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Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Thomas Ford

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. Thomas Ford.

THIS persecuted puritan divine was born at Brixton inDevonshire, 1598. His family was respectable and wealthy. His father died when he was young; so that the care of his education devolved on his mother. He had a strong bias to learning, and was, while yet a child, susceptible, of very serious impressions. His schoolmaster reckoned that he was fit for the university at the age of fifteen; but sundry causes prevented him from entering till 1619, when he entered as student in Magdalenhall, Oxford. He was a diligent student, and made great proficiency in the learned languages, and the various branches of literature which were more immediately connected with theology. In 1624 he proceeded bachelor of arts, and took his degree of master of arts in 1627. According to Wood, he entered into orders, and became a diligent, faithful, and successful tutor in his own college for several years, of equal celebrity, according to Mr. Calamy, with any in the university. Warmly attached to the principles of the puritans, and zealous in defending and promoting the great object for which they contended, he sometimes expressed himself, as did several others, so freely iii his public ministrations in the university, that a considerable noise was raised amongst the directors of that great seat of learning. The occasion was this, Dr. Frevvin, president of Magdalen College, had changed the communion table of the chapel into an altar, the first that had been set up in the university since the reformation. Several preachers at St. Mary’s exclaimed against this glaring innovation, particularly Mr. Thorn of Baliol College, in a sermon from 1 Kings xiii. 2. respecting the altar erected at Bethel; and Mr. Hodge of Exeter college, preaching from that passage of scripture, “Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt,” attacked the system of innovations going forward with considerable freedom and keenness of animadversion. Mr. Foord also, in his turn, preaching from 2 Thess. ii. 10, 11. “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish,” etc. This sermon was delivered on the 12th of June 1631. He made some severe remarks on the innovations that were creeping into the church, on magnifying the importance of tradition, making the communion into a sacrifice with altars; to which men were commanded, idolatrously, to bow, and a variety of similar and equally useless and abominable ceremonies.

Laud and his coadjutors were exasperated almost to madness at these sermons, declaring that they were intended as reflections on the conduct and character of some very eminent ecclesiastics; besides, that they were an open violation of the king’s declaration for silencing the Arminian controversy. Accordingly, next morning the vice-chancellor had Mr. Foord summoned before him, and demanded a copy of his sermon; which Mr. Foord offered to give him, if he demanded it according to the statute. He then ordered him to surrender his person a prisoner at the castle. Mr. Foord offered to go, providing he would send a beadle, or even a servant with him; which not being done, he did not surrender himself. The Saturday following, the vice-chancellor, highly enraged, sealed up Mr. Foord’s study, after having examined all his books and papers in search of matter to condemn him. Herein, however, he totally failed, inasmuch as Mr. Foord had previously removed every thing of which his enemies could take the least advantage. In the meantime, archbishop Laud, who was himself chancellor of the university, having been apprised of the whole affair, sent orders to punish the preachers. Upon this, a citation, in Laud’s name, dated July 2d, was fixed on St. Mary’s church, commanding Mr. Foord to appear before the vicechancellor on the 5th. Foord appeared on the day appointed, and was urged to take an oath ex offlcio; which he refused to do, because there were no questions in writing. Again he offered a copy of his sermon if the vice-chancellor would demand it by virtue of the statute. Next day, however, he delivered a copy of the sermon; which was accepted. But on pretence of his former contumacy, he was again commanded to surrender himself a prisoner. Here Mr. Fobrd appealed from his jurisdiction to that of the convocation, and delivered his appeal in writing to the new proctors, Messrs Atherton Bruch and John Doughty, both men of ability and integrity. They brought the appeal before the convocation, where the case was referred to sixteen delegates, when ten out of fifteen, upon a full hearing, acquitted Mr. Foord from all breach of peace. At last Laud brought the whole affair be/ore the king and council at Woodstock; where Mr. Foord appearing, the king examined him on three questions: 1. Why he refused a copy of his sermon? Mr. Foord said, “He had not refused it, but freely offered it according to the statute.” 2. Whether Dr. Prideaux had dissuaded him from giving it? He assured his majesty that he had not consulted the doctor on the subject: And, 3. Why he did not go to prison when the vicechancellor commanded him thither on his faith? “He hoped (he said) that his majesty’s poor scholars in the university should not be in a worse condition than the worst of felons, who are imprisoned by a mittimus, and with legal officers to conduct them thither.” The king said no more; and the archbishop, though present, had not opened his mouth. The following sentence was nevertheless passed: That Messrs Foord, Thorn, and Hoges, be expelled the university: That both proctors be deprived of their places for receiving their appeals, although they could not legally refuse them; and that Dr. Prideaux, rector of Exeter college, and Dr. Wilkinson, principal of Magdalenhall, receive a sharp admonition for meddling in this affair on their behalf.

