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Puritan Memoirs - Mr. William Bradshaw

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. William Bradshaw.

THIS bold defender of the puritan doctrines was born at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, in 1571, a descendant of the Bradshaws of Lancashire, and had his education in Emanuel college, Cambridge. Having taken his degrees, he was recommended by Dr. Chadderton, and became tutor to the children of Sir Thomas Lighten, governor of Jersey. While in this situation, he formed an intimate acquaintance with Mr. Thomas Cartwright, which nothing but death could dissolve. On his return to Cambridge he was chosen fellow of Sidney college, then newly erected, where he discovered great prudence and piety, and became highly respected. His disposition was sweet, and his conduct, in every respect, so agreeable, that even his enemies were constrained to speak well of him. Upon his settlement at Cambridge, he entered into the ministerial office, and was not particularly urged to strict conformity. He preached at Abington, Bassingborn, and Steeple Morton, near Cambridge; but did not settle at either of these places.

Having received a pressing invitation from the people of Chatham in Kent, he became their pastor in 1601. Here he had the consolation to see, that his labors were attended with the blessing of God, and the conversion and edification of multitudes of the people, both men and women; so that his fame was spread abroad, and vast numbers flocked to his ministry. His great popularity, however, soon stirred up the spirit of envy, which hitherto had lurked in the breasts of other ministers in the neighborhood. It being considered necessary to have this settlement confirmed by the archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Francis Hastings wrote a pious and very modest letter for that purpose; when, at this critical juncture, his enemies, and what good man ever wanted such, accused him to the archbishop as a preacher of erroneous doctrine. This, in place of a confirmation, procured for him a citation to appear by nine o’clock next morning before his grace of Canterbury, and the bishop of London at Shorne, a short way from Chatham.” Mr. Bradshaw appearing at the time and place appointed; the bishop of London, after asking certain questions, charged him with having taught, that no man is bound to love God, unless he be sure that God loves him. Mr. Bradshaw positively denied the charge, and offered to produce a whole cloud of respectable witnesses to disprove these false and malicious allegations, and to prove what he had really taught the people. But this reasonable privilege was denied him; and to cut the work short, and secure their victim, to silence his arguments, and get rid of one who eclipsed their fame, and whose labors upbraided their indolence, he was required to subscribe to the common prayer. This he could not, with a good conscience, and therefore would not subscribe. On his refusal he was suspended, bound over to appear again when called for, and very humanely dismissed. This unexpected and melancholy occurrence occasioned much grief and lamentation amongst Mr. Bradshaw’s congregation at Chatham; while his exulting enemies could not restrain their malicious joy. His numerous flock, who had attended his ministry with peculiar satisfaction, were extremely anxious to have him restored, and therefore drew up a supplication, in name of the parishioners of Chatham, which they presented to the bishop of Rochester, earnestly, desiring the restoration of their beloved pastor. In this supplication, after exposing the lying charges brought against him by his adversaries, they declare, “That Mr. Bradshaw’s doctrine was always sound, holy, learned, and utterly destitute of faction and all manner of contention: That his life was ornamented with such unblemished virtue, that malice itself could not condemn him; and that his whole energies had been exerted in bearing down wickedness, in comforting the faithful, and instructing the ignorant, without at all meddling with the controversies of the day.” But all was to no purpose; the decree had gone forth, and the pious Bradshaw was obliged to take farewell of his beloved people. During these adverse looking dispensations, Providence provided him with an asylum in his forlorn situation, a comfortable retreat under the roof of Mr. Alexander Redich of Newhall, near Burton upon Trent. This worthy gentleman not only sheltered him in his house, but also provided him with a license, from the bishop of Coventry, to preach wherever he pleased within his diocese; which favor was continued till the death of the bishop. In this retired situation Bradshaw preached for some time in the chapel; but his audience increasing daily, it was soon found too small for containing them after which he occupied the parish church of Stapenhill. This he continued for about twelve years without receiving any thing from the parish. He was, nevertheless, well supported by his generous patron, in whose family he lived, and had the kindest treatment. He was, after this, chosen lecturer of Christ Church London; but the bishop refused him his allowance.

Conformity to the established church was now enforced with more than ordinary rigor, which induced several worthy divines to state their grievances, their exceptions, and the grounds and reasons of their dissent, and also to repel the arguments of their persecutors. In this necessary but dangerous enterprise, Mr. Bradshaw was the most conspicuous. He replied to Dr. Bilson’s celebrated work, said to be the best book that had ever been written in defense of prelacy. He likewise answered Dr. Downham on the same subject. These two notable champions for Episcopalian ceremonies, had treated the puritans with uncommon severity, stigmatized them with the odious appellations of fanatics, schismatics, and enemies both to God and the king.. In order to remove these slanders, and give the world a correct statement of their principles, Mr. Bradshaw published his” English Puritanism, containing the opinions of the most rigid of those called puritans in the realm of England.” In this admired work, Mr. Bradshaw states, that the puritans maintain the scriptures to be absolutely perfect, and consequently the only ground of all religious opinion, both concerning faith and manners, and the only legitimate rule and directory for governing the church of Christ: That whatever has been, or may be, introduced into the church as parts of divine worship, not warranted by the scripture, is unlawful, and altogether inconsistent with the character of the New Testament church. “This (says he) is. the ground on which the puritans found their opinions and practice; and, corresponding with this sentiment, they further maintain, that the pastors of particular congregations are the highest spiritual officers in the church of Christ, over whom Christ himself is the only superior: That a pastor of pastors i» an idea nowhere to be found in the New Testament; and that such as arrogate to themselves this lordly superiority, are led by the spirit of antichrist: That every particular church has power to elect its own officers, and censure its own members;, and that to force a congregation to support a person, either un, able or unwilling to instruct them, is alike oppressive and unjust.”

