Henry Burton (1606-1654)One of the most popular suffering puritans in his day, who championed the Reformed Gospel over Poppish doctrines.
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“The Sabbath is the market day of our souls, in which we come to God’s house to buy the wine and milk of the word without money.”
The Works of Henry Burton (1579-1648) available in old English (Puritan Publications is working to publish all of Burton’s works):
Mr. Burton’s works, in addition to those mentioned in the biography, are:
1. Censure of Simony
2. Israel’s Fast
3. Truth’s Triumph over Trent
4. The Law and the Gospel Reconciled
5. The Christian’s Bulwark
6. Exceptions against Dr. Jackson’s Treatise of the Divine Essence and Attributes
7. Jesu Worship, or the bowing to the name of Jesus confuted
8. The Sounding of the Last Trumpets
9. The Protestation Protested
10. England’s Bondage, and her hopes of deliverance, a Sermon, preached before the Parliament
11. Narration of his own Life
12. A Vindication of Independent Churches
13. Parliament’s Power for making Laws in Religion
14. Truth shut out of doors
15. Truth still Truth, although shut out of doors
16. Conformity Deformity
17. Relation of Mr. Chilingworth.
Biography of Henry Burton (1579-1648):
Henry Burton (1579-1648) was a great puritan sufferer for his views of nonconformity. He was born at Birdsall in Yorkshire, 1579, and educated at Cambridge. His first employment, after leaving the university, was that of tutor to the sons of lord Carey, at Leppington. He was afterwards clerk of the closet to prince Henry; and after his death, to prince Charles, whom he was appointed to accompany in his visit to the court of Spain.
On the accession of Charles to the throne, Burton expected to have been continued in his office. Here, however, he was disappointed, and his place bestowed on Neile, bishop of Durham. Burton was highly offended at being supplanted in this way, and decided to take up a cause against the popish Bishops which were pressing in the Gospel in these appointments. In April 1623, presented a letter to king Charles, writing against Neile and Laud, his majesty’s constant attendants, as being strongly inclined to popery. But his writings were simply seen as ranting for being thrown out of the position. Burton says this was ultimately a good thing in this way, “But it was thus happily ordered by the good providence of God, who would not suffer me to rise at court, lest I should have been corrupted by its preferments.”
Mr. Burton was a man who feared God and not men for the cause of the Gospel. From what he has published, he appears to have been furnished with considerable learning and skill, and to have an eminent scholar. He was courageous in the cause of truth and a man of a warm Christian spirit. He was a most heroical spirit, and never feared the appearance of an enemy, as appears from the account he gave of himself. Speaking of his various citations before Laud, his courage was such that he says,
“I was not at any time before him, but methought I stood over him, as a schoolmaster over his scholars: so great was the goodness of God towards me. Being convened before the high commission for my book, entitled, Babel no Bethel, Harsnet Archbishop of York, having run himself out of breath with railing against me and my book; and saying, that I had dedicated my book to the parliament, to incense them against the higher powers, (meaning the king,) I answered, “No, my lord, 1 am none of those who divide the king and parliament, but 1 pray God unite them together!””
“I began to fall off from the ceremonies by degrees, watching for an opportunity to try it out, either by dint of argument, or by law; and, in case of failing in these, I had resolved to appeal to the king and his council, determined either to foil my adversaries, though I had but small hopes of this, or at least to discover the mystery of iniquity and hypocrisy, which, like a veil of piety, they bad hung over their tyrannical proceedings. I saw, with row, how they were daily gaining ground on the hearts of the credulous and simple, by their subtle pretensions that all their measures were for the protection of the protestant religion, while they were laboring to undermine and overturn it, and while the withered whore of Babylon, who at first made her appearance in a protestant garb, began to show her painted face in all the superstitious services of the altar. Not satisfied with the mere introduction of popery, their endeavors were also directed to the overthrow of the good laws and liberties of the nation, and the introduction of arbitrary and despotic government,”
For his boldness in the truth Bishop Laud continually cited him for his preaching and his written works. In 1626 he was convened before the high commission having published a book entitled, The Baiting of the Pope’s Bull, or the Unmasking of the Mystery of Iniquity, folded up in a most pernicious Bull, lately arrived from Rome, with the design of causing a rent in England, by which his holiness might reenter. This work was wholly directed against the pope. Laud, who spoke with vehemence against it, denounced it a libel. After this Burton published another book, entitled, The Pouring out of the Seven Vials; for which this bloody prelate had him prosecuted in the high commission. Laud had the book suppressed. When Burton published his Babel No Bethel, which was also wholly directed against the church of Rome, bishop Laud ordered his pursuivant to apprehend and commit him to the Fleet; where, contrary to the petition of rights, he refused bail when offered, suspended him from his benefice, and suppressed the publication.
