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Life of Dr Owen
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His Pastorate

The mind of Owen, now effectually relieved from the burden of spiritual distress, soon recovered its elasticity and vigour; and in March 1642 he gave to the world his first literary production, — “The Display of Arminianism.” In all likelihood he had been silently labouring at this work while in the families of Sir Philip Dormer and Lord Lovelace; more especially as his mental distress may have had some connection with a misunderstanding of certain of those points of which the Arminian controversy touches, and have led to their more full examination. But we may discover the principal occasion of the work in the ecclesiastical policy of the period, and in the strain of doctrinal sentiment which that policy had long aimed to foster and to propagate. Laud and his party had shown themselves as zealous for the peculiar dogmas of Arminianism, as for Romish rites and vestment and for passive obedience; and the dogmas had been received into royal favour because of their association with the advocacy of superstitious ceremonies and the defence of despotic rule. Arminianism having thus been constituted the exclusive way to preferment, had become the fashionable creed; and a current of doctrine had flowed into the church which was rapidly changing the character of its ministration, and bearing it away from those safe moorings at which its own articles and its Reformers had fixed it.

A remark by Owen, in his address to the reader, correctly describes the Laudean policy: “Had a poor Puritan offended against half so many canons as they opposed articles, he had forfeited his livelihood, if not endangered his life.” And in another passage he explains the progress of Arminianism in England: “The chief cause I take to be that which Æneas Sylvius gave, why more maintained the pope to be above the council than the council above the pope; — because the popes gave archbishoprics and bishoprics, &c, but the councils sued ‘in forma pauperis,’ and therefore could scarce get an advocate to plead their cause. The fates of our church having of late devolved the government of it on men tainted with this poison, Arminianism became backed with the powerful arguments of praise and preferment, and quickly beat poor naked Truth into a corner.”

Owen’s “Display” is a barrier raised against prevailing opinions. Each chapter contains a statement of the Arminian doctrine on the point discussed, with Owen’s answer; while at the end of each chapter the Arminian doctrine is more briefly stated, in the language of some Arminian writer, and confronted in opposite columns by passages of Scripture. Undoubtedly there are some things charged upon the Arminianism of those times which belong rather to the family of Pelagian errors, and which the pious Arminian of our own day would at all events repudiate. Nor is it to be denied that the work is not free, in some parts, of the fault which clings to so much theological controversy, — that of making individuals responsible, not only for the opinions they avow, but for all the consequences that you may deduce from them; yet, withal, it is rich in matter which must have staggered the courtly theologians of the age, — is hung all round with massive Calvinistic armour; and, though written in a more scholastic form than most of Owen’s subsequent works, gives indication of that spirit which was so characteristic of the Puritans, and pre-eminently of Owen, and which gave such a depth to their piety, — the spirit which connected all events with God, and bent with lowly and awe-struck feeling before the divine sovereignty.

Owen dedicated his work to “The Lords and Gentlemen of the committee for Religion;” who appointed it to be printed by the Committee of the House of Commons for regulating the printing and publishing of books. Its publication is interesting on another account, — as having been the means of introducing him to his first pastoral charge. The incumbent of Fordham in Essex having been ejected from his living by the committee for purging the church of scandalous ministers, Owen was invited by the same committee to occupy the vacant parish. Not long after his removal to Fordham, he was married to a lady of the name of Rooke. But nearly all the information that here descended to us regarding this union, from the earlier biographies, amounts to this, — that the lady bore to him eleven children, all of whom, except one daughter, died in early youth. This only daughter became the wife of a Welsh gentleman; but the union proving unhappy, she “returned to her kindred and to her father’s house,” and soon after died of consumption.

