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Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. John Elliston.

THIS pious, diligent, and faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, had a benefice at Preston in Northamptonshire, where he labored to reform his parishioners with the greatest assiduity, both by preaching and catechizing; but endured much trouble and persecution on account of his nonconformity to the ceremonies of the church. His enemies were men strongly attached to popery, who, hating the simplicity of the gospel as taught by Mr. Ellistou, complained to the chancellor of Petersborough that he did not wear the surplice, read the litany, nor use the cross in baptism. For these weighty reasons he was indicted to stand trial at the assizes; where his case being heard before the judge, he was dismissed. But having left an account of the troubles in which he was involved, we shall suffer Mr. Elliston to speak for himself.

“Having been pastor at Preston (says he) only about ten weeks, and anxious to instruct the people in the scriptural doctrines of religion to the best of my ability, some of my parishioners, much attached to the Romish ceremonies, complained to Dr. Ellis, the chancellor, that I did not wear the surplice, read the litany, or use the cross in baptism; on which I was cited before the judge at the assize, but acquitted and dismissed. After this they exhibited a charge against me to Dr. Scambler, bishop of Petersborough, consisting of Sixteen articles. On my appearance before his lordship, February 10th, 1584, he asked me whether I would subscribe; and on refusing, treated me with much abusive language.

“The first article charged against me was, that I did not wear the surplice. I said I did not refuse it. The second, That I did not use the cross in baptism; and being asked why I did not, I answered, because it was nowhere required in the word of God, the unerring rule by which the conduct of all Christian ministers, as well as others, ought to be regulated. Neither, said the bishop, is it required what kind of boots you shall wear. To which I replied, the form or fashion of my boots can give no offence, there being no law, human or divine, for regulating that article of dress; but Christian baptism is distinctly held forth by the author of our religion, without any such ceremony as the sign of the cross, and to that original institution we do well to take heed, lest we draw down upon ourselves the plagues threatened against all such as add to the already perfect words of that inspired book. Here again the bishop scoffed and abused me. In the next place, he asked why I catechized the aged as well as the young. To which I replied,. that having the charge of all, I considered it my duty to instruct all; and that catechizing was one method, and a very profitable one, for conveying instruction to persons of any age. Old people, he said, should not be catechized, they did not stand in need of it. I begged he would encourage and promote, rather than hinder good things. But, said he, you omit the litany on Sabbath days. I preach, said I, on Sabbath. But, said he, preach or not on Sabbath, the litany must be read. But why do you keep persons back from the communion? Because, I replied, they will not submit to be examined. You must admit them, said the bishop, if they can say the Lord’s prayer and the ten commandments. After many other charges, which I answered as occasion served, I was suspended, and informed, that unless I would subscribe, I should not remain in his diocese. To this I only replied, that the earth is the Lord’s, and he hath no doubt a place for me to live in; so I departed.

“On March 6th, he cited me again, along with several other ministers, requiring us to subscribe; and on May 30th, I was called a third time; but not having had timorous warning, he had deprived me before I could make my appearance. I therefore protested against his unjust sentence, and appealed, telling him that he had not dealt uprightly in my case, not’ withstanding that I had endeavored, with all quietness, to discharge the duties of my station with honest propriety, while he treated others, if they would only subscribe, with great kindness and civility, though destitute both of learning and integrity. If, however, you go about thus to discredit the conscientious part of your clergy, be assured you will thereby discredit yourself. After this, though Petersborough was thirty-six miles from the place where I lived, I had seven journeys thither in little more than one year. In April I went to London for an inhibition; and after my return had to make another journey to Petersborough to have it served on the bishop. In the meantime, archbishop Whitegift, on purpose to prevent me from prosecuting my appeal, had ine cited before him on ascension day. When I appeared before his grace, two articles were charged against me—1st, That at morning prayer, on whitsunday, I did not read two psalms and two chapters, and then preach; and, 2d, That preaching from the second psalm, and railing against my enemies, I affirmed that they would all be damned who troubled me On hearing my answers to these charges, I was dismissed; but the fees of the pursuivants, and other expenses connected with all these travels, etc., were very considerable. After this, I was called several times up to London, sometimes before Whitegift, and sometimes also before the bishop of London. These, my troubles, says Mr. Elljston, pressed me down for almost three years, during which period I was obliged’ to travel ten times to London, seven times to Petersborough, many times to Leicester and Northampton, and once to Cambridge.” The unavoidable expense attending so many journeys, together with a long deprivation of his office, brought this peaceable and moderate puritan to the verge of poverty. The Charges against him were so trifling, that they were ashamed to commit him to prison; but determined on his ruin, endeavored to compass it by wantonly subjecting him to these troublesome and expensive travels. H& was a member of the classes at Deyontry, and frequently attended the associations of the puritans. It is thought he died in 1617.

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