This type of dealing with Reformed preachers was not uncommon by Laud. Laud was really a hypocrite, who pretended be a pillar of the reformation from popery. The puritans, however, were not ignorant of his devices.
Mr. Burton also published his Trial of Private Devotions, and his Refutation of divers Arminian and Popish Errors, which were both called in, and suppressed by the severity of Laud. We do not know how long Mr. Burton remained in jail for these works, under the bishop’s suspension. He was afterwards freed. But this was only the beginning of his suffering for the Gospel. He was set on preaching against error for the truth of the Gospel.
He preached two sermons at his own church, in Friday Street, on the November 5, 1636, from Proverbs 24:21- 22. “My son, fear thou the Lord and the king, and meddle not with them that are given to change,” etc. In these sermons he exhibited the natural colors and late innovations in doctrine, worship, and ceremonies of the twisted church. He warned his people against being tainted with their antichristian leaven. Dr. Laud, now the archbishop of Canterbury, being apprised of the nature of these sermons, caused articles to be exhibited against Mr. Burton in the high commission court, and summoned him to answer them. On his appearance, he was charged with having spoken against turning communion tables into altars, against bowing to the altar, against setting up crucifixes, against saying the second service at the altar, and against prohibiting the afternoon sermon on the Lord’s Day. In addition, he was also charged with having said that, “…ministers could not preach the doctrines of free grace but at the risk of the severest censures; and that the ministers in Norfolk and Suffolk were suspended for their nonconformity to the rites and ceremonies, which bad been imposed on them contrary to the laws of the land.” These charges having been declared sedition by the court, Mr. Burton was required to answer, on his oath, and so become his own accuser; which he positively refused, and appealed to the king. His appeal, however, availed him nothing. Fifteen days after he was summoned by Laud’s authority to appear before a special court of commission, where, in his absence, he was suspended from his office and benefice, and a warrant issued out for his arrest. In this way he was oppressed on every side. So he formed a bold resolution of shutting himself up in his house. During this time he published his two objected sermons against them. The court took these sermons and redacted them so badly that they could scarcely be called his, and because Mr. Burton would not acknowledge it in this mutilated form, they proceeded against him nonetheless.
The case of Mr. Burton is set down as follows:
Lord Keeper: Mr. Burton, What say you?
Mr. Burton: My good lords, notwithstanding that we have labored to give your honors all possible satisfaction, it appears you are determined to censure us, and to take our cause pro confessio. What, my lords, have you to say against my book? I frankly acknowledge it is mine; I wrote it, but by no means with the intention of raising a commotion, for stirring up sedition in the country, as charged against me. I have delivered nothing in these sermons but what arose from my text, which was chosen to suit the day on which it was delivered, being the 5th of November; and I stand here ready to vindicate every sentence delivered on that occasion.
Lord Keeper: Mr. Burton, I pray you do not stand upon naming texts of scripture at present; we did not send for you to preach, but to answer to those things that are objected against you.
Burton: I have drawn up my answer with much pains and considerable expense; which answer was signed by my counsel’s hand, and received into this court agreeable to the rule and order thereof; so that I had no reason to expect that I should be thus called to a censure, but to a legal proceeding by bill and answer.
Lord Keeper: Your answer was impertinent.
Burton: The matter is truly astonishing, my lord. My answer was legally entered in the court, and I should like to know on what ground it was thrown out, and by what authority my defense against groundless charges, maliciously brought against me, was thus unjustly set aside. It was first approved, Why was it afterwards pronounced impertinent? And, being approved of, it was received into the court—Why was it afterwards rejected? Justice requires that I should be apprised of the cause of such preposterous procedure.
Lord Finch: The judges did you a good turn to make it impertinent, for your answer was as libelous as your book.
Lord Keeper: What say you, Mr. Burton? Are you guilty or not?
Burton: My lord, I desire you to peruse the whole of my book, not a passage here and there, but throughout.
Lord Keeper: Time is short, Mr. Burton. Are you guilty, or not guilty? What say you to that which has been read? Does it become a minister to deliver himself in such a railing and scandalous manner?
Burton: It is highly becoming a minister of Christ to deliver the truths of his holy word. It is highly becoming a watchman to blow the trumpet of alarm when he sees the enemy approaching; and it well becomes the physician to prescribe bitter potions to his patient when mild ones are found utterly inefficient. Spiritually considered, a minister is the instructor, the watchman, and physician of his flock, and responsible for the faithful discharge of his duty in these various capacities. If, therefore, my sermons correspond with the word of God, and the ministerial duties therein prescribed, as I humbly presume, and I am ready to prove they do—Then what censure becomes necessary? Surely none. In these days of reviving superstition and increasing heresy, it were more becoming the dignitaries of the church to encourage the preachers of the gospel, than thus to harass and discourage them in the discharge of these important duties. With respect to my answer to your allegations, you have very unjustly blotted out every sentence that you considered available to my exculpation, and retained merely what you found less opposed to your tyrannical proceedings; and now you require me to relinquish all that bears against your intolerance, and recognize that alone which answers your own ends and purposes; but, be assured, my lord, before I will thus meanly desert either my cause or my conscience, I will sooner desert this mortal body of mine, and consign it to the arbitrary disposal of your lordships.