This period of Owen’s early pastorate appears to have been one of the happiest of his life. Fordham is a secluded village, overhanging the fertile and pleasing valley of the Stour, which divides Suffolk from Essex. Its inhabitants, at the present day, number about seven hundred; but in the days of Owen they could not have been by any means so numerous. In this retreat, and surrounded by a not very dense rural population,1717   We are indebted for this information regarding the first scene of Owen’s ministry to the Rev. Alexander Anderson, pastor of a Baptist Church, Colchester; who also informs us that the signature of Owen is still to be seen in the parochial parish register at Fordham (four miles distant), and that it has this peculiarity attached to it, that whilst all preceding it, and also succeeding, so far as he continued his examination, sign themselves “Parson,” the usual designation of the time, his signature has the word “Pastor” invariably attached to it; showing that he deliberately, and from the first, “preferred the more scriptural term of ‘pastor,’ to the presuming designation of parson, more especially if we accept its common derivation, ‘Persona ecclesiæ.’ ” he was allowed to pursue in peace the quiet duties of a country parish, and knew nothing as yet of those more public and distracting responsibilities which he ever undertook with reluctance, and which he appears to have usually renounced with satisfaction. The spiritual interests of the parish having been neglected by his predecessor, he set himself with earnest system to break up the fallow ground, and to preach those truths which had still to his mind all the freshness of first love. The good Puritan practice of visiting and catechising from house to house gave him a large place in the affections of his people, as well as revealed to him the measure of their Christian intelligence; while his solid preaching soon gathered around him the inhabitants of his own parish, and even allured multitudes across the borders of the neighbouring parishes to listen to his weighty words. Like Baxter at Kidderminster, he was ere long cheered by witnessing one of those widespread and enduring reformations which have never followed on any agency save the earnest preaching of “Christ crucified.”

The productions of his pen at this period indicate the current of his thoughts, and the liveliness of his evangelic zeal. The first of these is entitled, “The Duty of Pastors and People Distinguished,” and was published in 1643. Its main design is to “describe the means to be used by the people of God, distinct from church officers, for the increasing of divine knowledge in themselves and others,” and to show how “the sacred calling may retain its ancient dignity, though the people of God be not deprived of their Christian liberty.”1818   Preface, p. 10, ed. 1644. It bears internal evidence of having been drawn from him by the unscriptural assumptions of those ecclesiastics who thought to place their interdict on every thing like the agency of private members in the church, though there are particular passages aimed at those fiery persons who sought to introduce into the church the spirit of a wild democracy, and whose mode of making “all the Lord’s people prophets,” was to dispense with the inestimable benefits of a stated ministry. As it is the earliest, so it is one of the most useful of Owen’s smaller treatises, and is remarkable for its skilful harmonizing of authority with liberty. How much of his axiomatic sagacity there is in the following sentence: “Truth revealed to any, carries with it an immovable persuasion of conscience that it ought to be published and spoken to others!”1919   P. 38. And how much of wise restraint and rebuke in this: “Let not them who despise a faithful, painful minister in public, flatter themselves with hope of a blessing in private. Let them pretend what they will, they have not equal respect unto all God’s ordinances!”2020   P. 49. If Burnet’s “Pastoral Care” and Baxter’s “Reformed Pastor” may be named as the guides and counsellors of the ministers of that age, this, tractate might well have been placed beside them as the handbook of the people.2121   Owen quotes with approbation (p. 54) the judgment and practice of the Church of Scotland, as expressed in their Act of Assembly at Edinburgh, anno 1641. “Our Assembly also commandeth godly conference at all occasional meetings, or as God’s providence shall dispose, as the Word of God commandeth, providing none invade the pastor’s office, to preach the Word, who are not called thereunto by God and his church.”

We still trace the signs of the busy pastor in his next publication, which is entitled, “The Principles of the Doctrine of Christ Unfolded, in Two Short Catechisms;” the first being intended for young persons, the second for adults, and as an aid to parents in domestic instruction. We are reminded, as we look on the stalworth Puritan, who is soon to mingle in the great theological discussions of the day, thus preparing “milk for babes,” of Johnson’s admiring sentence on Isaac Watts: “Providing instruction for all ages, from those who were lisping their first lessons, to the enlightened readers of Malebranche and Locke.”2222   Lives of the Poets, iv. 164.

