refusing, was, with about eighteen others, committed to prison. He had, during his abode in Ireland, contracted an intimate ac quaintance with many of the nobility and gentry, and, being now a prisoner, wrote the following letter.
To the Earl of Orrery, Lord President of Munster. 'THE Occasion may seem as strange, as my cause is just; but your lordship will no less express your charity in the one, than your justice in the other.
Religion, which is at once my crime and mine innocence, makes me a prisoner to a mayor's malice, but mine own freeman; for being in the assembly of the people called Quakers, there came several constables, backed with soldiers, rudely and arbitrarily requiring every man's appearance before the mayor, and amongst others, violently baled me with them: upon my coming before him, he charged me for being present at a tumultuous and riotous assembly; and unless 1 would give bond for my good behaviour, who challenge the world to accuse me justly with the contrary, he would commit me. I asked for his authority; for I humbly conceive without an act of parliament, or an act of state, it might be justly termed too much officiousness: his
answer was, a proclamation in the year 1660, and new instructions to revive that dead and antiquated order. I leave your lordship to be judge, if that proclamation relates to this concernment; that only was designed to suppress fifth-monarchy killing spirits; and since the king's lordlieutenant and yourself, being fully persuaded the intention of these called Quakers, by their meetings, was really the service of God, have therefore manifested a repeal, by a long continuance of freedom, I hope your lordship will not now begin an unusual severity, by indulging so much malice in one, whose actions savour ill with his nearest neighbours, but that there may be a speedy releasement to all, for attending their honest callings, with the enjoyment of their families, and not to be longer separated from both.
And though to dissent from a national system, imposed by authority, renders men hereticks, yet I dare believe your lordship is better read in reason and theology, than to subscribe a maxim so vulgar and untrue; for imagining most visible constitutions of religious government suited to the nature and genius of a civil empire, it cannot be esteemed heresy, but to scare a multitude from such enquiries as may create divisions, fatal to a civil policy, and therefore at worst deserves only the name of disturbers.
But I presume, my lord, the acquaintance you have had with other countries, must needs have furnished you with this infallible observation, that diversities of faith and worship contribute not to the disturbance of any place, where moral uniformity is barely requisite to preserve the peace. It is not long since you were a good solicitor for the liberty I now crave, and concluded no way so effectual to improve or advantage this country, as to dispense with freedom in things relating to conscience; and, I suppose, were it riotous or tumultuary, as by some vainly imagined, your lordship's inclination, as well as duty, would entertain a very remote opinion. My humble supplication therefore to you is, that so malicious and injurious a practice to innocent Englishmen, may not receive any countenance or encouragement from your lordship; for as it is contrary to the practice elsewhere, and a bad argument to invite English hither, so, with submission, will it not resemble that clemency and English spirit that hath hitherto made you honourable.
If in this case I may have used too great a liberty, it is my subject; nor shall I doubt your pardon, since by your authority, I expect a favour, which never will be used unworthy an honest man, and
Your Lordship's faithful, &c.
His request in the letter, so far as related to himself, was quickly granted, for the earl forthwith ordered his discharge.
His late imprisonment was so far from terrifying him, that it strengthened him in his resolution of a closer union with that people, whose religious innocence was the only crime they suffered for.
And now his more open joining with the Quakers, brought him under that reproachful name: his companions wonted compliments and caresses, were changed into scoffs and derision he was made a by-word, scorn, and contempt, both to professors and profane; to the latter, for being religious, and to the former, for having a better than theirs.
His father being informed by letter from a nobleman of his acquaintance, what danger his son was in of being proselyted to Quakerism, remanded him home, and he readily obeyed. Upon his return, although there was no great alteration in his dress, yet his manner of deportment, and the solid concern of mind he appeared to be under, were manifest indications of the truth of the information his father had received, who thereupon attacked him afresh : and here my pen is diffident of her abilities to describe that most pathetic and moving contest which was betwixt his father and him. His father, actuated by natural love, principally aiming at his son's temporal honour; he, guided by a divine impulse, having chiefly in view his own eternal welfare his father, grieved to see the well-accomplished son of his hopes, now ripe for worldly promotion, voluntarily turn his back on it; he, no less afflicted, to think that a compliance with his earthly father's pleasure, was inconsistent with an obedience to his heavenly one; his father, pressing his conformity to the customs and fashions of the times; he, modestly craving leave to refrain from what would hurt his conscience: his father earnestly intreating him, and almost on his knees beseeching him, to yield to bis desire; he, of a loving and tender disposition, in an extreme agony of spirit, to behold his father's concern and trouble: his father threatening to disinherit him; he, humbly submitting to his father's will therein: his father turning his back on him in anger; he, lifting up his heart to God, for strength to support him in that time of trial.
And here we may not omit to give our reader a particular and observable instance of his sincerity. His father finding him too fixt to be brought to a general compliance with the customary compliments of the times, seemed inclinable to have borne with him in other respects, provided he would be uncovered in the presence of the king, the duke, and himself: this being proposed, he desired time to consider
of, which his father supposing to be with an intention of consulting his friends, the Quakers, about it, he assured him that he would see the face of none of them, but retire to his chamber till he should return him an answer. Accordingly he withdrew, and having humbled himself before God, with fasting and supplication, to know his heavenly mind and will, he became so strengthened in his resolution, that returning to his father, he humbly signified, that he could not comply with his desire therein.
When all endeavours proved ineffectual to shake his constancy, and his father saw himself utterly disappointed of his hopes, he could no longer endure him in his sight, but turned him out of doors the second time. Thus exposed to the charity of his friends, having no other subsistence, (except what his mother privately sent him) he endured the cross with a christian patience and magnanimity, comforting himself with the promise of Christ, "Verily, I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." Luke xviii. 29, 30.
After a considerable time, his steady perseverance evincing his integrity, his father's wrath became somewhat mollified, so that he winked at his return to, and continuance in, his family; and though he did not publicly seem to countenance him, yet when imprisoned for being at meetings, he would privately use his interest to get him released.
About the year 1668, being the 24th of his age, he first came forth in the work of the ministry, rightly called to, and qualified for, that office; being sent of God to teach others what himself had learned of him: commissioned from on high, to preach to others that holy self-denial himself had practised: to recommend to all that serenity and peace of conscience himself had felt: walking in the Light, to call others out of darkness: having drank of the water of life, to direct others to the same fountain: having tasted of the heavenly bread, to invite all men to partake of the same banquet: being redeemed by the power of CHRIST, he was sent to call others from under the dominion of Satan, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, that they might receive remission of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified, through faith in Jesus Christ.
About this time he writ to a young person of his acquaintance, by way of caution, against the follies and vanities of the world, the following letter, viz.