Lord Keeper: This is a place where you ought to crave mercy and favor, Mr. Burton, and not stand on such bold terms.
Burton: In which I have offended, in human frailty, I crave pardon, both of God and man; and I pray God, that in deciding on this case, you may so conduct yourselves as not to sin against your own souls.
Mr. Burton was proceeding further to defend himself, when he was interrupted, and commanded to be silent; while the following horrible sentence was pronounced against him and his injured associates (Mr. Bastwick and Mr. Prynne):
“That Burton shall be deprived of his ecclesiastical benefice, degraded from his ministerial functions and degrees in the university, as Prynne and Bastwick have been from their degrees of law and physic. They shall be fined each five thousand pounds. They shall stand in the pillory at Westminster, and have their ears cut off; and because Prynne has already lost his ears, by sentence of the court in 1633, the remainder of the stumps shall be cut off, and he shall be stigmatized on both his cheeks with the letters S.L. for a Seditious Libeller; and they shall suffer perpetual imprisonment in three of the remotest prisons of the kingdom, namely, in Caernarvon, Cornwall, and Lancaster castles.”
Prior to the execution of this barbarous sentence, Burton’s parishioners presented a petition to the king, subscribed by a great number of respectable individuals, earnestly entreating his majesty to pardon and liberate their beloved minister. It was presented by two of their number, who were instantly imprisoned for their officiousness. The sentence of court was executed on these three men on June 30th, with evident marks of unfeeling brutality; the hangman, sawed off the remainder of Prynne’s ears, rather than cutting them.
On passing this unchristian sentence, archbishop Laud made a long and labored speech, with the design of vindicating himself from the charge of innovation, with which he was universally branded by the puritans. In this speech, which was addressed to the lords constituting the court, he says, “I can clearly and truly ever, as in the presence of God, that I have done nothing as a prelate, but with a single heart, and with a sincere intention for the good government and honor of the church, and also for the maintenance of the orthodox truth and religion of Christ, professed, established, and maintained in this church of England…I heartily thank you all for your just and honorable censure upon these men, and your unanimous dislike to them.” These suffering individuals were charged with writing seditious libels, although their writings are wholly directed against popery and the prelatical leaders who were aiming at its restoration.
On the morning appointed for executing this terrible sentence, Mr. Burton, being brought to Westminster, and beholding the pillory erected in palace yard, said, “My wedding day was not half so welcome to me as this. What makes it more peculiarly joyful, is the cheering thought that the Captain of my salvation has led the way. He gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; nor hid himself from shame and spitting. The Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. If Christ was not ashamed of a cross for me, shall I be ashamed of a pillory for him—Never!” Being fastened in the pillory, he addressed the immense crowd of spectators in the following manner:
“Men of England, I am brought here for a spectacle to men and angels, and notwithstanding that I am doomed thus to suffer the punishment of a rogue, yet, unless it be a faithful service to Christ, and a loyal subjection to the king, that constitutes a rogue, I am clear from the malevolent charge. If, however, to be Christ’s faithful servant, and the king’s loyal subject, deserve such punishment as this, I glory in it, and bless God that I have a clear and approving conscience. I rejoice that he hath accounted me worthy of these sufferings; and in his loving-kindness, and tender mercy, has filled my soul with comfort and great consolation…[With a grave and cheerful countenance he added]…I have never been in such a pulpit before; but who knows what fruit God is able to produce from this dry tree. Through these holes (meaning the pillory) God can give light to his church. The conscientious discharge of my ministerial duty, in admonishing my people against the creeping in of popery, and in exhorting them to a dutiful obedience to God and the king, constitutes the crime for which I now suffer. The truths which I have preached, however, I am ready to seal with my blood; and this is my crown of rejoicing here, and shall be hereafter.”
When taken from the pillory, he was again brought on the scaffold, where the executioner cut off his ears in a very coarse and barbarous manner. They were cut so close to his head that the temporal artery was struck, and the blood gushed in torrents from the wounds. This sight awakened the sensibility and indignation of an immense crowd of spectators who cried out against it.