During these years of his laborious and unostentatious pastorate, the solid reputation of Owen was extending, and on April 29, 1646, he was appointed to preach before Parliament, on occasion of its monthly fast. The discourse is founded on Acts xvi. 9, “ A vision appeared to Paul in the night: there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us;” and is written in a style of popular eloquence by no means characteristic of the usual strain of Owen’s writings. The thanks of the House were conveyed to Owen by Mr Fenner and Sir Philip Wentworth, and the discourse commanded to be printed. The evangelic zeal of the pastor of Fordham breaks forth, towards the close, in behalf of those parts of the empire which were destitute of religious instruction, and especially in behalf of his ancestral country, Wales: “When manna fell in the wilderness from the hand of the Lord, every one had an equal share. I would there were not now too great an inequality when secondarily in the hand of man, whereby some have all, and others none; some sheep daily picking the choice flowers of every pasture, — others wandering upon the barren mountains, without guide or food.”2323   Owen’s Sermons, fol. ed., p. 214. The glowing terms in which he dedicates his sermon to the Long Parliament, as “most deservedly celebrated through the whole world, and to be held in everlasting remembrance by all the inhabitants of this island,” have drawn forth the disapprobation of some. But what contemporary opinion has been more justified by the calm judgment of later history? What English Parliament ever bore upon its roll such a list of patriots, or surrounded the immunities of the people with such constitutional guards? Even the grudging concession of Hume goes so far as to say that their conduct, with one exception, was such as “to entitle them to praise from all lovers of liberty.”2424   Hume’s History of England, vi. ch. li. Vaughn’s Stuart Dynasty, ii. 74.

Not long after this, Owen’s pastoral connection with Fordham was brought to a close. The “sequestered incumbent” whose place he had occupied died, and the right of presenting to the living having in this way reverted to the patron, it was given to another. The event became the occasion of introducing him to a wider sphere. The people of Coggeshall, an important market-town of Essex, about five miles distant, no sooner received the tidings of his deprivation than they sent a pressing invitation to him to become their minister, — an invitation which the patron, the Earl of Warwick, immediately confirmed. Unlike Fordham, this new charge had previously been diligently cultivated by a succession of faithful ministers; so that his work was not so much to lay the foundation as to build. He soon beheld himself surrounded by a congregation of nearly two thousand people, whose general religious consistency and Christian intelligence were a delight to his heart, and whose strong attachment to him subsequent events gave them abundant opportunities of testifying.2525   Wood’s Athen. Oxon., iv. 100.

Contemporaneously with these outward changes in Owen’s position, considerable changes also took place in his opinions on church government. His removal to Coggeshall is named as the period at which he renounced Presbytery; and the order of his church there is said to have been brought into a closer conformity with the Independent or Congregational model.

There were principles, however, retained by Owen, both on the subject of the ruling elder and of synods, — as we shall have occasion to show in noticing some of his later writings, — which prove that his Congregationalism was of a somewhat modified character, and which a moderate Presbyterian of our own times, though not vaunting as identical with his views, would yet hail as evidence that the gulf between himself and the Congregationalist is not impassable. But the Presbyterians of Owen’s early days in general went much farther than those of the present age; and we deem it not the least of his honours that he refused to follow in their course. Not that we have any sympathy with those terms of unqualified censure with which the Presbyterians of that age have too often been characterized. During the period of their brief supremacy, they accomplished much for England. In proportion as we value those noble statements of doctrine, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, must we be grateful to the Presbyterians, who took so prominent and cordial a part in those deliberations which produced them. Well-informed and candid men of other religious parties have not been slow to admit that those districts of England which were brought under a Presbyterian pastorate and polity, made visible progress in Christian intelligence and piety; and many of those measures which were adopted by them in opposition to Cromwell, and which have often been ascribed to hostility to liberty, were, in fact, honest endeavours on their part to restore a constitutional government. But the intolerant spirit which animated them at this particular juncture is neither to be extenuated nor denied.

Having recently risen to power, they had become dazzled by the dream of an impracticable uniformity, and, as Baxter, himself a Presbyterian, complains, had shown too great a readiness to invoke to their aid in realizing this ambitious dream the arm of secular power. The endless diversity of opinion which the growing liberty and the general ferment at the public mind had occasioned was regarded by them as evidence of the dangers of unlimited toleration, and they imagined that amid such discordant sounds truth must be indistinguishable, and even perish from the earth. Owen’s mind had, meanwhile, far advanced beyond these narrow views, and risen above these imaginary fears. He had boundless confidence in the vitality of truth, — strong convictions of the power of its own spiritual weapons, and of the utter impotence of every other: and while so many of those with whom he hitherto been associated saw only, in the mingled light and darkness, the approach of night, he hailed in them the hopeful twilight which was to grow into perfect day. In a “Country essay for the practice of church government,” prefixed to his sermon before Parliament, he repeatedly condemns all enforced conformity and punishment of heretical opinions by the sword. “Heresy,” says he, “is a canker, but it is a spiritual one; let it be prevented by spiritual means: cutting off men’s heads is no proper remedy for it.”2626   Owen’s Sermons, fol. ed., p. 229. That Owen should have renounced Presbytery, in the intolerant and repulsive form in which it was at this time presented to him, is not to be wondered at; but that he recoiled equally far at every point from all the essential and distinctive principles of that form of church government is a statement which many have found it more difficult to believe. At the same time, no reasonable doubt can be entertained that the government of Owen’s church at Coggeshall was decidedly Congregational; and if that church in any degree corresponded with the counsels which Owen addressed to it in his next publication, it must have been pre-eminently one of those to which Baxter alludes in that honourable testimony, “I saw a commendable care of serious holiness and discipline in most of the Independent churches.” The publication to which we refer is “Eshcol; or, Rules of Direction for the Walking of the Saints in Fellowship according to the order of the Gospel, 1647.” The rules are arranged into two parts, — those which relate to the duty of members to their pastors, and those which specify the duties of members to each other. They are designed to recall men from debates about church order to the serious, humble performance of those duties which grow out of their common fellowship in the gospels. Amid its maxims of holy wisdom it would he impossible to discover whether Owen was a Congregationalist or a Presbyterian.

