Puritan Memoirs - Mr. John FieldPuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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THIS highly distinguished divine was minister of Aldermary church, in the city. The puritans, whose application to the bishops, and also to the queen for a farther reformation had failed, finding all their individual and united endeavors unavailing, came to the resolution of applying to parliament.
With this view, they made all the interest in their power amongst the members, and compiled a treatise, wherein their numerous grievances were exhibited in one view. This was drawn up by Mr. Field and Mr. Wilcocks, revised by a number of their brethren, and entitled, An Admonition to Parliament; to which were added, Beza’s letter to the earl of Leicester, and Gualter’s to bishop Parkhurst. The work contains the model of a Christian church, pointing out the manner of electing ministers, their various duties, and their equality of power, and then proceeds to expose the corruptions of the hierarchy, and the tyrannical proceedings of the bishops, concluding with an humble petition to both houses, that discipline, better according with the word of God, and other reformed churches, may be established by law. They proved, by incontrovertible evidence, the tyrannical government of the church, and the persecution by which it was upheld; but the doubt is, whether they would not have fallen into the same error had they succeeded in their application to parliament, and, like the then ruling ecclesiastics, also required an act of uniformity, which would have probably shifted this dangerous power into other hands, but could be of no other advantage, unless we suppose that the new actors would have exercised their authority with more moderation. The truth is, toleration of opinion was by no means generally understood at this time. This fatal error, which had for so many ages made havoc of the church, was introduced by the clergy when wearied with the simplicity of the apostolic mode of governing by persuasion and rational conviction. They then began to imitate the Jewish system of priests, altars, sacrifices, and sacerdotal habiliments, with other imitations of that despotic economy, which the doctrines of Christ declared null and void, and his death rendered for ever unnecessary.
Mr. Field and Mr. Wilcocks presented the admonition to parliament themselves, for which they were committed to Newgate; and the book being already printed, went abroad, and passed through four editions in about two years, notwithstanding that the bishops used their best endeavors to suppress it. The two prisoners were sentenced to one full year’s imprisonment; which they accordingly suffered; but could not, even at that period, obtain their liberty. They petitioned the lords of the council, also the earl of Leicester, to endeavor to move the queen to order their liberation; but it does not appear whether they succeeded in these applications.
During their imprisonment, Dr. Whitegift published his answer to the admonition, in which he charges them with being disturbers of the peace and good order of the church, with being enemies to the state, and holding, publishing, and abetting many dangerous heresies. To those charges they wrote an aidmated reply, annexing a very judicious and comprehensive statement of their religious opinions.
All their attempts to promote a farther reformation in the church of England having thus proved impracticable, the leading puritans agreed to attempt it in a more private way. With this view, they erected a presbytery at Wandsworth in Surrey; which being seated on the bank of the Thames, was convenient for the London brethren. This is said to have taken place in 1572. It is not precisely ascertained at what time these persecuted individuals were liberated from prison, only that Mr. Field, we find, was minister of Aldermary church in 1574; but his hardships were not yet over; for teaching children in gentlemen’s houses, contrary to the orders of the bishops, both he and Mr. Wilcocks were banished to the most barbarous places of Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Lancashire, or other places where his lordship observed they might be useful in reclaiming the people from the ignorance and errors of Rome. The next account we meet with of this excellent divine is, that he was engaged with several other learned divines in a disputation with certain papists in the tower, in which he is said to have taken an active part, and to have collected and published an account of the same, after having been examined and approved by the persons concerned. In 1584 he was again suspended by the bishop of London, for admitting an assembly of divines at his house, among whom several were from Scotland. These divines being disaffected to the hierarchy, the assembly was considered an unlawful conventicle. Mr. Field was therefore suspended for entertaining them, and the rest deprived for refusing to subscribe. Whether he was ever restored to the exercise of his ministry is uncertain. He died in February 1587, and his remains were interred in Gripplegate church, London. Some short time before his death, Mr. Field united with his brethren in subscribing the Book of Discipline.