Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Robert ParkerPuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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THIS persecuted puritan became rector of North Benflete in Essex, 1571; which, the following year, he resigned for that of West Henningfield, in the same county, where he remained for several years; after which he was appointed pastor of the church of Dedham, also in Essex. He was suspended by bishop Aylmer for refusing to subscribe to Whitegift’s three articles. Being restored to his ministry some time after, but with proviso, that after a certain day, which was stated, if he did not fully conform to the articles, he should be deprived; which there is reason to believe he was. Having endured these troubles, he left the county of Essex, and was, some time after, beneficed at Wilton in Wiltshire, where he continued many years.
In 1598, bishop Bilson having published a work, in which be avers, that Jesus Christ, after his death upon the cross, actually descended into the regions of the damned. Many learned divines undertook to refute this, and establish the opposite opinion. Mr. Parker, amongst the rest, published a learned piece, entitled, “De Descensu Christi ad Infernos;” for which he was ridiculed by the opposite party. The celebrated Dr. Ames, however, says concerning the work, “That it is a performance of such beauty and energy, that it dazzles the eyes even of envy itself.” These right reverend and jeering ecclesiastics had done themselves more honor, had they discovered an ability to answer it; but they took a much more prudent, and a less laborious, method of managing this troublesome concern. They persuaded the king to issue his royal proclamation, with a tempting reward offered for apprehending the author; which obliged Mr. Parker to conceal himself, till an opportunity arrived for retiring to a foreign country. While, thus lurking amongst his friends, the archbishop Boncraft had information that he was concealed, in a citizen’s house in London, and immediately set a watch, while others were ready prepared with a warrant to apprehend him. Boncraft’s spy having fixed himself at the door, had knowledge of his being in the house, and considered himself sure of his prize; but Parker, dressing himself in the habit of a citizen, ventured forth, though with small hopes of getting clear off. The watchman at the door, however, at this critical moment, observing his intended bride pass on the other side of the street, stepped over to speak with her; and Mr. Parker, in the interim, passed unobserved; ‘and the officers, with their warrant, were subjected to suffer the mortification of a mysterious disappointment.
After this signal interposition of providence, he retired to the house of a friend in the vicinity of London, where a servant in the family again furnished the archbishop with information of his place of retreat; and Boncraft’s officers actually searched the house where he was. The only apartment which they neglected to search was that wherein he was concealed; from which he heard them cursing and quarrelling. Some said the room had not been examined, others that it had, and would not suffer it to be searched again; by which oversight Mr. Parker was preserved from an apprehension, which, from the humor of the king, and the malicious spirit of the bishops, would, in all likelihood, have cost him his life. After these remarkable deliverances, Mr. Parker fled from the storm that was gathering around him, by embarking for Holland; and would have been chosen pastor to the English church at Amsterdam, had not the apprehension of offending the king of England prevented. Thus disappointed at Amsterdam, he went to Doesburg, and became preacher to the garrison, where, about eight months after his departure from England, he died.
During his short abode at Doesburg, he wrote several very affectionate letters to Mr. Paget, minister at Amsterdam, wherein he discovers a becoming spirit of resignation to the will of God. He thanks him for the pains he had taken in his behalf, though without success. “At which (says he) I am not in the least moved, knowing that it is the will of God, and that he will be my God wherever he has appointed me to go.”
Mr. Parker has the undisputed character of an able writer, a man of great learning and piety, a studious scholar, and laborious preacher. Besides the work above mentioned, Mr. Parker was author of De Politia Ecclesiastica; in which he maintains, that whatever relates to the church must be deduced from scripture. “We deny no authority (says he) to the king in matters ecclesiastical, only what Jesus Christ, the alone head of his church, has appropriated to himself, and denied to communicate to any of the children of men, whatever be their wisdom, power, or place in human society. We hold, that Christ alone is the doctor or teacher of his own church, and that the word of Christ, which he has given to his church, is of itself complete and perfect: That it contains all parts of true religion, both for substance and ceremony; a perfect direction in all ecclesiastic matters, to which it is unlawful for men or angels to add, and from which nothing is to be abstracted.”