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Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Miles Coverdale

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. Miles Coverdale.

THIS highly distinguished puritan divine was born in Yorkshire 1486, and had his education at the university of Cambridge, where be became an Augustine monk. At Tubingen in Germany, he took his doctor’s degree, and was incorporated in the same at Cambridge. He renounced his popish principles at an early period of the reign of Henry VIII, and became an avowed and zealous reformer: He was one of the first who publicly preached the gospel in its purity, after the king had renounced the authority of Rome, and entirely devoted himself to the promotion of the protestant cause. In 1528 he preached at Brunsted in Essex, and publicly declared against the mass, the worship of images, and auricular confession, declaring that contrition for sin, between God and a man’s own conscience, rendered confession to a priest altogether useless. His labors, in this place, were blessed with much success; and amongst many whose hearts were touched with the doctrines he taught, he was honored with being instrumental in turning one Thomas Toplady from the errors of popery, who afterwards sealed the truth with his blood. Coverdale, soon after this, finding himself in danger of the fire, fled beyond seas, and lived for some time in Holland, where he chiefly applied himself to the translation of the scriptures. In the year 1529, Mr. William Tyndale having finished his translation of the pentateuch, intended to put it to the press at Hamburgh, but was wrecked on his passage, where he lost all his papers and money, and had therefore to begin the work afresh; but found, at Hamburgh, his friend Coverdale, who waited for his arrival, and assisted him in writing a new translation. Tyndale and Coverdale finished and published a translation of the whole bible in 1535, the first ever printed in the English language.

This first publication of the bible roused the indignation of the prelates, who complained to the king; and his majesty, in compliance with their suggestions, ordered the copies to be called in, and promised them a new translation; and when the translation, in 1537, called Coverdale’s, came forth, the bishops complained to Henry that it contained a great many faults. His majesty asked whether it contained any heresies; they replied that they found none. Then, in the name of God, said the king, let it go forth amongst the people.

Conscious of the mischief that Coverdale had already done to the cause of Rome, and from his great activity and industry was still capable of effecting, he was most severely persecuted by the prelates, who hunted him from place to place, so that he was forced, for many years, to remain an exile from his native land; nor could the Netherlands afford him complete security from their implacable resentment. To escape their powerful influence, he retired to Germany, where, upon his first settlement, he was obliged to teach children for a subsistence. After he had acquired the Dutch language, the prince Elector Palatine conferred upon him the benefice of Burghsaber; and his faithful ministry, and exemplary conversation, were made a blessing to the people. During his residence in this place, he was subsisted partly by his benefice, and partly by lord Cromwell, his kind and liberal patron and benefactor.

Upon the accession of Edward VI, the prison doors were thrown open to the reformers; and those who had been driven into exile returned home; amongst the last of whom was Dr. Coverdale. Some short time after his return, he became chaplain to lord Russell, in his expedition to suppress an insurrection in Devonshire; and the lamentable state of the diocese of Exeter, owing to the late insurrection, and the prevalence of popery, required some wise, courageous, and excellent preacher to restore order and tranquility, and Coverdale was considered a proper person to fill that distracted see. Cranmer, who was intimately acquainted with him, had the highest opinion of his talents and integrity, and was always ready to do him acts of kindness; and, on this occasion, performed the ceremony of his consecration at Lambeth, he having received the king’s letter patent for that purpose. Though Coverdale had submitted, under the late reign, to wear the habits, he had now, with many other celebrated divines, laid them aside.

This excellent divine, while bishop of Exeter, conducted himself with all that gravity and primitive simplicity which became his high office. He was a constant preacher, given to hospitality, sober, and temperate, hating covetousness, and every species of vice. His house was a little church, wherein were exercised all virtue and godliness. He was not, however, without his enemies, who endeavored to have him disgraced, sometimes by backbiting, and sometimes by false accusation; at last they endeavored to poison him; but, by the watchful providence of God, the snare was broken, and he escaped. Coverdale had been only between two and three years in his Episcopal office, when the death of king Edward made room for his sister, princess Mary, which soon changed the whole face of religion; and vast numbers of the most worthy preachers in the kingdom were silenced, and this good bishop, with many others, cast into prison.

During the confinement of Coverdale, and the other protestant bishops and clergymen, they drew up and subscribed a short confession of their faith; a copy of which has been preserved, but too long for inserting in this work. The malice of the papists had marked out Coverdale for the flames; but he was delivered from their rage by a wonderful interposition of divine providence. During his imprisonment, the king of Denmark, with whom he became acquainted when in Germany, acted the part of a faithful friend in this interesting crisis of his fate; and after several pressing solicitations to the queen, his release was granted as a very particular favor. He was, accordingly, permitted to go again into exile. He retired first to his friend, the king of Denmark, then to Westphalia, and afterwards to his worthy patron, the elector of the Rhine, who received him with hearty hospitality, and restored him to his former benefice of Burghsaber, where he exercised the pastoral office with laborious zeal, and watchful attention to his flock, all the remaining days of queen Mary.

