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Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Steven Marshall

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. Steven Marshall.

THIS active and zealous puritan divine was born at Godmanchester in Huntingdonshire, and had his education at Emanuel college, Cambridge; from which, according to Dr. Fuller, he became an early reaper in God’s harvest; but not before he had well sharpened his sickle for that laborious service. He was for some time minister at Wethersfield in Essex, and afterwards at Finchingfield in the same county, where he acquired a very high reputation. In this last place he was silenced for nonconformity; and after several years’ silence, he came up to Cambridge to take the degree of bachelor of divinity, and performed his exercise with general applause. On his restoration to his ministry, in 1640, he did not return to Finchingfield, but was appointed lecturer at St. Margaret’s church, Westminster; and though despised, hated, and calumniated by the opposite party, he was a man of high reputation, often called to preach before parliament, who consulted him on all important matters relating to religion. Mr. Echard, with his usual animosity, denominates him a famous incendiary, and assistant to the parliamentarians; their trumpeter in their fasts; their confessor in sickness; their counselor in their assemblies; their chaplain in their treaties; and their redoubted champion in all their disputations. “This great Shimei (says he) being taken with a desperate sickness, departed the world mad and raving;” than which there never was a more unjust aspersion; for Mr. Marshall retained the full possession of his understanding to the last moment. Lord Clarendon also admits his great popularity and public influence in parliament. « Without doubt (says he) the archbishop of Canterbury never had so great an influence upon the councils at court, as Mr. Marshall and Dr. Burgess had upon the Houses of Parliament.” His lordship, moreover, charges him with a transaction, which, were it true, would render him unworthy of the character of an honest man. This related the minister’s petition presented to parliament; which paper, says he, contained ‘ but few signatures, but many other sheets were annexed for the reception of such names as favored the undertaking; but after their names had been subscribed, the petition itself was cut off, and another petition of a different nature substituted in its place; and when some of the ministers complained that they had never seen the petition to which their names were attached, Mr. Marshall, who is said to have had the charge of the petition, told them, that it was thought fit, by men who understood the business better than they, to have the latter preferred to the former. Dr. Walker, an arch-bigot for things as they are, is, however, afraid to establish this as a matter of fact, and contents himself with saying, “It is probable Mr. Marshall was deeply enough concerned in the affair.” There was a committee of parliament appointed to take cognizance of all such petitions; but the learned historian relieves himself from all further investigation, by saying, “That they were prevailed upon to pass it over;” for the truth of which we have only his lordship’s word; while neither Rushworth, Whiteloek, nor any of the impartial writers of those times have so much as hinted at the circumstance. Such an improbable assertion, therefore, without any proof or reference, deserves no credit whatever, but has every appearance of being a forgery, intended to vilify the character of one of their, most active antagonists.