“Eshcol” was the work of Owen as a pastor; in the following year he was once more to appear as a theologian and Christian polemic, in a work on which he had long been secretly engaged, — “Salus Electorum, Sanguis Iesu; or, the Death of Death in the Death of Christ.” The great subject of this treatise is the nature and extent of the death of Christ, with especial reference to the Arminian sentiments on the latter subject. It is dedicated to the Earl of Warwick, the good patron who had introduced Owen to Coggeshall, and warmly recommended by two Presbyterian ministers as “pulling down the rotten house of Arminianism upon the head of those Philistines who would uphold it.”2727   The names of these ministers are, Stanley Gower and Richard Byfield. Owen himself makes no secret of having devoted to it immense research and protracted meditations. He had given it to the world after a more than seven-years serious inquiry, with a serious perusal of all that the wit of man, in former or latter days, had published in opposition to the truth.2828   Address to the Reader. It is not without good reason therefore, that he claims a serious perusal in return: “Reader, if thou art as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again, — thou hast had thy entertainment: farewell.” The characteristic excellencies of Owen’s mind shine out in this work with great lustre, — comprehension and elevation of view, which make him look at his subject in its various relations and dependencies, united with the most patiently minute examination of its individual parts, — intellectual strength, that delights to clear its way through impeding sophistries and snares, — soundness of judgment, often manifesting, even in his polemical writings, the presence and power of a heavenly spirit, and “expressing itself in such pithy and pregnant words of wisdom, that you both delight in the reading, and praise God for the writer.”2929   Gower’s Attestation. Owen does not merely touch his subject, but travels through it with the elephant’s grave and solid step, if sometimes also with his ungainly motion; and more than any other writer makes you feel, when he has reached the end of his subject, that he has also exhausted it.

In those parts of the present treatise in which he exhibits the glorious union and co-operation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the work of redemption, and represents the death of Christ as part of the divine plan which infallibly secures the bringing of many sons unto glory, he has shown a mastery of argument and a familiarity with the subject-matter of revelation, that leave even the kindred treatise of Witsius far behind. Many modern Calvinists have, indeed, expressed a doubt whether, in thus establishing the truth, he has yet established the whole truth; and whether his masterly treatise would not have more completely exhibited the teaching of Scripture on the relations of the death of Christ, had it shown that, in addition to its more special designs, and in harmony with them, it gave such satisfaction to the divine justice as to lay a broad and ample foundation for the universal calls of the Gospel. It is quite true that the great object of the book is to prove that Christ died for the elect only; and yet there are paragraphs in which Owen, in common with all Calvinists worthy of the name who hold the same view, argues for the true internal perfection and sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, as affording a ground for the indiscriminate invitations of the Gospel, in terms as strong and explicit as the most liberal Calvinist would care to use.3030   Book iv. ch. i. sect. 1. This great work was the occasion of much controversy; and it is worthy of especial notice that it was the first production that turned towards Owen the keen eye of Richard Baxter, and brought the two great Puritans at length to measure arms.3131   The controversy was protracted through many treatises, particularly on the side of Baxter, in the appendix to his “Aphorisms on Justification,” in his “Confession of Faith,” and in his “Five Disputations of Right to the Sacrements;” and, on Owen’s part, in a small treatise, “Of the Death of Christ,” &c., and in the close of his “Vindicæ Evangelicæ.” Various technical distinctions were introduced in the progress of the discussion, — such as, whether the death of Christ was, “solutio ejusdem, or only tantundem.” The frequent bandying of this and similar scholastic phrases, in the theological controversies of the age, caught the ear of the author of “Hudibras,” and served him at times as matter for ridicule:— “The question, then, to state it first, Is, Which is better, or which is worst, — Synod or bears? Bears I avow To be the worst, and synods thou; But to make good th’ assertion, Thou say’st th’ are really all one. If so, not worst; for if th’ are idem, Why then tantundem dat tantidem.” Canto iii.

