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THIS, active and zealous puritan divine was descended from the Burgesses of Batcom in Somersetshire. He had his education at Oxford. In what college he first entered is uncertain, however, on the erection of Wadham college he translated himself thither, and there took his degree of, arts. Afterwards he removed to Lincoln college, where he received holy orders, and had some cure bestowed upon him; which, accordingly, he seems to have been the rectory of Magnus church, London, or the vicarage of Watford in Hertfordshire, or probably both these places. In the beginning of Charles I’s reign, he became one of his chaplains, in ordinary, and in 1627 he took his degrees in divinity. In consequence of his opposition to the ceremonies, and other innovations daily introducing into the church by bishop Laud and his intolerant faction, he was greatly harassed by the court of high commission, where he was charged, in 1622, with having administered the sacrament to some of the people sitting, and afterwards for having refused to read the common prayer in his surplice and hood. In 1635 he preached a Latin sermon to the London ministers in Alphage church, by the appointment of the governors of Zion college. In this sermon he warmly urged all possible diligence in preaching the gospel of the kingdom, asserting, that it was the founded duty, even of the bishops themselves, to put their hand to this important branch of the public service of God, in imitation of the primitive bishops; of whom it is recorded, to their honor, that they were to be found more frequently in the pulpit than in the palaces of princes, more occupied as ambassadors of the Prince of the kings of the earth, than in the embassies of earthly potentates; quoting, at the same time, an old canon of the sixth general council, in which bishops are enjoined to preach often, at least every Lord’s day, or to be canonically admonished for such neglect; whereupon, if they reform not, it was farther ordained, that they be excommunicated or deposed. The import of this sermon having been reported to the archbishop of Canterbury, he complained to the king; upon which the doctor was summoned before the court of high commission, where articles were exhibited against him, to the effect that he was disaffected to the book of common prayer, the ceremonies, and also to the government of the church by bishops, etc. besides, having charged the prelates with conniving at, and encouraging the propagation of Arminianism, and the restoration of popery; but, above all, with having insinuated an accusation against the bishops for their neglecting to preach often, as the primitive bishops are said to have done:—For these, and his nonconforming sentiments, the ecclesiastical rulers were mad against him, and their party everywhere cried out, that his conduct merited the highest censures of the church. His answers to the charges brought against him were so powerful, however, and his protestation annexed to his sermon, wherein he declares his conviction, that he had done or said nothing but what he was in duty bound to perform; and that, under that conviction, he was determined to stand by every sentence he had uttered in the sermon alluded to, and defend the same against all opposers, even unto death. He delivered a copy of this sermon and protestation to archbishop Laud, who, with more than his usual moderation, let the affair drop. Dr. Burgess possessed the spirited and manly character with which our reforming forefathers were so eminently endowed; and his zeal, activity, and undaunted resolution in the service of the church, had been manifested on many important occasions.
The bishops, at this time, were extremely indifferent about preaching, if not strongly set against it; and the conforming clergy, in general, were most remiss in this part of their clerical duty; nor could it well be otherwise, when the prelates were so averse to this mode of instruction, that one of them, in derision, compared the minister that preached twice on a Sabbath, to Virgil’s cow, that came twice a day to the milking pail. Those ministers, however, who considered the importance of their office, and were zealous for the truths of the gospel and the salvation of men, continued fearlessly to do their duty at every hazard, and were much encouraged, about this time, by many of the leading men in the kingdom, particularly in both Houses of Parliament; by which means the majority of the nation were become cold to the Episcopal government, and warmly attached to the Presbyterian or congregational mode of discipline.