Scarcely have any of the puritan divines been set up as a butt for the shafts of calumny and inveterate invective so conspicuously as the subject of this memoir; nor has any of his enemies attacked him with so much scurrility as the anonymous author of a Letter of Spiritual Advice, written to Mr. Stephen Marshall in his sickness. “When I heard of your sickness (says this writer), I assure you I felt in my mind such a different apprehension of your state from that of ordinary sickness, that I cannot impute your present visitation to any thing but the just severity of almighty God, for the exertions you have made, and the influence you have used, to ruin this church and kingdom. For, sir, is it not apparent, that your eminent gifts of preaching have been used with the design of kindling those flames of rebellion, and producing that effusion of Christian blood, that now desolates the country where you were born? Have not you, with all the earnest solicitations in your power, endeavored to raise liberal contributions from your hearers to maintain this unnatural war? Have you not forsaken your own charge to accompany and strengthen the resolutions of the general of your army in his attempts against the just .power and sacred life of his and your anointed Sovereign? Does not the whole kingdom impute the distractions and combustions therein, as much to the seditious sermons of the preachers of your faction, as to the contrivances and policy of those persons who direct, the unhallowed machinery? Let your own conscience be your own judge in this matter, and it will tell you, .that should your designs succeed to your wish, and a change of government, such as you contemplate, take place, you would think yourselves much wronged and neglected if you were not acknowledged and rewarded as very effectual instruments in bringing about the desired change. This being the incontrovertible state of the case, you cannot account it uncharitable, in those who believe as I sincerely do, that, your purposes are not merely unjust, but that they are fraught with the ruin both of justice and religion, should they attribute it to the mercy and favor of God to this ruined country, and his vengeance against you, were he to rid the world of such a destructive firebrand!” This anonymous letter stands in need of no refutation—its inveterate ill nature and ill manners are of themselves a sufficient refutation. . In 1643 Mr. Marshall was chosen one of the assembly of divines, and was a most active and; valuable member. In this public situation, actively employed in preparing and maturing such measures as were calculated to supersede the Episcopalian hierarchy, and circumscribe the inordinate power and intolerant rule of her dignitaries, it is not to be wondered that the bitterest censures of his antagonists should be poured upon him. Speaking of him as a member of the assembly, says one of them. They sit not to consult how religion may be reformed, whereof it is amiss, but to receive the orders, of parliament to innovate and undo religion; in which work and drudgery of the devil our active Stephen needs neither whip nor spur, but tooth and nail exerts himself to overthrow and destroy the hierarchy, root and branch.” Dr. Heylin calls, him the great bellwether of the Presbyterians; and Newcourt, that he also may have the honor of being accounted one of his calumniators, calls him the Genevabull, and a factious and rebellious divine.

“As to Mr. Marshall (says Dr. Calamy), he was an active man, and encouraged taking up arms against a party of men who were driving every thing into confusion, at a period, when not only he and his friends, but a great number of as worthy men as ever sat in St. Stephen’s chapel, considered the constitution, that guaranteed the liberties of England, in a very hazardous situation. Yet I am not aware that he can be justly charged with the least concurrence in those after measures which tended to confusion.” In the great controversy concerning church government, Mr. Marshall also took a decided part. The celebrated bishop Hall having published his work in defense of episcopacy and the English liturgy, in 1640, entitled, An Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of .Parliament, Mr. Marshall united, with several of his brethren, in writing the famous book, entitled, An Answer to a Book, entitled, An Humble Remonstrance; in which answer the origin of liturgy and episcopacy is discussed, and queries propounded concerning both; the parity of bishops and presbyters in the scripture demonstrated; the disparity of the ancient and our modern bishops manifested; the antiquity of ruling elders in the church vindicated; and the prelatical church bounded—written by Smectymnuus, 1641. This work is said to be very well written, and that in all the controversies about nonconformity, it was much referred to; but done with great fierceness of spirit and asperity of language. Mr. Calamy affirms, “That it gave the first deadly blow to episcopacy.” The learned Dr. Kempis says, “It was a production of no small importance in its day, and drawn up in a style of composition superior to that of the puritans in general, and indeed of many other writers of that period.” The learned bishop Wilkins represents it as a capital performance against episcopacy. It concludes with a postscript, containing an historical narrative of the pride, luxury, bribery, extortion, rebellion, treason, and other bitter effects of episcopacy, and closes to the following effect:

“The inhuman butcheries, blood shedding, and other unparalleled barbarities committed by Gardiner, Bonner, and the rest of the bishops in queen Mary’s time, are so fresh in every man’s memory, that we conceive it unnecessary to mention them, only that we are afraid that blood, then so wantonly shed, •may yet be required of the nation, because it hath not endeavored to appease the wrath of heaven by a general repentance and reformation. The practice of the prelates ever since, even from the commencement of Elizabeth’s reign to the present day, would fill a Volume, like Ezekiel’s roll, full of lamentation, mourning, and woe; for it hath been their main design, and unwearied endeavor, to arrest and prevent all further reformation, to introduce the doctrines of popery, Arminianism, and libertinism; to maintain, propagate, and increase the burden of human ceremonies; to keep out and beat down the preaching of the word; to silence faithful ministers; to ridicule, and otherwise oppose and persecute, the most zealous professors; to turn” all religion into a pompous parade of unmeaning ceremonies, ‘ and tread down the power of godliness, insomuch that it has become a common proverb amongst the people, when any thing is spoiled, that the bishop’s foot has been there. In all this, and much more which might be said, fulfilling bishop Bonner’s prophecy, who, finding that in king Edward’s reformation a reservation was introduced for admitting ceremonies and improving the hierarchy, is confidently and credibly reported to have said, since they have begun to taste our broth, it will not be long till they eat our beef.” To this work the bishop replied in defense of his humble remonstrance. Smectymnuus supported what he had formerly said, and .farther discussed the errors of episcopacy, and the conduct of her prelatical rulers. The bishop concluded the controversy by a piece, entitled, A Short Answer to a tedious Vindication of Smectymnuus, 1641.

During this year Mr. Marshall was appointed chaplain to the earl of Essex’s regiment in the parliament army; in which situation, Dr. Gray denominates him and Dr. Downing the two famed casuistical divines, and most eminent camp chaplains, and charges them, on the authority of lord Clarendon and Echard, with publicly avowing, “That the soldiers, taken prisoners at Brentford, and liberated by the king upon their oaths never again to take up arms against him, were not obliged by that oath, having by their power absolved them from its obligation, and thereby engaged those miserable men in the guilt of a second rebellion.” This, like the former, has all the appearance of a forgery, for the purpose of ruining the reputation of two men, of whom they seem to have been much afraid. Nothing, every body knows, could be more remote, from either the opinion or practice of puritans, than priestly absolution, to the power of which they renounced all claims, and abhorred the very idea; besides, the parliament’s army at this time stood in no need of such a mean subterfuge. It must therefore have been forged for the purpose of calumny.

In 1644 be attended the commissioners at the treaty of Uxbridge. In 1645 he was chosen one of the committee of accommodation, to secure the peace of the church, and promote, as far as possible, the satisfaction of all parties. In the year following, he was appointed, along with Mr. Joseph Caryl, chaplain to the commissioners who were sent to the king at Newcastle, with the view of accommodating the matters in dispute. Removing thence, by easy journeys, to Holmbyhouse, the two chaplains performed divine service there; but his majesty never attended. He spent his Lord’s day in private; and though they waited at table, he would not so much as allow them to ask a blessing. The Oxford historian, who mentions this circumstance, relates the following anecdote: «It is said that Marshall, on one occasion, put himself more forward than was meet to say grace; but while he was long in forming his chops, as the manner was among the saints, and making ugly faces, the king said grace to himself, and had some part of his dinner eaten before Marshall had ended his blessing; but that Caryl was not so imprudent.” In 1647, Mr. Marshall was appointed, together with Mr. Vines, Mr. Caryl, and Dr. Seaman, to attend the treaty at the Isle of Wight, where he conducted himself with great ability and moderation. In 1654, when the parliament voted a toleration of all who professed to hold by the fundamentals of Christianity, Mr. Marshall was appointed one of the committee to draw up, and present to the House, a catalogue of these essential articles; and, about the same time, he was chosen one of the triers.