Eventful and anxious years were now passing over the land, in which the long struggle between prerogative and popular right continued to be waged with various success; and at length Owen beheld war brought almost to his door. The friends of Charles, having suddenly risen in Essex, had seized on Colchester, and imprisoned a committee of Parliament that had been sent into Essex to look after their affairs. Lord Fairfax, the leader of the Parliament’s forces, had in consequence been sent to recover Colchester and deliver the committee, and for nearly ten weeks maintained a strict siege before its walls. Coggeshall, being not far distant, was chosen as the head quarters of the general; and intercourse having been begun between him and Owen, it became the foundation of a lasting friendship, which, we shall soon find, was not without important fruits. At the close of the ten weeks’ siege, of which Owen describes himself as having been an “endangered spectator,” he preached two sermons; the one to the army at Colchester on a day of thanksgiving for its surrender, and the other at Rumford to the Parliamentary committee on occasion of their deliverance. These were afterwards published as one discourse on Hab. i. 1–9.3232   Neal, iii. 407. Asty, p. viii.

But in the course of a few months, Owen was called to officiate in circumstances unspeakably more critical. Charles I. had been brought to trial before the High Court of Justice, on the charge of being a traitor, tyrant, and murderer; and, in execution of its daring judgment, beheaded before the gates of Whitehall. On the day following this awful transaction, Owen preached by command before Parliament; and the manner in which he discharged this unsought and perilous duty, it has been not unusual to represent as one of the most vulnerable points in his public life. His sermon, which is entitled, “Righteous Zeal Encouraged by Divine Protection,” is founded on Jer. xv. 19, 20, “I will make thee unto this people a fenced brasen wall; and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee, and to deliver thee, saith the Lord,” — a passage which obviously gave him ample opportunity for commenting on recent events. It is remarkable, however, that there is throughout a systematic and careful confining of himself to general statements, the most explicit allusion to the event of which, doubtless, every mind at the moment was full, being in that two edged sentence, “To those that cry, give me a king, God can give him in his anger; and from those that cry, Take him away, he can take him away in his wrath;” and the charge founded on this constrained silence, from the days of Owen to our own, is that of selfish and cowardly temporizing. Even one eminent Scottish historian, dazzled, we presume, by the picture of his own Knox, with Bible in hand, addressing Mary, and of other stern presbyters rebuking kings, imagines one of these to have occupied the place of Owen, and with what fearless fidelity he would have addressed those august commoners, “even though every hair of their heads had been a spear pointed at his breast.”3333   M’Crie’s Miscellaneous Works, p. 502.

But is there not a considerable amount of undue severity in all this? In all likelihood those who had demanded this service of Owen blamed him for an opposite reason, and hoped that this theologian of high renown and untainted reputation would, in the hour of their extremity, have surrounded their daring act with something more than the dubious sanction of his ominous silence. But to ascribe his silence to cowardice, is to assume that he secretly regarded the destruction of Charles as an indefensible act of crime. And was this necessarily Owen’s judgment? It was surely possible that, while believing that the party which had brought Charles to the scaffold had violated the letter of the constitution, he may also have believed that it was in righteous punishment of one whose whole career as a monarch had been one long conspiracy against it, and who had aimed, by fourteen years of force and perfidy, to establish despotism upon the ruins of popular liberty. He may have thought that treason was as possible against the constitution as against the crown, and to the full as criminal; and that where a king rejected all government by law, he could no longer be entitled to the shelter of irresponsibility. He may have looked upon the death of Charles as the last resource of a long-tried patience, — the decision of the question, Who shall perish? the one, or the million? We do not say that these were actually Owen’s sentiments, but it is well known that they were the thoughts of some of the purest and loftiest minds of that earnest age; and if Owen even hesitated on these points, on which it is well known Milton believed,3434   Milton’s Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Defence of the People of England. then silence was demanded, not only by prudence, but by honesty, especially in a composition which he himself describes as, “like Jonah’s gourd, the production of a night.”