When the long parliament met on November 3rd, 1640, both Houses petitioned the king to appoint a fast, that they might solemnly implore the Divine Majesty for a blessing on their counsels; which fast was observed on the 17th of the same month, and Dr. Burgess and Mr. Marshall were appointed to preach before the House of Commons; on which occasion, we are informed, that the service of the day continued for seven hours. Wood says, that “Dr. Burgess, Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, and others, on the approach of the troubles of those times, first whispered in their conventicles, and afterwards publicly preached, that it was lawful, in defense of religion, for subjects to take up arms against their sovereign; which doctrine being also admitted by the elders, the people of London rushed violently into rebellion, and became pliable tools in the hand of the faction in parliament, to raise tumults, make outcries for justice, call for innocent blood, subscribe and prefer petitions against the holy liturgy and the hierarchy; and especially, if Dr. Burgess but held up his finger to his myrmidons, to strike both at root and branch of the church of England.” The earl of Clarendon also says, “That the archbishop of Canterbury never had so powerful an influence over the counsels at court, as Dr. Burgess and Mr. Marshall had over the houses of parliament.” That Dr. Burgess and Mr. Marshall were very, active in the cause of parliament during the civil war ‘ is undoubtedly true. They encouraged taking up arms in defense of the civil rights of the subject, and that religious freedom, without which no conscientious Christian could enjoy even his civil privileges; and this at a period; when the arbitrary decrees of the starchamber, and the cruel and bigoted mandates of the court of high commission, were become insupportable, while the will of the sovereign was substituted in place of the constitutional laws of the realm, and no alternative left but opposition or slavery. That ever they concurred in those after measures, that led to the death of the king and the dissolution of the constitution, even their enemies have never been able to make good. Mr. Marshall has published a defense of the part he took in the civil war, and Dr. Burgess has also published an account of his principles and conduct during that distressing period, which Mr. Calamy considers highly worthy of being preserved for the benefit of posterity.
In 1641 Dr Burgess delivered an animated speech in the House of Commons against deans and chapters. Their abolition was warmly disputed in the House, and that their revenues ought to be applied to more necessary purposes. This greatly alarmed the cathedral men, who, in consulting their own safety, agreed to send a divine from every cathedral in England to solicit their friends in parliament in behalf of their several foundations. Petitions were also forwarded from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The deputies from the cathedrals drew up a petition, praying to be heard by counsel; but were informed, that if they had any thing to offer on the subject, they should appear and plead their cause themselves. They therefore selected Dr. John Hackett, prebendary of St. Paul’s, for their counsel, who, being admitted to the bar of the House, made an elaborate speech in their behalf; wherein he chiefly insisted on the topics of the Oxford address, urging, that cathedrals were well calculated to supply the defects of private prayer: That they were highly serviceable for the advancement of learning, and the training of young men. for the defense of the church: That their loss would be severely felt, and singularly prejudicial to the interests of religion, but highly gratifying to its enemies. In conclusion, he put them in mind that, at the reformation, preaching first began in the cathedrals; drew their attention to the antiquity of these structures, and the many thousands maintained by them; their endowments, as greatly encouraging industry and virtue: That they were very beneficial to the crown, paying into the exchequer, in first fruits and tenths, in a larger proportion than other corporations: And, finally, reminding the House, that these sacred edifices and estates were consecrated to God, and barred alienation with the most dreadful of all imprecations. Dr. Burgess replied, and pointed out their unprofitableness, and the egregious folly of spending such immense revenues, for that which, in many cases, was worse than useless. He complained, that the lives of their singing men were debauched; that their conversation was a disgrace to religion and Christian morality; and that their example was like a contaminating pestilence, or a mildew that blasted the opening buds of virtue and religion. Having, at great length, replied to every particular of Dr. Hackett’s speech, he said, in conclusion, that though, he apprehended, it was obviously necessary to apply the revenues of the cathedrals to better purposes, yet he held it by no means lawful to alienate them from public and pious uses, or convert them to the profit of individuals. He was a strenuous advocate for reformation, at this critical juncture, both in church and state. The arbitrary measures of the government, and the cruel intolerance of the bishops, had, during the last ten years, wonderfully altered the sentiments of the people with regard to both. This parliament, therefore, had been elected with a view to the redress of the public complaints, which were pouring into the Commons from every quarter; and the majority being of reforming sentiments, these complaints were readily attended to, and the victims of politics and religion were, in great numbers, relieved from prison and persecution.
Dr. Burgess was chosen one of those pacificators, who met in the Jerusalem chamber at Westminster, 1641, on purpose to accommodate the differences in ecclesiastical matters. They consulted together for six several days, but failed in compromising their differences. He was frequently appointed to preach before parliament, particularly the House of Commons; and being much approved for his zeal, fortitude, and fidelity, and admirably adapted to the nature of the military service, he was selected by Essex, commander of the parliamentary forces, as chaplain to his regiment of horsemen. He was also nominated a member of the Westminster assembly of divines, and, together with Mr. John White, chosen assessor, to supply the place of the prolocutor in case of his absence or indisposition. On the , first of September, when the solemn league and covenant was submitted to the assembly, and generally approved, Dr. Burgess argued against imposing it on the people; but afterwards took it himself; and was grieved that he could not prevail on others to be of the same mind and accommodating disposition.