While his blood was streaming in every direction, Mr. Burton manifested the greatest coolness and composure, saying, “Blessed be God, it is well; be content, my soul, and suffer all with patience. Pain is the harbinger of pleasure; and sorrow, like the night, precedes the joys of morning; all shall yet be well.” Mr. Prynne and Dr. Bastwick had this bloody part of their sentences executed at the same time and place. The day preceding this execution, it was decreed, in the starchamber, that Henry Burton shall be carried to Lancaster castle, William Prynne to Carnarvon castle, and John Bastwick to Launceston castle, and there suffer perpetual imprisonment, without being allowed any use of pen, ink, or paper, or any other book but the bible, the book of common prayer, and certain other books of devotion agreeable to the form of the church of England; and that no person have access to them. In consequence of this order, Dr. Bastwick was taken from the Gatehouse on July 26th; the day following Mr. Prynne was taken from the Tower; and, on the next day, Mr. Burton from the Fleet—and, with their sores not yet cured, conveyed to their several places of confinement.
As they passed out of the city, vast multitudes of people came forth in other wordsness their departure, and take their last and sorrowful farewell, over 100,000. His wife, attending him in a carriage, had great sums of money thrown to her as she passed along.
Burton was accordingly removed from Lancaster castle to castle Cornet, in the island of Guernsey, where he arrived on the 15th December 1637. He was shut up in a low narrow dark room, and almost suffocated for want of air, and no person permitted to see or speak with him. The three remained in remote islands until the year 1640. During this period Mrs. Bastwick and Mrs. Burton had often petitioned his majesty and the lords of council for liberty to visit them, or to live on the islands, or even to be close confined along with them; but, by the influence of Laud, their petitions were always rejected.
This same year, 1640, inconsequence of a petition from Mrs. Burton and Mrs. Bastwick, the prisoners were called home by an order of parliament, that the complaints of the petitioners might be investigated. On the November 30th being two days after their arrival in London, Burton appeared before the house of commons, and, on the fifth of the same month, presented his petition, entitled, “The Humble Petition of Henry Burton, late exile, and close prisoner in Castle Cornet, in the island of Jersey.” In this petition he enumerates the merciless sufferings to which he was subjected, and concludes by recommending his case to the impartial consideration of the house. On the presentation of this petition, together with numbers of similar import, a committee was appointed to investigate and decide upon their authenticity, and to report. Accordingly, on March 12th following, Mr. Rigby delivered the report of the committee; upon which the house passed the following resolutions:
“That the four commissioners, Dick, Worrel, Sams, and Wood, proceeded unjustly and illegally when they suspended Mr. Burton from his office and benefice for not appearing on the summons of the first process: That the breaking up of Mr. Burton’s house, and arresting his person without any cause shewed, and before any suit depended in the starchamber against him, and his close imprisonment thereupon, are against the law and the liberty of the subject: That John Wragg hath offended, in searching the books and papers of Mr. Burton, under color of a general warrant dormant from the high commissioners; and that the warrant is against the law and the liberty of the subject: That Sergeant Dandy and Alderman Abel have offended in breaking up the house of Mr. Burton, and ought to make reparation respectively for the same: That Mr. Burton ought to have reparation and recompense for the damages sustained for the foresaid proceedings of Mr. Dick and others, who suspended him from his office and benefice: That the warrant from the council board, dated Whitehall, February 2nd, 1637, for committing Mr. Burton close prisoner, and the commitment thereupon, is illegal and contrary to the liberty of the subject: That the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of London, the earl of Arundel and Surrey, the earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, Sir H. Vane, Sir J. Coke, Sir Francis Windebank, do make reparations to Mr. Burton for the damages sustained by this imprisonment.”
On the 24th of the same mouth, Mr. Burton’s case was again brought before the house, when it was further resolved,
“That the sentence in the starchamber is illegal, and without any just ground, and ought to be reversed; and that he ought to be freed from the fine of five thousand pounds, and the imprisonment imposed upon him by said sentence, and he restored to his degrees in the university, orders in the ministry, and to his ecclesiastical benefice in Friday Street, London: That the order of the council board, for transferring Mr. Burton from Lancaster to the island of Guernsey, and his imprisonment there, are against the law and the liberty of the subject, and therefore that the said Mr. Burton ought to have reparation and recompense for the damages thereby sustained, the loss of his ears, and his other sufferings.”
On the 20th April, the House of Commons voted, that Mr. Burton should receive six thousand pounds for the damages he had sustained; but the confusion of the times prevented him from receiving the money. On June 8th, by an order of the house, he was restored to his former ministry and benefice in Friday Street. Bastwick and Mr. Prynne had similar resolutions passed in their favor.
On Mr. Burton’s restoration, he formed a church after the model of the Independents, and it appears he had greatly prospered in his ministry. He is said to have been a severe disciplinarian, who prohibited all immoral characters from communicating; but toward the close of his life, he became more moderate. He died in January 1647, aged sixty-eight years.
[Taken in part from NDB, Brooke’s Lives of the Puritans, and Smith’s Select Memoirs].