Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Simeon AshePuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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THIS staunch puritan divine was educated in Emanuel college, Cambridge, with a view to the church, and began his ministry, by preaching the gospel in Staffordshire, in the vicinity of those famous ministers of Christ, Mr. John Ball, Mr. Langley, and Mr. Robert Nicolls, with whom he cultivated a particular acquaintance. Mr. Ashe was pleasantly situated amongst his brethren, with whom he enjoyed a most agreeable intercourse; but not conforming to the ceremonies of the church, and particularly for refusing to read from the pulpit the Book of Sports, he was deprived of his living, and removed from his flock. This Book of Sports was first published by king James, May 24th, 1618, setting forth, “That for his good people’s lawful recreation, his majesty’s pleasure was, that after the end of divine service they should not be disturbed, letted, or discouraged, from any lawful recreations; such as dancing either of men or women, archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any such harmless recreations; nor from having May games, Whitsunales, or morris dauces, or setting up of Maypoles, or other sports therewith used; so as the same may be had in due and convenient time, without impediment of divine service; and that women should have leave to carry rushes for decorating the churches, according to their old custom. Withal, prohibiting all unlawful games to be used on Sunday only, as bearbaiting, bull-baiting, interludes, and at all times bowling, in the, meaner sort of people, by law prohibited.” Charles I. having imbibed his father’s principles, and following his destructive policy, revived, enlarged, and keenly urged this his father’s declaration. It was ordered to be published in all parish churches; but whether by the minister, or some other person, was left to the discretion of the bishop; and Laud, the inveterate enemy of all puritans and nonconformists, well aware that the most strict and conscientious amongst them would stand out against such a disgraceful order, considered this the most likely method of getting clear of men whom he so heartily abhorred, and of whom he was not without his fears. ‘ In order, therefore, that he might find a plausible pretext against these men, the clergy were ordered to read this unparalleled piece of Prelatical effrontery from their respective pulpits. Some poor clergymen strained their consciences, and obeyed the bishops; others read it with this observation, that in obedience to the ecclesiastic order, they had read the declaration of the king; but on purpose to perform their duty to the King of kings, arid to the flock committed to their pastoral care, they must also read his declaration on this grave subject; so turning up the fourth commandment, read it aloud, saying, “The former is the declared orders of the chief magistrate of this realm, whom his subjects are in duty bound to love and obey; but the latter is the command, the imperative command, of him by whom kings reign; and seeing the two orders are diametrically opposed the one to the other, whether it be right, in this case, to obey God or man, judge ye.” Others of the clergy put this disagreeable task into the hands of their curates; but a great many refused to read it on any terms whatever—of this number was Mr. Ashe. By this base stratagem Laud deprived the nation of the services of her most zealous, pious, and laborious ministers, who were forthwith driven from their flocks, excommunicated, persecut1 ed by the court of high commission, and not a few of them forced to leave their native land, for the deadly sin of not publishing, from their pulpits, the permission of the king to break through the command of God. “It is questionable (says Fuller) whether the sufferings of these men procured them more of the public commiseration, or the conduct of their persecutors, that of their hatred and animosity.”
After some time, Mr. Ashe obtained liberty, or was connived at preaching in an empty church at Wroxhall, under the protection of Sir John Burgoyne; and in Warwickshire, under the lord Brook, to whom he was chaplain. Upon commencement of the civil war he became chaplain to the earl of Manchester, and had a considerable share in the Cambridge visitation, formerly noticed. He was at the battle of Edgebill, which first effectually broke the peace between the king and parliament. This battle was fought on the 23d of October 1642, being Sabbath. The army of parliament, with which Mr. Ashe was connected, commanded by the earl of Essex, intended to rest, and observe the Sabbath at Kineton, a small market town about three miles from Edgehill. But while the soldiers were going to church, information arrived of the approach of the royal army; on which they advanced to meet them. Mr. Ashe was chosen a member of the assembly of divines, and Mr. Neal has marked him as a constant attendant at that assembly. He was, minister of Michael Basingshaw, London, and afterward of St. Austin’s, London, where he died. He was one of the Cornhill lecturers, and one who subscribed the vindication of the London ministers from the charge of being promoters of the king’s death. He was a strong opposer of the new commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, and had a considerable hand in the restoring of Charles II.