When the bishops came to the resolution of refusing ordination to all who were not in the interest of the crown, application having been made to the assembly for advice in this matter, they advised, that an association of godly ministers, from London, and other places, be appointed, by public authority, to ordain ministers for the vacant congregations in London, and throughout the kingdom. Agreeable to this advice, the parliament passed an ordinance, October the 2d, 1644, appointing ten divines, being presbyters and members of the assembly, to examine and ordain, by imposition of hands, those only whom they judged admissible into the sacred office of the ministry; and Dr. Burgess was one of that number, whose name stands at the head of the list. To these ten, others were appointed who were not members of the assembly; so that the prelatical rulers were taken in their own craftiness, and the vacancies of the church filled with able ministers. Dr. Burgess was appointed, by parliament, at the request of the people of London, as lecturer at St. Paul’s on the Sabbath evening, and also on a working day, weekly, with an allowance of four hundred pounds a year, to be paid from the revenues of the cathedral.
When the king had deserted the parliament, and levied an army against them, they were under the necessity of requesting a voluntary loan of money, horses, plate, and whatever was convertible to the use of an army, which they were forced to raise in the defense of the rights of the country, or, in their own language, “for the defense of both king and parliament.” Dr. Burgess lent them several sums of money; and, in the year 1646, the parliament, by their ordinance, appointed and ordained all the lands and revenues of the bishops to be sold, and the money applied to the exigencies of the state. In this ordinance, all those who had lent money, horses, plate, etc., for the public service, were requested to double their account, and draw the whole either in money or lands from that of the bishops; intimating, that they who did not double, would have nothing farther to secure their loans than the despised public faith, nor even that security, till all doublers were first satisfied. The doctor had a wife and ten children to provide for, who must be ruined if this money miscarried; and, to prevent the hazard of all, he doubled, which raised the nominal account to three thousand four hundred pounds, beside his loan for Ireland. He did all in his power to recover his loans in money, but could not; and finding the divisions, and several interests pursued by the parties who now directed public affairs, daily increasing, and himself but poorly requitted for all his faithful services, he was obliged to take up his money in bishops’ lands; for which he has suffered the reproach of the royal and prelatic party, besides, on the restoration of Charles II., losing the whole amount, for which, about one year before, according to Wood, he was offered twelve thousand pounds.
Dr. Burgess preached a sermon, at Mercer’s Chapel, on the 14th January 1648, wherein he inveighed, with great freedom, in the face of imminent danger, against the design of taking off the king; and, about the same time, appeared at the head of a number of the London ministers, in vindication of themselves from the unjust aspersions laid to their charge, of being accessory to the king’s death. This paper was drawn up by Dr. Burgess, and Mr. Calamy has given it at length, with fifty-seven signatures. His name is also to be found, amongst many other highly respectable characters, in Mr. Calamy’s index of those who were ejected or silenced by the act of uniformity, at which time he was ejected from St. Andrews, in the city of Wells, in Somersetshire.
After the restoration, the royalists and zealous churchmen became the ruling party in the land, and aided by the interest and intrigues of the court, prevailed in most of the elections. Only about fifty-six members were of the Presbyterian party, a number too small either to retard or defeat the measures of so large a majority. Monarchy, therefore, and episcopacy, were again exalted to their former splendor; and in place of learning wisdom in the school of adversity, in which they had been instructed about twelve years, they were now become still more malicious and intolerant. The solemn league and covenant, the apt for erecting the high court of justice, with that for subscribing the engagement, and for declaring England a commonwealth, were all ordered to be burnt by the hands of the hangman; on which occasion the mobility assisted with great alacrity. Bishops were again restored to their seats in parliament; and after an adjournment of a few months, the parliament were again assembled, November 20th, 1661, when they proceeded to business with a more intolerant spirit than had ever been exhibited in the former reign. “The act of uniformity (says Mr. J. Veal) stood on higher terms now than before the civil war; besides, that the book of common prayer was also rendered more exceptionable, by an addition of apocryphal lessons from the Idol Bell and the Dragon, with the addition of some new holidays; as. St. Barnabas and the conversion of St. Paul, and a few new collects and alterations made by the bishops themselves.” This bill passed; into, a, law on the 24th of August 1662. Bishop Buvnet says, “It passed with but a small majority.” St. Bartholomewday was the time appointed for the commencement of its. operation, and seems to have been pitched upon for the cruelest purpose, as the tythes are due at michaelmas; and those who could not, with a good conscience, conform, were thereby cut short of the whole year’s support, and left to all the horrors of want and wretchedness. The clauses of this infamous act are studiously cruel and vindictive. In order to render a clergyman eligible to any ecclesiastical benefice, he must be ordained by the Episcopal order; and if otherwise ordained before, he must be subjected to a second ordination in that form. He must declare his assent and consent to every thing contained in the book of common prayer, administration of the sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the church of England, with the psalter, and the form of making, ordaining, and consecrating bishops, priests, and deacons. He must also take the oath of canonical obedience, abjure the solemn league and covenant, and renounce the principle of taking up arms against the king on any pretence whatsoever.
