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execute their commission, by possessing themselves of the pulpits ; but, if the relation of Wood * is to be regarded, were heard with very little venera
Those who had been accustomed to the preachers of Oxford, and the liturgy of the church of England, were offended at the emptiness of their discourses, which were noisy and unmeaning; at the unusual gestures, the wild distortions, and the uncouth tone with which they were delivered; at the coldness of their prayers for the king, and the vehemence and exuberance of those which they did not fail to utter for the blessed councils and actions of the parliament and army; and at, what was surely not to be remarked without indignation, their omission of the Lord's Prayer.
But power easily supplied the want of reverence, and they proceeded in their plan of reformation; and thinking sermons not so efficacious to conversion as private interrogatories and exhortations, they established a weekly meeting for freeing tender consciences from scruple at a house, that, from the business to which it was appropriated, was called the scruple-shop.
With this project they were so well pleased, that they sent to the parliament an account of it, which was afterwards printed, and is ascribed by Wood to Mr. Cheynel. They continued for some weeks to hold their meetings regularly, and to admit great numbers, whom curiosity, or a desire of conviction, or compliance with the prevailing party, brought thither. But their tranquillity was quickly disturbed by the turbulence of the Independents, whose opinions then prevailed among the soldiers, and were very industriously propagated by the discourses of William Earbury, a preacher of great reputation among them, who one day gathering a considerable number of his most zealous followers, went to the house appointed for the resolution of scruples, on a day which was set apart for the disquisition of the dignity and office of a minister, and began to dispute with great vehemence against the Presbyterians, whom he denied to have any true ministers among them, and whose assemblies he affirmed not to be the true church. He was opposed with equal heat by the Presbyterians, and at length they agreed to examine the point another day, in a regular disputation. Accordingly they appointed the twelfth of November for an inquiry,
* Vide Wood's Hist. Antiq. Oxon. Orig. Edit.
Whether, in the Christian church, the office of minister is committed to any particular persons ?”
On the day fixed, the antagonists appeared each attended by great numbers; but when the question was proposed, they began to wrangle, not about the doctrine which they had engaged to examine, but about the terms of the proposition, which the Independents alleged to be changed since their agreement; and at length the soldiers insisted that the question should be, “Whether those who call themselves ministers have more right or power to preach the Gospel, than any other man that is a Christian ?" This question was debated for some time with great vehemence and confusion, but without any prospect of a conclusion. At length, one of the soldiers, who thought they had an equal right with the rest to engage in the controversy, demanded of the
Presbyterians, whence they themselves received their orders, whether from bishops or any other persons ? This unexpected interrogatory put them to great difficulties; for it happened that they were all ordained by the bishops, which they durst not acknowledge, for fear of exposing themselves to a general censure, and being convicted from their own declarations. in which they had frequently condemned Episcopacy as contrary to Christianity; nor durst they deny it, because they might have been confuted, and must at once have sunk into contempt. The soldiers, seeing their perplexity, insulted them; and went away boasting of their victory : nor did the Presbyterians, for some time, recover spirit enough to renew their meetings, or to proceed in the work of.easing consciences.
Earbury, exulting at the victory, which, not his own abilities, but the subtilty of the soldier had procured him, began to vent his notions of every kind without scruple, and at length asserted, that “the Saints had an equal measure of the divine nature with our Saviour, though not equally manifest.” At the same time he took upon him the dignity of a prophet, and began to utter predictions relating to the affairs of England and Ireland.
His prophecies were not much regarded, but his doctrine was censured by the Presbyterians in their pulpits; and Mr. Cheynel challenged him to a disputation, to which he agreed, and at his first appearance in St. Mary's church addressed his audience in the following manner :
66 Christian friends, kind fellow-soldiers, and worthy students, I, the humble servant of all man
kind, am this day drawn, against my will, out of my cell into this publick assembly, by the double chain of accusation and a challenge from the pulpit. I have been charged with heresy ; I have been challenged to come hither in a letter written by Mr. Francis Cheynel. Here then I stand in defence of myself and my doctrine, which I shall introduce with only this declaration, that I claim not the office of a minister on account of any outward call, though I formerly received ordination, nor do I boast of illumination, or the knowledge of our Saviour, though I have been held in esteem by others, and formerly by myself. For I now declare, that I know nothing, and am nothing, nor would I be thought of otherwise than as an inquirer and seeker.”
He then advanced his former position in stronger terms, and with additions equally detestable, which Cheynel attacked with the vehemence which, in so warm a temper, such horrid assertions might naturally excite. The dispute, frequently interrupted by the clamours of the audience, and tumults raised to disconcert Cheynel, who was very unpopular, continued about four hours, and then both the controvertists grew weary, and retired.
The Presbyterians afterwards thought they should more speedily put an end to the heresies of Earbury by power than by argument; and, by soliciting General Fairfax, procured his removal.
Mr. Cheynel published an account of this dispute under the title of Faith triumphing over Error and Heresy in a Revelation, &c. nor can it be doubted but he had the victory, where his cause gave him so great superiority.
Somewhat before this, his captious and petulant disposition engaged him in a controversy, from which he could not expect to gain equal reputation. Dr. Hammond had not long before published his Practical Catechism, in which Mr. Cheynel, according to his custom, found many errours implied, if not asserted; and therefore, as it was much read, thought it convenient to censure it in the pulpit. Of this Dr. Hammond being informed, desired him in a letter to com. municate his objections; to which Mr. Cheynel returned an answer, written with his usual temper, and therefore somewhat perverse. The controversy was drawn out to a considerable length; and the papers on both sides were afterwards made publick by Dr. Hammond.
In 1647, it was determined by parliament, that the reformation of Oxford should be more vigorously carried on; and Mr. Cheynel was nominated one of the visitors. The general process of the visitation, the firmness and fidelity of the students, the address by which the inquiry was delayed, and the steadiness with which it was opposed, which are very particularly related by Wood, and after him by Walker, it is not necessary to mention here, as they relate not more to Dr. Cheynel's life than to those of his associates.
There is indeed some reason to believe that he was more active and virulent than the rest, because he appears to have been charged in a particular manner with some of their most unjustifiable measures. He was accused of proposing that the members of the university should be denied the assistance of counsel, and was lampooned by name, as a madman, in a satire written on the visitation.