A writer, already quoted, who employs thirty quarto pages, the principal part of which is filled up with scurrilous abuse, says, among other .things, “Because the church could not be destroyed without also destroying the king, who was more firmly wedded to her than Mr. Marshall to his wife, or his first living, the king, his adherents, the church and her ministers, must therefore be all destroyed together: That Mr. Marshall, by his thundering in every pulpit, and cursing every person who hesitated to rebel, by encouraging all whose villainy prompted them to undertake that accursed work, assuring them of no small preferment in heaven who would hazard or lose their lives in this glorious cause, by his menaces and private incitements, his becoming drum major or captain general of the army, by his praying, from regiment to regiment, at the battle of Edgehill, and in many other ways, had greatly contributed to the ruin of the church, and the death of the king. His religion, continues this malicious and worthless biographer, consisted wholly in externals, in a Jewish observation of the Sabbath, in praying, preaching, fasting, and thanksgiving, under which specious appearances the mystery of iniquity lay hid.” But notwithstanding the abuse he has received from these high church bigots, he has an excellent character from many public and highly creditable individuals. Mr. Baxter, who knew him well, calls him a sober and worthy man, and often observed, with regard to his moderation, “That if all the bishops were like Usher, the independents like Jeremiah Burroughs, and all the Presbyterians like Stephen Marshall, the melancholy divisions of the church would have been easily accommodated.” Mr. Marshall fell into a bad state of health, and was obliged to retire to the country for the benefit of the air; upon which the Oxford Mercury published to the world that he had gone distracted, and, in his rage, continually cried out, “That he was damned for his adhering to the parliament in their war against the king.” Much in the same manner was Luther served by the bigoted devotees of Rome; and such has generally been the treatment of all active and leading reformers, ancient and modern. Cromwell was said to have made a literal compact with the devil, and to have signed the satanical compact with his own blood. Christ himself was denominated a drunkard, and in compact with Beelzebub the prince of devils; and thousands beside have been charged by their enemies with a deathbed repentance, for transactions in which they gloried with their expiring breath. Mr. Marshall lived, however, to refute this ungenerous calumny, and to publish a treatise, wherein he maintains the lawfulness of defensive war against the government of a country in extreme cases. Upon his retiring from the city, he spent the two last years of his life at Ipswich; and his last words, according to Mr. Petyt, were, “King Charles! King Charles!” testifying his horror and regret for the bloody confusion he had promoted. In opposition to this, Mr. Firman, who knew him in life, and attended him in death, says, in a preface to one of Mr. Marshall’s Posthumous Sermons, “That he left behind him few preachers like himself: That he was a Christian in practice as well as profession: That he lived by faith, and died in faith, and was to believers an example, in word, in conversation, in charity, faith, and purity.” That when he and several others, conversed with him about his death, he said, “I cannot say, with one, I have not so lived that I should now be afraid to die; but this I can say, I have so learned Christ, that I am not afraid to die.” He enjoyed the full exercise of his understanding to the last; but for some months previous to his dissolution his appetite was sadly impaired, and he had lost the use of both his hands.

He was justly accounted an admirable preacher; but in order to rob him of this part of his character, Dr. Gray quotes several passages from his sermons preached upon public occasions; among which arc the following: “Beloved, our days arc better than they were seven years ago, because it is bettor to see the Lord executing judgment, than to sec men working wickedness, to behold people wallowing in their blood, rather than apostatizing from God, embracing idolatry, and banishing: the Lord Christ, from amongst men. Carry on the work still; leave not a rag belonging to popery; lay not a bit of the Lord’s building with any thing belonging to antichrist; away with all of it, root and branch, head and tail—throw it out of the kingdom. Again, I could easily, set before you a catalogue of mercies/ You have all of you received many peculiar to your own per, sons, to your souls, your bodies, your estates, and families, privative mercies, positive mercies, you eat mercies, drink mercies, wear mercies, clothes, and are compassed about and covered with mercies, as the earth was by the waters of Noah.” These sermons, of which this is a specimen, selected for the purpose of ridiculing the preacher, are so full of striking comparisons, and make so pointed an appeal to the hearers, that though they are not suited to the taste of modern eloquence, still it is easy to conceive how they might command the admiration of those times. The impartial and intelligent reader, it is presumed, will therefore be apt to consider the doctor rather unhappy in his quotations.