This bill reinstated the church of England in the same condition it held under Charles I., with these additional clauses of severity; and the persecuting laws of Elizabeth still remaining in force, all the promises of toleration, made by the present king, went for nothing; and lest this act had not been of itself sufficiently severe, another, entitled, The Five Mile Act, banished the nonconformists five miles from any city, borough, or church, in which they had officiated; which placed these unfortunate men away from their friends, who might have aided them in their great distress. The penalty was fifty pounds, and six months imprisonment; to which another grievous act was added, prohibiting them to meet, for the worship of God, at any place except in the Episcopal churches, and according to the liturgy and practice of the church of England. Notwithstanding of all the evils threatened in this cruel, impolitic, and intolerant act, Dr. Burgess, and a great cloud of worthy, learned, pious, and orthodox divines, as Mr. Locke calls them, amounting to about two thousand, according to Hume, in one day relinquished their cures, and’, to the astonishnient of the court, sacrificed their interest to their religious tenets. J. Rapin says, “St. Bartholomewday being come, on which the act of uniformity was to take place, two thousand Presbyterian ministers chose rather to quit their livings than submit to the conditions of this act. It was expected that a division would have taken place amongst them, and that a great number would have chose rather’ to conform to the church of England, than see themselves reduced to beggary. It was not, therefore, without extreme surprise that they were all seen to stand out, not so much as one suffering himself to be tempted into conformity.”
Upon his ejection, Dr. Burgess retired to his house at Watford, where he lived privately, and was reduced to great straits, and had his latter days much embittered with affliction. He had a curious collection of the different editions of the book of common prayer, which he presented to the public library at Oxford a few weeks before his death. He died at Watford in 1665, and was buried in the middle of the church of Watford, on the 9th of June that year.
Mr. Calamy says, “Dr. Burgess was a complete master of the liturgical controversy, and that of church government.” Neal says, “He was esteemed a very learned and judicious divine, and we have abundant evidence in his writings, that he had learned to comfort himself under his afflictions, with the solacing consideration, that neither poverty or peril, life or death, could separate him from the love of Christ, for whom he had suffered the loss of all things.”
His writings are, 1. A Chain of Graces, drawn out at length, for a Reformation of Manners; or a brief Treatise of Virtue, Knowledge, Temperance, Patience, Godliness, Brotherlykindness, and Charity.—2. New Discovery of Personal Tythes, or the tenth part of a Man’s clear gain proved due, both in conscience and also by the laws of the kingdom.—3. The Fire of the Sanctuary newly uncovered, or a complete Tract of Zeal. —4. Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants professed by the Church of England.—5. A Sermon preached from Jeremiah i. 5. before the House of Commons, at their Public Fast, November 17th, 1640.—6. A~ Sermon, preached before the House of Commons, November 10th, 1641, from Psalm Ixxvi. 10.—7. An Humble Examination of a printed abstract of the Answers to Nine Reasons of the House of Commons against the Votes of Bishops in Parliament.—8. The Broken Title of Episcopal Inheritance, or a Discovery of the Weak Reply to the Humble Examination of the Answer to the Nine Reasons of the House of Commons against the Votes of Bishops in Parliament, their Lordly Dignity and Civil Authority.—9. Two Sermons, preached to the House of Commons, from Jer. iv. 14. at two Public Fasts, on March 30th, 1642, and April 30th, 1645.—10. The Necessity of Agreement with God, a Sermon, preached to the House of Peers, from Amos iii. 3. at their Fast, October 29th, 1645.—11. Prudent Silence, a Sermon, preached in Mercer’s chapel, before the Lord Mayor and Citizens of London, January 14th, 1648.—12. No Sacrilege or Sin to Alien, or purchase the Lands of Bishops or others, when their offices are abolished. —13. A Case concerning the Buying of Bishops’ Lands, with the lawfulness thereof.—Beside these, according to Wood, he has other Sermons extant.