Coverdale, Goodman, Gilby, Whittingham, Samson, Cole, Knox, Badleigh, and Pullam, all celebrated puritans, during their exile at this time, made a new translation of the bible, which went under the appellation of the Geneva bible. They first published the New Testament in 1557, the first that had ever been published with numerical verses; and the whole bible, with marginal notes, was printed in 1560, and dedicated to queen Elizabeth. The translators aver that they were employed in the work, with fear and trembling, night and day, and call God to witness, that in every point and word they have faithfully rendered the text to the best of their knowledge: But the marginal notes having given some offence, the work was not permitted to be printed in England during the life of archbishop Parker. It was afterwards printed in 1576, and went through twenty or thirty editions in a short time. It was long after printed under the name of the reformer’s bible.

With a view to the total suppression of the reformation, queen Mary, amid the rage of her persecution, and to cover the frauds, superstitions, and impositions of the popish religion, which shrunk from the light and truth of the scriptures, the English bible was burnt by public authority, and a royal proclamation issued, prohibiting the people to read the books of the reformers; and amongst the various works enumerated in this proclamation, were those of Luther, Calvin, Latimer, Hooper, Cranmer, and Coverdale.

Soon after the accession of queen Elizabeth, Coverdale returned to his native country. His bishopric was reserved for him, and he repeatedly urged to accept of it; but, owing to the popish habits, and other ceremonies retained in the church, he modestly refused, and was, on account of his scrupulosity, for some time neglected, till bishop Grindal suggested the impropriety of leaving bishop Coverdale in poverty and destitution in his old age, and gave him the benefice of St. Magnus at Bridgefoot. But Coverdale, old, long persecuted, and consequently poor, was unable to pay the first fruits, amounting to more than sixty pounds, petitioned secretary Cecil to excuse him, adding, “If poor old Miles can thus be provided for, he will think it enough, and as good as a feast.” The request was granted, and Coverdale continued in the undisturbed exercise of his ministry something more than two years; but not coming up to the standard of conformity, he was driven from his charge, and obliged to relinquish his benefice. Laden with age and infirmities as he was, he did not, with his benefice, relinquish his beloved work, but still continued preaching, without the habits, when and wherever he could find an opportunity, and great multitudes attended his sermons. The people used to send to his house on a Saturday to learn where he was to preach on the Sabbath following, and were sure to follow him whatever might be the distance. This, however, was too much to be overlooked by the ruling ecclesiastics. This good old veteran in the cause of Christ, was at last obliged to tell his friends that he durst no longer inform them where or when he should preach, lest he should put it out of his power to be of any farther usefulness in the church of Christ. He continued, however, to preach wherever he could find an opportunity, till his great age, and the infirmities incident to that state, rendered him utterly unfit for the task, and soon after departed this theatre of sin, sorrow, and suffering; and having fought a good fight in defense of the faith once delivered to the saints, he finished his course in a most comfortable and happy death, January 20th, 1568, aged eighty-one years.

He was a man of the most exemplary life and conversation, pious towards God, and benevolent towards men, even his oppressors and persecutors. A student of indefatigable industry; a scholar who had a place in the first rank of literature; a preacher equal to, if not exceeding, any of his time; a modest, peaceable, and forbearing nonconformist, and much admired and followed by the puritans. But queen Elizabeth’s cruel act of uniformity brought his grey hairs, with sorrow, to the grave. His funeral procession was attended with immense crowds of the people; and his mortal remains were honorably interred in the chancel of Bartholomew’s church, behind the exchange, London, where a monumental inscription was afterwards erected to his memory.

His works are, 1st, The Christian Rule.—2d, The Christian State of Matrimony.—3d, A Christian Exhortation to Common or Profane Swearers.—4fh, The Manner of Saving Grace according to the Scriptures.—5th, The Old Faith, or an evident proof from Scripture, that the right, true, old, and undoubted faith of Christians, has been a persecuted and suffering faith ever since the beginning of the world.—6th, A Faithful and True Prognostication for the year 1449, and for ever after to the end of the world, gathered from the prophecies and scriptures of God, and his operations in governing the world, very comfortable to all Christian hearts.—7th, A Spiritual Almanack, wherein every Christian man and woman may see what they ought daily to do, and leave undone.—8th, A Confutation of John Slandish.—9th, A Discourse on the Holy Sacraments.— 10th, A Concordance to the New Testament.—11th, A Christian Catechism.—12th, Translations from Bullenger, Luther and others.—The version of the psalms, in the book of Common Prayer, is taken from Coverdale’s bible.

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