L’Estrange also endeavors to expose Mr. Marshall to public contempt, on account of his sentiments delivered in his sermons before parliament. We give them in his own words,. as transcribed from the printed copies. “Christ (says he) breaks and moulds commonwealths at his pleasure.. He has not spoke much in his word how long they shall last, or what he intends to do with them; only this, that all kings and kingdoms that make war against the church shall be broken in. pieces, and that in the end all the kingdoms of this world shall be the kingdoms, of our Lord and. his saints, and they shall reign over them. Did any parliament in England ever lay the cause of Christ and religion to heart as this hath done? Did ever the., city of London, the rest of the tribes, and godly throughout the land, so willingly exhaust themselves that Christ might be exalted? Le£ all England cry, our blood, our poverty, the sacrifices we have, wade, and all the sufferings we have endured, are abundantly repaid in this, that there is such a general concurrence in the nation for setting the Lord Christ, upon his throne, to be Lord and Christ over this our Israel,” etc. Wood styles him a notorious independent, and the arch-flamen of the rebel? The truth is, Mr. Marshall never was an independent, but lived and died a Presbyterian; and with regard to his rebellion, few, it is presumed, but such as hold the absurd arid happily .exploded doctrines of passive obedience and nonresistance, will deny him the honor of being a zealous patriot, and a courageous defender of both the civil and religious rights of his countrymen. Fuller has him classed among the learned writers of Emanuel college, and says, “He was a minister well qualified for his work.” Although some suspected he had deserted his Presbyterian principles, he gave full satisfaction on his deathbed that it was not the case. He died in the month of November 1655, and was interred in Westminster. Abbey with great funeral solemnity; but dug up, together with many others, at the restoration of Charles II.

Mr. Marshall wrote with considerable ability against the Baptists, and had many sermons published which were preached before parliament. The following are the titles of such as we have been able to collect: 1. A Sermon preached to the Commons at their public Fast, Nov. 17th, 1640.—2. A Peace offering to God, preached to the Commons at their public Thanksgiving, Sept. 7tb, 1641.—3. Meroz Cursed; a Sermon preached to the Commons at their solemn Fast, Feb. 23d, 1641.—4. Reformation and Desolation; a Sermon preached to the Commons at their Fast, Dec. 22d, 1642.—5. The Song of Moses, the servant of God, and of the Lamb, opened, in a Sermon before the Commons at their solemn Thanksgiving, June 15th, 1643.—6. A Copy of a Letter written by Mr. Stephen Marshall to a friend in the city, for the necessary vindication of himself and his ministry, from the altogether groundless, most unjust, and ungodly aspersions cast upon him by certain malignants in the city, dated 1643.—7. A Sermon on the Baptism of Infants, preached in the Abbey church, Westminster, at the morning Lecture appointed by the House of Commons.—8. The Church’s. Lamentation for the Good Man’s loss; a Sermon preached before both Houses of Parliament, and the Assembly of Divines, at the Funeral of John Pym, Esq. a late member of the House of Commons.—9. God’s Masterpiece; a Sermon tending to set forth God’s glorious appearance in building up Zion, preached before the Peers.—10. The Strong Helper, or the interest and power of the prayers of the destitute for the building up of Zion; a Sermon preached before the Commons at their monthly Fast, April 80th, 1645.—11. A Sacred Record to be made of God’s mercies to Zion; a thanksgiving Sermon, preached before both Houses of Parliament, the Lord Mayor, and common council of the city of London, at Christ’s church, June ]9th, 1645.—12. A Defense of Infant Baptism, in answer to two Treatises, with an Appendix.—13. A Divine Project to save a Kingdom.—14. A two-edged Sword to execute vengeance on the enemy and the avenger.—15. The right understanding of the Times, preached before the Commons, Dec. 30th, 1646.—16. A thanksgiving Sermon, preached in the Abbey church to both Houses, August 12th, J647—17. A Sermon preached to the Lord Mayor, and Court of Aldermen of the city of London, at their anniversary Meeting, April 1652.—18. The Power of the Magistrate in matters of Religion vindicated, and the extent of his power determined, in a Sermon preached before the Parliament on a monthly Fast.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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