Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Nathaniel BernardPuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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THIS courageous and much persecuted puritan divine was educated at Emanuel college, Cambridge; after which he was lecturer at St. Sepulcher’s, London, where he was subjected to peculiar sufferings under the Prelatical tyranny of bishop Laud. In preaching at St. Atholin’s church, May 3d, 1629, having used the following expression in his prayer before sermon: “Oh! open the eyes of the queen’s majesty, that she may see Jesus Christ whom she hath pierced with her infidelity, superstition, and idolatry;” for which expression he was summoned by Laud to appear before the high commission at Lambeth, where, after long attendance, and having made his humble submission, he was dismissed; which, however, was considered an act of great mercy and moderation in that imperious court. Again, in the month of May 1632, in a sermon, preached at St. Mary’s church, Cambridge, he spoke in favor of maintaining purity in the worship of God, and deprecated the introduction of Arminianism and popish superstitions into the church of Christ. Here again the active Laud had him cited before the commission. On Mr. Bernard’s appearance, he was constrained to produce, before the court, a copy of his sermon, who objected to the following passages: “God’s ordinances, for his public worship, are the glory of any nation. By God’s ordinances here, said Mr. Bernard, I understand chiefly the word, sacraments, and prayer, which, when blended with any adulterous innovations, cease to be the ordinances of Christ, or recognized by him. It is not the nominal possession of the ordinances of Christ, but their possession in purity and reality, that constitutes the glory of a nation. The possession of the ordinances of God, in their purity, are a shield and buckler, and a rock of defense against public ruin and desolation. For the proof of this, I challenge all records, ancient or modern, human or divine, to produce one instance wherein God has punished any part of his church with national ruin till they had first departed from, or corrupted his ordinances. And if so, how foolish must it be for some men to think so meanly of the ordinances of their omnipotent Lord and lawgiver, who has announced himself also as the universal judge. Such men turn their own, and the glory of their nation and church into infamy and disgrace; and yet there is amongst us a generation of profane men, who seem to despise these holy ordinances. Men who are afraid or ashamed to preach twice on a Lord’s day; ashamed to preach plainly, powerfully, or spiritually, lest, forsooth, they should be branded with the name of puritans.” But Laud’s principal objection was to the following conclusion of Mr. Bernard’s sermon: “It is impossible, I say impossible, for any, who live in the faith and practice of the popish church, and die without repentance, to be saved, as the late Tridentine Council have decreed. My reason is, that whoever imagines he may enter heaven by any other gate than by faith in the merit of Christ only, must, and will assuredly be disappointed; and that the popish devotee, who rests his salvation on the merit of alms, pilgrimages, and penances, will find he has trusted to a broken reed. Furthermore, if God’s ordinances of public worship, in their divine purity, be the glory of a nation; then it follows, as a necessary consequence, that whoever goes about either to rob a nation of these ordinances, or defile them by mixtures of human invention, do what they can to render the nation base and inglorious, and, by so doing, to expose it to the displeasure of God, and consequently either to his Fatherly chastisement, or to that sweeping destruction, ruin, and desolation, which he has threatened, and which he has invariably executed upon these nations who despise, reject, or corrupt his divine institutions. In what light then are we to consider these corrupters? As patriots or friends to their native country? No, surely, but as enemies of God, and traitors to the community in which they live. Hereby we may learn how to account of those amongst ourselves (if any such there be), who endeavor to quench the light, and diminish the glory of our Israel, by intermingling their Pelagian errors with the doctrines of our church wished by law, and their antichristian superstitions with our Christian worship. Such as high altars, crucifixes, bowing down to them and worshipping them, whereby they shamefully symbolize with, the Church of Rome, to the irreparable ship wreck of many precious souls. How can we think such men are not the enemies of this church and nation? I say, enemies they are, and as such let us take up arms against them. But what arms? The prayers of the church are the arms of the church; let us therefore pray these men either to conversion, if it be the will of God, or to destruction; and let us use that prayer against them that David used against Ahitophel, with which I shall conclude. O Lord, turn the counsel of all these Ahitophels into folly, who labor to lay the honor and glory of this church and nation in the dust, by depriving us of the purity of thine ordinances of public worship, which are the bulwarks of our security, and the glory of our national strength.”
For these expressions in his sermon, Mr. Bernard was sentenced, by the high commission, to be suspended, excommunicated, fined one thousand pounds, condemned in costs of suit, and committed to new prison; where, for six months, he was most barbarously used, and nearly starved. It was in vain that he remonstrated with the bishop in several letters. This honest, but injured individual, could obtain no redress unless he would defile his conscience with a public and most debasing recantation, which he was commanded to make before the same congregation to whom he delivered the objectionable sermon. This he absolutely refused. He would not sacrifice the testimony of a good conscience, deny the most glaring matters of fact, and reject the counsel of God against himself, whatever might be the consequences. In his letters to Laud, though he expressed his sorrow for any unbecoming expressions in his sermon, he was told he had no favor to expect, nothing would appease the wrath of the angry prelate but a recantation agreeable to the contemptible form prescribed; which must for ever have degraded the man beneath the basest of the brute creation. He was therefore detained in prison, where, after languishing a long time, he died, and, by his death, has consigned the memory of this Prelatical monster to an immortality of example.