Messrs Hoges and Thorn, upon their recantation, and submitting to a year’s suspension, were fully restored, and afterwards promoted to be archdeacons. But Mr. Foord, by. the final sentence, was obliged to remove from the university on four days notice; but was honorably conducted out of town by a great multitude of scholars in their habits. After this he was almost instantaneously invited by the magistrates of Plymouth to be their minister; but the malicious Laud, who had the king’s ear, obtained a letter from him to these magistrates, which he accompanied with one of his awn, forbidding them, as they dreaded the royal displeasure, to choose him; and in case he should be chosen, the bishop of Exeter was commanded not to admit him. The inhabitants of Plymouth were therefore obliged to relinquish the object of their choice. Finding that Laud was determined to exclude him from all preferment in England, Mr. Foord embraced the opportunity of going abroad, in the capacity of chaplain to an English regiment, commanded by colonel George Fleetwood, in the service of Gustavus Adolphus. He travelled with the colonel into Germany, and lay some time in garrison at Stode and Elbing. His eminent talents and erudition recommended him to the learned of all professions wherever he travelled. The English merchants at Hamburgh invited him to become their minister, at a salary of two hundred pounds; but not relishing a foreign country, he returned to England, On his arrival, he was presented to the rectory of Aldwinkle in Northamptonshire; and what is rather surprising, Laud and his party offered no objection. Here he continued a diligent and faithful minister of Christ for some years, and married the daughter of Fleetwood of Gray’s Inn, Esq. By whom he had several children. He was chosen proctor for the clergy of the diocese of Peterborough to the famous convocation of 1640.

When the civil war broke out, he retired to London, where he became minister of St. Faiths, London, and afterwards a member of the assembly of divines. When the wars were over, Mr. Foord settled at Exeter in Devonshire. Here he found the city and adjacent country under the influence of a sect of enthusiasts, who pretended they stood in no need of ordinances; but that they were raised, by the divine illumination, quite above them. Here lie distinguished himself in preaching down the mad errors of this visionary tribe. His labors, in this place, were crowned with remarkable success; the city was greatly reformed, and a relish for the doctrines of truth gradually restored. Mr. Foord preached in the cathedral, though, upon one occasion, he was put out by major general, Desborough, for refusing the engagement. He was greatly esteemed, both by the people, the magistrates, and neighbouring gentlemen, and held a very friendly correspondence with the other ministers of the city. He induced them to set up a Tuesday’s lecture; in which they all took their turns, and were uncommonly well attended. He also prevailed, with his brethren, to have the sacrament administered every fortnight, taking the churches in rotation, at which the members of the other churches might have an opportunity of communicating. These measures had a strong tendency to prevent all jealousies among the ministers, and to unite the people in brotherly affection amongst themselves. The ministers of Exeter lived together in “much harmony and happiness, and the work of the gospel was greatly promoted by their faithful labors, till the act of uniformity ejected them from their several charges; though still remaining among their people. Upon the coming out of the Oxford act, he, and twelve other ministers, who resided in the city, not satisfied with all the particulars of the oath therein imposed, and aware that their refusal would be misconstrued, thought it prudent to present a petition to the magistrates. This petition stated, that they were so free from all thoughts of raising a new war, or resisting the powers that by divine providence were over them, that they were firmly resolved never to take arms against the king’s person or government, nor aid, abet, countenance, or encourage others in any tumultuous or unpeaceable endeavors to disturb his majesty’s kingdoms; but to behave themselves peaceably in all things, and at all times, under his majesty’s government, in church and state. That this they humbly offered, not expecting thereby to be freed from the operation of the act, but that they might not be represented to his majesty as disaffected and disloyal persons. The magistrates, however, having no favor for men of their sentiments, refused the petition; and the petitioners were obliged to leave the city for some time. Mr. Foord retired to Exmouth, nine miles from Exeter, where he lived privately, and, under the direction of an indulgent providence, had a competent support.

When the indulgence came out, though Mr. Foord neither approved the men that procured it, nor the object it was intended to effect, it was, nevertheless, his opinion, that ministers should embrace the opportunity it afforded for preaching the gospel. On this occasion, though his health was much impaired, he returned to Exeter; where he was not able to preach more than two sermons in public, though he was greatly serviceable by his private advice and conversation. At this juncture, while many were flattering themselves with the approach of flourishing times, Mr. Foord was daily warning them, that there was yet in reserve a far more dreadful storm that would unavoidably fall on the churches. This was awfully verified, in the terrible persecution which took place in variouscountries during some following years.’

Mr. Foord’s health was daily on the decline; so that he was soon confined to his bed, and could speak but little to those persons who visited him. When visited by some ministers of tie city, he spoke much of his own unworthiness, and the allsufficiency of Christ. “On this rock (said he) I have reposed my confidence, where I hope to remain safe amid all the storms of dissolution. The sting of death is sin; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” These were the last words he was heard to utter. Dr. Calamy says, “He died in December 1674, in the seventysixth year of his age, and that he was buried in St, Laurence church, Exeter. He was esteemed a man of excellent parts, and of unbiassed principles, the same man at all times, and in the midst of all changes.”

His printed works are, 1. Two Sermons, one preached before the Lords, the other before the Commons.—2. Singing of Psalms, a Christian duty under the New Testament.—3. The Sinner Condemned of himself, being a plea for God against all the ungodly.—4. Selfevidence of Scripture, proving it to be the only rule of Faith.

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