Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Robert BalsomPuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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THIS pious and very courageous puritan divine was born at Shipton Montague in Somersetshire, and educated at New Inn Hall, Oxford. Having finished his studies at the university, he was appointed assistant to Mr. Richard Bernard of Batcombe, in his native county; and upon the death of this venerable divine, removed to Stoke, a village in the same neighborhood; where, having labored about two years, with much apparent advantage to the morality and religious feelings of the inhabitants, the confusion occasioned by the civil war obliged Mm to flee for safety, and take shelter in Warder castle, which, some short time after this, was besieged by the king’s troops. At the solicitation of Colonel Ludlow he remained during the siege. Upon the capitulation of the place, Balsom, walking on the roof of the castle, overheard three soldiers say, “We have sworn on the bible to take the life of one in the castle.” He asked them whom they meant, if it was the minister? “Yes (said they), for he is a wizard, who, by his hellish art, has protracted the siege, by frequently supplying the castle with provision.” This they told him, not knowing him to be the man. The treaty concluded, and the enemy having entered, Mr. Balsom was shut up in close prison, along with a soldier who was hanged the next morning. At midnight the key of the prison was put into the hands of these intended assassins, who entered the room, and (taking off their hats) stood at some distance, seemingly doubtful and undetermined; but said nothing. Mr. Balsom, strongly suspecting their design, thus addressed them: “Friends, What is your business at this unseasonable hour? Are not you the men who have sworn to assassinate me?” With great agitation, one of them replied, “We have taken a wicked oath, God forgive us; but be not alarmed, for we will do you no harm.” When Mr. Balsom desired them to come forward, they urged him to make his escape, kindly offering him all the assistance in their power. But suspecting they might have some other evil design, he refused; and even after they had convinced him of their integrity, he still refused, saying, “I will rather endure all that God will permit them to inflict, than hazard your lives, who have thus befriended me.” And so, to testify their esteem and their integrity, they conducted him in to the fresh air; and having cleaned his room, departed.
Next morning a council was called to consider how they should dispose of their prisoner; and while they were debating about the propriety of putting him to death, one of the Council stood up, and after pointing out the impolicy, and the gross injustice of the measure proposed, declared, that whatever might be the result of their deliberations, he, for one, was determined to keep his hands clean, and his conscience clear, of such wicked policy and unnecessary severity, and so left the room; so the council came to no decisive result. Balsom was then removed to Salisbury, where, the same night, another council, picked for the occasion, were summoned; by whose sentence he was condemned to be hanged. Having thus received sentence of death, the sheriff of the county waited on him in prison, and, after a great deal of abusive language, told him to prepare for his execution at six o’clock next morning; assuring him, however, that provided he would ask pardon of the king, and attach himself to his service, he would not only be relieved from the sentence that hung over him, but that he might also have almost any preferment he had a mind to request. Mr. Balsom, being a man of inflexible fortitude, replied, “To ask pardon, without being conscious of any offence, were to act the part of a fool; and to violate my conscience, were to make myself a knave; and if I had neither the hope of heaven, nor the fear of hell, I would sooner die an honest man, than live either the one or the other.” ‘ In the full expectation of execution, he rose next morning to prepare himself for his solemn exit. At six o’clock the officers arrived at the prison to bring him to the fatal gibbet; when suddenly the post arrived, just as he was preparing to come forth, with a reprieve from Sir Ralph Hop ton; when, instead of death, he was forthwith carried to Winchester, where Sir Ralph resided. On entering the city, Sir William Ogle, the governor, said to Balsom, “I shall feed you with bread and water for two or three days, and then have you hanged;” but he fell into better hands. Being brought before Sir Ralph, after some familiar conversation relative to his espousing the ’cause ‘of the parliament, and the principles on which he had acted, he was committed to prison, with this charge, “Keep this man safe; but use him well.”
Mr. Balsom, after having for some time remained in a state of confinement, was, by an express order, removed to Oxford, and committed prisoner to the castle, where he set up a lecture preached twice every day, and was numerously attended, not only by the prisoners and soldiers, but by courtiers and townsmen. After having been once or twice prohibited, he told them, that if they were weary of him, and did not wish to be longer troubled with him, they might turn him out of doors whenever they had a mind; (t for (said he), so long as I have a tongue to speak, and people to hear, I will not hold my peace.” At length, by an exchange of prisoners, he recovered his liberty and being sent for by the earl of Essex, he became chaplain in his army, and continued so during his command.
Mr. Balsom was, after this, settled at Berwick, where he was regularly employed in his favorite work of preaching. In this situation he had the cordial affection of his people; and, by the blessing of heaven on his ministry, he had also the satisfaction of observing, that an important reformation in the manners and habits of the people had been effected by means of his labors amongst them. But having occasion to visit his own county, where he was seized with sickness, and died, in 1647, to the inexpressible grief of his beloved and loving flock at Berwick, Some short time before his death, he wrote from Berwick to a friend in London, giving him some account of the affairs in the north; which it may not be improper to insert.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Yours was not a little welcome to me, nor am I backward to requite the favor. The news here is so good, that I can hardly hold my pen for joy. The king’s coming to the Scotch army, will, in all probability, prove one of the greatest mercies conferred upon us since the commencement of the war, never did I hear of any Christians carrying themselves so boldly, and so faithfully in reproving their prince, so humbly before their God, so innocently towards their brethren, and so seriously desirous of a settled and well grounded peace, as the Scotch at this time do. They labor with much earnestness for the king’s conversion. They tell him plainly of the blood which he has unjustly shed in the course of his government; and, by proclamation, have banished all malignants six miles from his person. They have told him, that for his transgressions against God and his people, he must give satisfaction to both kingdoms; and, moreover, they have sent to Scotland for some of their ablest divines to converse with him. The malignants, who were gathering around him from both kingdoms, in consequence of these measures, droop; and the French agent, whose activity has been displayed in attempting to make a breach, is greatly discountenanced. The nobles and ministers of the church profess an earnest longing for a happy union, and the settled government of, Christ in his church; which being once done, they will immediately return to the paths of peace. The Independents themselves stand amazed at the wisdom, resolution, and fidelity, the humility and zeal that accompany their resolutions. The malignant party, which was much feared, are borne down. The mouths which were so wide, both of independents and malignants, are closed up, that they have not a word to say, observing how the Lord hath blessed them; so that all their enemies in Scotland are routed and brought to nothing. The king still refuses to proclaim Montrose and his adherents rebels; but the King of kings has taken the work into his own hands, and utterly dispersed them. I have not time to write the particulars; but only to let you know, that I am,
Your assured friend,