Puritan Memoirs - Mr. William FulkePuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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THIS puritan divine, much celebrated for his piety and learning, was born in London, and had his education in St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he was chosen fellow in 1564. He was a highspirited youth, of excellent parts and when but a boy at school, he had a literary contest with Edmund Champion; and having lost the silver pen which was promised as the victor’s reward, he could not puffer the idea of yielding to his antagonist; and the mortification he felt on this luckless occasion was almost inconceivable. Before he became fellow of his college, he spent six years at Clifford’s inn in studying the law; but returning to the university, and not relishing the dry study of the law, he directed his attention to the study of other sciences more congenial to his inclination; for which his father was so exceedingly offended, that though possessed of great property, he would no longer support so rebellious a son. Young Fulke, who was by this time an excellent scholar, and of an enterprising genius, would not suffer his mind to sink in despondency, but resolved to persevere in his literary pursuits, and make his way in the world as well as he could.
By his uncommon genius, and intense application to the study of the mathematics, the languages, and divinity, he soon became a most distinguished proficient in each of these high departments, and espoused the principles of the puritans at a very early period. In 1565 he preached openly and boldly against the popish ceremonies which had been incorporated with the church establishment. This roused the indignation of the ruling ecclesiastics, and Mr. Fulke was forthwith cited before the chancellor of the university, where he appears to have been expelled from the college for his puritan principles. But Mr. Fulke immediately took lodgings in town, and supported himself without the least difficulty, by delivering public lectures. Having, so early as 1569, obtained a most distinguished reputation, he was on the point of being elected master of St. John’s college; when the jealous archbishop Parker, who thought it best to crush puritanism in the bud, interposed his authority, and prevented the election. On this occasion the earl of Leicester, a constant friend to the nonconformists, received him into his family, and made him his domestic chaplain. During the same year he was also charged with being concerned in certain illegal marriages; but upon examination by the bishop of Ely, he was honorably acquitted, the charge having been proved a mere calumny; on which he presently recovered his reputation. While under this charge, he voluntarily resigned his fellowship; but so soon as his innocence was reestablished, he was reelected by the college.
In 1571 the earl of Essex presented Dr. Fulke to the rectory of Warley in Essex, and shortly after to that of Kedington in Suffolk. About this time he took his doctor’s degree at Cambridge, and was incorporated in the same at Oxford. The year following he attended the earl of Lincoln, then lord high admiral, as ambassador to the French court. On his return he was chosen master of Pembrokehall, and professor of divinity in the university of Cambridge.
Dr. Fulke was intimately acquainted with Mr. Thomas Cartwright, knew his abilities, and therefore joined with other learned divines in entreating him to answer the Rhemish Testament; but finding that archbishop Whitegift had charged him not to proceed, he undertook to answer it himself. His work was entitled, A Confutation of the Rhemish Testament, 1581, in which he gave notice, that the reader might some time be favored with a more complete answer from Mr. Cartwright. What occasioned the publication of the Rhemish Testament was this: The English papists, in the seminary at Rheims, perceiving that the English translation of the scriptures by the protestants, then in general circulation, threatened to shake the faith of their laity with regard to many points of doctrine and discipline taught and exercised in the Roman church, resolved, as Fuller expresses it, to fit them with a pair of false spectacles. Accordingly they prepared and’published their translation in opposition to the protestant versions. This Fulke undertook to refute, and very successfully accomplished his purpose. Of this admirable performance, which the celebrated Mr. Hervey calls a valuable piece of ancient controversy and criticism, full of sound divinity, weighty arguments, and important observations: He says, “Would the young student wish to discover the very sinews of popery, and give an effectual blow to that complication of errors, I scarcely know a treatise better calculated for that purpose.”
In 1582 Dr. Fulke, and several other divines, were engaged in a public disputation with some papists in the tower, and here he had to contend with his old schoolfellow, with whom he had formerly contended for the silver pen. He was author of a work, entitled, “A short and plain declaration of the wishes of all those faithful ministers who seek a reformation of the discipline of the church of England, which may serve for their apology against the false accusations and slanders of their enemies.” Wood gives him the character of a good philosopher, and a pious and solid divine. Granger informs us, that he obtained great celebrity by his writings against cardinal Allen, and Hiskins, Sanders, and Rastel, pillars of the popish superstition, 1559. “Dr. Fulke (says he) was, for many years, a rigid puritan; but getting the better of his principles, he made a near approach to the doctrine and discipline of the established church.” But the approximation he made to the discipline of the established church, if indeed he made any, will be best traced from the works he has published, wherein he was ever in the habit of delivering his sentiments openly, and without reserve. Let the doctor therefore speak for himself. “For order (says he) and seemly government, there was one principal, to whom, from long custom in the church, the name of bishop was applied; yet, in the scriptures, a bishop and an elder are of one order and one authority; and in every church and congregation, says he; there should be an eldership, which ought to have the hearing, the examination, and the determination of all matters pertaining to the discipline and government of that congregation.” Respecting the sign of the cross, he says, “They shall speak of the cross at his baptism, but they speak contrary to the book of God, and for that reason their arguments and sentiments are, and ought to be, rejected; for the cross is not like the king’s stamp, Christ appointed no such mark or seal to distinguish his servants.” From these sentiments, and indeed from the tenor of his whole works, Mr. Fulke was evidently a puritan in his views of the discipline and rites of the established church.
Having spent a life of much labor and usefulness in the service of God and his generation, this celebrated preacher of righteousness rested from his labors in the month of August 1589, and his remains were interred in the chancel of the church of Kedington, where a monumental inscription was afterwards erected to his memory.