Dr. Walker, among other charges, severely censures him for a sermon, preached before the House of Commons, from Psalm ix. 9. for his invectives against the governors and government of the church. But Dr. Calamy, after perusing said sermon, says, “He found it to be a very grave and serious discourse, in no respect unbecoming either the preacher or the audience.” Among many serious grievances, Mr. Ashe takes notice, in this sermon, of the subscription urged upon all graduates in both universities, and upon all men entering the ministry, which he considers a heavy oppression, calculated to drive many promising scholars from theological studies, and to ensnare the consciences of others. He reprobates the pressing of useless ceremonies in the worship of God, upon pain of suspension, deprivation, and excommunication, whereby ministers and their families were exposed to great hardships, and congregations deprived of their pastors. The conniving at a scandalous ministry, the great abuse of oaths, particularly that of matriculation, the abuse of church censures, and the opposition made by the ruling ecclesiastics to piety and the power of godliness, by their derision and persecution of such as give evidence of seriousness and a holy conversation. The charges are no doubt heavy; but, at the same time, they were lamentably true. Mr. Ashe must therefore be acquitted as blameless. Other charges were brought against him by Dr. Walker; which Dr. Calamy has largely and most judiciously refuted.
Mr. Ashe had a good estate, and a liberal heart. He was hospitable without ostentation. His house was much frequented, and himself greatly esteemed. He was a Christian of primitive simplicity, a puritan of the original stamp, distinguished by a holy life and a cheerful spirit; and it is well known, how desirable an acquisition it is to have a religious friend, whose cheerfulness contributes to enliven the exercises of social piety.
Dr. Calamy, who visited him in his last illness, says, “That he complained much, that ministers, when met together, discourse so little about Christ and the concerns of another world, resolving, that if it pleased God to restore him, he would endeavor, on such occasions, to be more fruitful than he had ever yet been, exhorting me, and other ministers, to preach Christ on all occasions; Christ crucified, our Advocate, and the propitiation for our sins. It is one thing, said he, to preach, or speak about Christ and heaven, and quite another thing to feel the consolations of Christ and of heaven as I now do.” At another time he said, “The comforts of a holy life are real and soul-supporting. I feel their reality; and you may learn, by my case, that it is not in vain to serve our God.” His lively and edifying conversation, with those who visited him in his sickness, was useful and very encouraging, and he closed a life of labor and activity, in the cause of God and his church, with a pious, edifying, and comfortable death, on the 23d of August 1662, a short time before the fatal Bartholomew day, when the puritans were ejected from their churches.
Dr. Calamy, who had the happiness1 of being intimately acquainted with Mr. Ashe during the space of about twenty years, in London, said, at his funeral, “I can freely and clearly profess, and that with a sorrowful heart, that I, and many others, have lost a real wise and godly friend, brother, and fellow laborer in the Lord, The church has lost an eminent member and a choice pillar; and this city has lost an ancient, faithful, and painful minister; and the less sensible the city is of this loss, the greater it is. The ministerial excellencies of many ministers were collected together, and concentrated in the person of Simon Ashe. He was a Bezaleel in God’s tabernacle, a master builder, an old disciple; whom many ministers, and other good Christians, called Father; and I believe many lament over him as the king did over Elisha; for he lived desired, and died lamented.” Samuel Rutherford, one of the Scotch commissioners, calls him the gracious and pious Mr. Ashe.
His works are, 1. The best Refuge for the most Oppressed; a Sermon preached before the House of Commons, March 30th, 1642. In this celebrated sermon, speaking of the oppression which the church and people of God have to meet with in the world, mentions the English prelates as great oppressors, both in the church and commonwealth. “What country (says he), what city, what town, what village, yea, what family, I had almost said, what individual, has not, in one kind or other, in one degree or other, at one time or other, been the object of their oppression? They and their officers, by citations, censures, exactions, and other unjust proceedings, have been universal oppressors. How many wealthy men have they crushed by their cruelty! How many poor families have they ruined by their tyranny! and I beseech you to consider whether the most pious among preachers and people have not met with the hardest measures from their heavy hands. Alas! alas! how many faithful ministers have they silenced! how many gracious Christians have they excommunicated! and how many congregations have they starved or dissolved ,in this kingdom! For the proof of all this, and of more than all this, I appeal to the unparalleled number of petitions presented to this present parliament.”— 2. Good Courage Discovered and Encouraged; a Sermon preached before the commanders of the military forces of London, 17th May, 1642.—3, The Church Sinking, saved by Christ; a Sermon preached before the House of Lords, February 26th, 1644, at their Public Fast.—4. Religious Covenanting Directed, and Covenant keeping Persuaded; a Sermon preached before the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, Aldermen, and the rest of the Common Council of London, on the 14th January 1645.— 5. God’s Incomparable Goodness to Israel Unfolded and Applied; a Sermon preached before the Commons, April 28th, 1647, at their Fast.—6. Christ the Riches of the Gospel, and the hope of the Christian.—7. Living Loves between Christ and the Dying Christian; a Sermon preached at the funeral of Jeremiah Whitaker. He is also said to have preached and published funeral Sermons for Mr. Ralph Robinson, Mr. Robert Strange, Mr. Thomas Gataker, Mr. Richard Vines, and the countess of Manchester. He wrote also several Prefaces for the works of others, and published the Power of Godliness, a Treatise on the Covenant of Grace, by the famous John Ball, who entrusted him with his manuscripts.