Whatever opinion may be formed of Owen’s conduct in the matter of the sermon, there are few, we imagine, that will not look on the publication of his “Discourse on Toleration,” annexed to the sermon, and presented to the Parliament along with it, as one of the most honourable facts in the public life of this great Puritan. The leading design of this essay is to vindicate the principle, that errors in religion are not punishable by the civil magistrate, with the exception of such as in their own nature, not in some men’s apprehensions, disturb the order of society.3535   Owen’s Sermons, fol. ed., p. 291. To assert that this great principle, which is the foundation-stone of religious liberty, was in any sense the discovery of Owen, or of that great party to which he belonged, is to display a strange oblivion of the history of opinions. Even in the writings of some of the earliest Reformers, such as Zwingle, the principle may be found stated and vindicated with all the clearness and force with which Owen has announced it;3636   Hess, Life of Zwingle, pp. 148, 159–161. M’Crie’s Miscellaneous Works, p. 473. and Principal Robertson has satisfactorily proved, that the Presbyterian church of Holland was the first among the churches of the Reformation formally to avow the doctrine, and to embody and defend it in its authoritative documents.3737   Robertson’s Charles I., iv. 131. Nor is it matter of mere conjecture, that it was on the hospitable shores of Holland, and in the bosom of her church, that English fugitives first learned the true principles of religious liberty, and bore them back as a precious leaven to their own land.3838   M’Crie’s Miscellaneous Works, p. 474. It is enough to say of Owen and his party, that in their attachment to these principles they were greatly in advance of their contemporaries; and that the singular praise was theirs, of having been equally zealous for toleration when their party had risen to power, as when they were a weak and persecuted sect. And when we consider the auspicious juncture at which Owen gave forth his sentiments on this momentous subject, his influence over that great religious party of which he was long the chief ornament and ruling spirit, as well as the deference shown to him by the political leaders and patriots of the age, it is not too much to say, that when the names of Jeremy Taylor and Milton, and Vane and Locke are mentioned, that of John Owen must not be forgotten, as one of the most signal of those who helped to fan and quicken, if not to kindle, in England, that flame which, “by God’s help, shall never go out;” who, casting abroad their thoughts on the public mind when it was in a state of fusion and impressibility, became its preceptors on the rights of conscience, and have contributed to make the principles of religious freedom in England familiar, omnipresent, and beneficent, as the light or the air.

On the 19th of April we find Owen once more summoned to preach before Parliament, the chiefs of the army being also present; on which occasion he preached his celebrated sermon, “On the Shaking of Heaven and Earth,” Heb. xii. 27. Oliver Cromwell was present, and probably for the first time heard Owen preach. Ere the sermon was completed, Cromwell had formed a resolution which the following day gave him an opportunity of executing. Owen having called at the house of General Fairfax, to pay his respects to him in remembrance of their recent intercourse at Colchester, was informed by the servants that the general was so indisposed that he had already declined to receive the visits of several persons of quality. The pastor of Coggeshall, however, sent in his name; and while waiting, Cromwell and many other officers entered the room. Owen’s tall and stately figure soon caught the eye of Cromwell as the person whom he had heard preach with so much delight yesterday; and going up to him, he laid his hands upon his shoulders, and said to him familiarly, “Sir, you are the person I must be acquainted with.” Owen modestly replied, “That will be much more to my advantage than yours.” To which Cromwell returned, “We shall soon see that;” and taking Owen by the hand, led him into the garden, and made known to him his intention to depart for Ireland, and his wish that Owen should accompany him as chaplain, and also to aid him in investigating and setting in order the affairs of the University of Dublin. To this unexpected proposal Owen naturally objected the claims of his church at Coggeshall; but Cromwell reminding him that he was about to take his younger brother, whom he dearly loved, as standard-bearer in the same army, would not listen to a refusal. He even wrote to the church at Coggeshall urging their consent; and when they showed themselves even more averse to the separation than their pastor, Cromwell rose from entreaties to commands; and Owen, with the advice of certain ministers whom he consulted, was at length induced to make slow preparations for the voyage.3939   Asty, pp. ix., x.

