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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, “ 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:
“ 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 communicate his objections; to which Mr. Cheyne 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
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.
One action, which shows the violence of his temper, and his disregard both of humanity and decency, when they came in competition with his passions, must not be forgotten. The visitors being offended at the obstinacy of Dr. Fell, dean of Christ Church, and vice-chancellor of the university, having first deprived him of his vice-chancellorship, determined afterwards to dispossess him of his deanery; and, in the course of their proceedings, thought it proper to seize upon his chambers in the college. This was an act which most men would willingly have referred to the officers to whom the law assigned it; but Cheynel's fury prompted him to a different conduct. He, and three more of the visitors, went and demanded admission; which, being steadily refused them, they obtained by the assistance of a file of soldiers, who forced the doors with pick-axes. Then entering, they saw Mrs. Fell in the lodgings, Dr. Fell being in prison at London, and ordered her to quit them; but found her not more obsequious than her husband. They repeated their orders with menaces, but were not able to prevail upon her to remove. They then retired, and left her exposed to the brutality of the soldiers, whom they commanded to keep possession; which Mrs. Fell however did not leave. About nine days afterwards she received another visit of the same kind from the new chancellor, the earl of Pembroke; who having, like the others, ordered her to depart without effect, treated her with reproachful language, and at last commanded the soldiers to take her up in her chair, and carry her out of doors. Her daughters, and some other gentlewomen that were with her, were after