At this period, all books, published in defense of the puritans, were considered dangerous both to church and state, and were therefore no sooner put into circulation, than the bishop’s officers were on the alert to seize them, or their authors, wherever, they could be found. Accordingly, Mr. Bradshaw being in London, two pursuants were sent to his lodgings to apprehend him, and search for his books; but Mr. Bradshaw was not at home; and though they broke open chests, trunks, boxers and critically examined every apartment, no books could be found; Mr. s Bradshaw having taken the precaution, not more than half an hour before their arrival, to throw all the offensive books into a dark hole, between two chimneys. Angry with their disappointment, in neither finding books nor author, they meanly carried Mr. s Bradshaw before the high commission, where she underwent a severe examination, with the evident) intention to make her betray her husband; but finding their design completely frustrated, after binding her to appear when called, she was dismissed. In 1617, on returning from a journey, Mr. Bradshaw was saluted by the bishop’s chancellor, with

Besides his stated labors as a preacher at Stapenhill, Mr. Bradshaw united with his brethren in their associations at Ashbydela Zouch, Repton, and Burton upon Trent. On these occasions, besides their public preachings for the benefit of the congregations, the ministers had private religious conference amongst themselves, when they proposed subjects of discussion for their mutual edification and advantage; on which occasions Mr. Bradshaw is said to have discovered a depth of judgment, and a power of balancing points of controversy, far superior to his brethren. He was well grounded in the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, and understood the controversy betwixt the prelates and puritans as well as any man in England; but he was averse to a separation.

Under his last sickness, Mr. Bradshaw had very humiliating views of himself, and exalted views of God, and the power of his grace. He exhorted all about him to learn the art of dying, «re death made his approach, and to lay a foundation in the time of life and health, that might stand them instead in a time of sickness and death. He was seized by a malignant fever at Chelsea, in the neighborhood of London, which baffled the power of medicine, and carried him off in 1618, aged forty-seven years. His remains were interred at Chelsea, and most of the ministers of London attended his funeral solemnity. The funeral sermon was preached by his affectionate friend, Mr. Thomas Gataker; who said concerning him,’ “That he was studious, humble, and affectionate, liberal, upright,: and posesessed of all the delicate feelings of pity and commiseration: That he was endowed with a sharp wit and a clear judgment, a quick apprehension, a powerful delivery, with a singular dexterity in discovering the turning points of a controversy. The celebrated bishop Hall says, “He had a masculine judgment, and a spirit above taking offence at trifles,” or alienating himself from his friends on account of small matters of, difference in opinion; and that, notwithstanding his seeming austerity, ‘he was pleasant in conversation, and full of witty urbanity. In argument, he was ardent, cordial in his friendships, regardless of the world, a despiser of compliment and cringing: servility, had a love of digested learning and rare notions, and, withal, a painful and patient laborer in the work of God.”

His works are, 1st, A Treatise of Divine Worship, tending to prove, that the Ceremonies now imposed on the Ministers of the Gospel in England are in their use unlawful.—2d, A Treatise of the nature and use of things indifferent, tending to prove, that the Ceremonies, included in the present Controversy, are neither, in nature or use, indifferent.—3d, Twelve Arguments, proving that the Ceremonies imposed upon the Ministers of the Gospel in England, by our Prelates, are unlawful, and therefore the Ministers who refuse them are very unjustly branded with disloyalty to the Kingdom that account.— 4th, A Protestation of the King’s Supremacy, made in the name of the afflicted Ministers, in opposition to the shameful Calumniations of the Prelates.—5th, A Proposition concerning kneeling in the very act of receiving.—6th, A short Treatise of the Cross in Baptism.—7th, A consideration of certain Arch Episcopal Positions.—8th, A Preparation to the Lord’s Supper. —9th, A Marriage Feast.—10th, A Meditation on Man’s Mortality.—11th, Sermons on the 2d Epistle to the Thessalonians. —12th, A Treatise of Christian Reproof.—13th, Of the Sin against the Holy Ghost.—14th, A twofold Catechism.—15th, An Answer to Mr. James Powel.—16th, A Defense of the Baptism of Infants.—17th, The unreasonableness of Separation from the Church.

Bible Verse:

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

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