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THIS zealous and enterprising divine was born at Oxford in 1608, the place where he was educated, and became a fellow of Merton college in 1629. Here he resided for several years, and after taking his degree in arts, entered into holy orders, and was curate in or near Oxford for some time. He took, the degree of bachelor of divinity, and accepted a living from Mr. Holman near Banbury, where he resided, and had a serious contest with Laud, then in the height of his elevation. Having spent much of his time in the college, he had acquired a very correct and extensive knowledge of books, and of every thing relating to the profession of a clergyman of those times. His disposition was studious, Hnd his spirit active and enterprising, which rendered him extremely useful to the church in that turbulent period, and his personal character was fully developed by the circumstances with which he was surrounded. Whatever he believed, he considered himself bound to profess, and what he professed, he was ready at all hazards to defend. In a sermon, preached before the House of Commons, he says, “whatever, upon prayer and meditation, the Lord has revealed by the clear texts of his word, I will this day deliver unto you, though I were assured of dying St. John’s death, or of being banished to St. John’s Island for the same.” When the civil war broke out, he took part with the parliament, and, in the beginning of that war, was for the most part along with the earl of Essex. He had a noble exterior, possessed great bodily strength and fearless intrepidity, and was truly a man of sterling valor and solid learning. An eminent writer says, concerning him, that “he seemed, indeed, to have been born a soldier, for he had an intrepidity which no dangers could shake, and a spirit of enterprise which no difficulty could discourage.” Dr. Calamy says, that “his commands were as readily obeyed by the colonels in the army, as were those of the general himself.”
Mr. Cheynell was a real patriot. It was his earnest and daily prayer that God would unite the king and parliament in the cause of Christ. “Lord (said he) be pleased to decide this calamitous controversy, and let that side prevail which most sincerely desires thy glory, the king’s good, and the nation’s welfare, by a happy reformation and a Christian peace.” Being now greatly distinguished by his learning, piety, and public services, he was chosen one of the assembly of divines in 1643. He preached frequently before the members of parliament, took the covenant, and zealously endeavored to promote that harmony it was expected to produce in the three kingdoms. He was chosen parson of Petworth, a town in the county of Sussex. He was also one of the select committee appointed to examine and decide on the petitions of such ministers as requested sequestrated livings. Mr. Cheynell has been greatly blamed for his behaviour at the funeral of Dr. Chillingworth. The matter stands as follows: This Dr. Chillingworth was. born and educated at Oxford, hut afterwards turning Roman catholic, he went to the Jesuits college at St. Omer’s; where, not being thoroughly satisfied with some of their principles, he returned in 1631, embraced the religion of the church of England, and published a treatise, entitled The,Religion of Protestants a safe way to Salvation. It was generally thought he was a Socinian, but in his last letter, at the end of his treatise, he appeared to be an Arian, according to Mr. Neal. He served as engineer iii Arundel castle, in the king’s army, where he was taken prisoner, and falling sick, had the favor of being lodged in the bishop’s house at Chichester, where he died. By the interest of Mr. Cheynell, who attended him in his sickness, he was kindly used. Cheynell was desirous that he would renounce some of his dangerous tenets, and reasoned with him for that end, but could not prevail. He prayed with and for him while he was alive, but was, much grieved and provoked at his obstinacy and the errors of his book; and at Dr. Chttlingworth’s interment, he threw a copy of his book into the grave along with its author, saying, “Get thee gone, thou cursed book, that hast seduced so many precious souls: Get thee gone, thou corrupt rotten book, earth to earth, dust to dust: Get thee gone into the place of rottenness, that thou mayest rot with thy author, and see corruption.”
Mr. Cheynell’s behaviour, on this occasion, was certainly very unbecoming and highly offensive. His temper, however, was hot his zeal ardent, and the temptation strong; besides, he was at. times disordered in his brain. Under such circumstances, it is not to be wondered at should men’s words or actions sometimes appear unaccountable. He was one of those divines sent down by parliament to the treaty of Oxbridge. The university of Oxford, when it fell into the hands of parliament, was in a most deplorable condition, on account of the opposite opinions that prevailed regarding the contending parties in the state; and parliament appointed seven of their most judicious and popular divines to repair thither, with authority to preach in any pulpit in the university for six months, in order to soften the spirits of the people, and give them a better opinion of the new order of things. Mr. Cheynell was one of the seven. They were very diligent in discharging their appointed duties. They preached twice every Sunday, and held a weekly conference every Thursday. On which occasions they proposed to solve such objections, as might be started against the new confession of faith and discipline, and to answer any other important cases in divinity. The objection or case was to be propounded the week before, to afford time to consider it maturely. A moderator was appointed to keep order, who began and ended with a short prayer, and the business was conducted with much order and gravity. Their services were, nevertheless, generally unacceptable; some ridiculed them, others slighted, and a few acquiesced. But finding there was no prospect of preaching Oxford into filial obedience, parliament passed an ordinance for a visitation, May 1st, 1647. Mr. Cheynell was also appointed one of the visitors, and afterwards made president of St. John’s college, and Margaret professor of the university, in the room of Dr. Laurence. He lost both places soon after for refusing the new oath of allegiance. Having now taken the degree of doctor of divinity, he retired to Petworth, where, Wood says, he continued an useful member for the covenanting cause till the restoration. He was ever diligent and conscientious in the discharge of his pastoral duties, and a man of unbounded liberality, who never increased his estate by any of his preferments. He was sometimes deranged in the head, as formerly noticed; but some years before his death he was perfectly restored to a sound mind. He was ejected from the rich living of Petworth by the act of uniformity, and afterwards lived privately in a small village near Preston, where he had an estate, and died at his own house in September 1665.
Dr. Cheynell was strictly orthodox, and accounted a pious and learned divine, a man of eminent abilities, an excellent preacher, and a good disputant.
His works are, 1. Zion’s Memento, and God’s Alarm.—2. The rise, growth, and danger of Socinianism.—3. Chillingworthi Novissima.—4. The Man of Honor described.—5. A Plot for the good of Posterity.—6. Divers Letters to Dr. Jasp. Mayne, concerning false Prophets.—7. A copy of some Letters which passed at Oxford between him and Dr. Hammond.—8. Relation of a Disputation at Oxford between Mr. Cheynell and Mr. Erbury, a Socinian.—9. The Divine Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.—10. A Discussion of Mr. Fry’s Tenets lately condemned in Parliament, and Socinianism proved to be an Unchristian Doctrine.