In the interval between these arrangements and his departure for Ireland, we discover Owen once more preaching before the officers of state and the House of Commons, on occasion of the destruction of the Levellers;4040   The title of the sermon was, “Human Power Defeated,” Ps. lxxvi. 5. and about the middle of August we find the army ready to embark for Ireland. On the day before the embarkation it presented one of those characteristic pictures which are almost without a parallel in the history of nations. The entire day was devoted to fasting and prayer; — three ministers in succession, among whom we cannot doubt was Owen, solemnly invoked the divine protection and blessing; after which Colonels Gough and Harrison, with Cromwell himself, expounded certain pertinent passages of Scripture. No oath was heard throughout the whole camp, the twelve thousand soldiers spending their leisure hours in reading their Bibles, in the singing of psalms, and in religious conferences. Thus was trained that amazing armament, to whom victory seemed entailed, — whose soldiers combined the courage of the ancient Roman with the virtues of the private citizen, and have been well described as “uniting the most rigid discipline with the fiercest enthusiasm, and moving to victory with the precision of machines, while burning with the wildest fanaticism of crusaders.”4141   Whitelock, p. 434. Neal, iv. 4–6. Macaulay’s History of England, i. p. 121. There were elements at work here that have seldom gone to the composition of armies. “Does the reader look upon it all as madness? Madness lies close by, as madness does to the highest wisdom in man’s life always; but this is not mad! This dark element, it is the mother of the lightnings and the splendours; it is very sure this?”4242   Carlyle’s Cromwell, i. p. 341.

It is no task of ours to follow the course of Cromwell in his rapid and terrible campaign, in which he descended upon Ireland “like the hammer of Thor,” and by a few tremendous and almost exterminating strokes, as before the walls of Drogheda, spread universal terror throughout the garrisons of Ireland, saving more blood than if he had adopted a more feeble and hesitating course. His policy in Ireland finds its explanation in two circumstances, — the impression that he had come as the instrument of a just God to avenge the innocent blood of more than a hundred thousand Protestants, — and the conviction that, in repressing a rebellion which threatened the existence of the infant Commonwealth, the “iron hand,” though the least amiable, was the most merciful, and would save the necessity of a wider though more prolonged vengeance.4343   D’Aubigné’s Protector, ch. vi. But our business is with Owen, whom we find meanwhile employed within the friendly walls of Dublin in preaching to “a numerous multitude of as thirsting people after the gospel as ever he conversed with,” investigating the condition of the university, and devising measures for its extension and efficiency. His preaching was “not in vain,” while his representations to Parliament led to measures which raised the university from its half-ruinous condition, and obtained for it some of its most valuable immunities.4444   Orme, p. 88. In the course of nine months, Cromwell, whose career in Ireland had been that of the lightning followed by the shower, terrific yet beneficent, returned to England to receive the thanks of the Parliament and the people, and to be appointed General-in-chief of the armies of the Commonwealth; and Owen, mourning over the fact “that there was not one gospel preacher for every walled town in Ireland,”4545   Sermon on the Steadfastness of Promises, and the Sinfulness of Staggering, preached before Parliament after his return from Ireland, on a day of humiliation, Rom. iv. 20. was restored to his rejoicing flock at Coggeshall.

But the release which he was to enjoy was short. Cromwell had scarcely returned from Ireland, when the state of Scotland demanded his presence. That nation, which had begun the resistance to the tyranny of the Stuarts, and to the worse tyranny of Rome, had almost unanimously disapproved of the death of Charles, and now looked with jealousy and hostility upon the government of the Commonwealth. They had actually invited Charles from the midst of his debaucheries of Breda to become their king; and, deceived by his signing of the Covenant, were now meditating an attempt to restore him to his father’s throne. In all this Cromwell saw, on the part of the best of the Scottish people, an honest and misguided zeal, which was aiming substantially at the same ends as himself; but he saw in it not the less the most imminent danger to the liberty, religion, and morality of England, and hastened to assert and establish in Scotland the authority of the Commonwealth. Simultaneously with this, an order passed the Commons requiring Joseph Caryl and John Owen to attend on the Commander-general as ministers;4646   Wood’s Athen. Oxon., iv. 98. and Owen was thus a second time torn away from his pastoral plans and studious toils to the society of camps, and the din and carnage of sieges and battlefields. Cromwell’s motives for thus surrounding himself with the great preachers of his age have been variously represented, according to the general theory that has been formed of his character. Believing as we do in his religious sincerity, we cannot doubt that he felt, like other religious men, the powerful attraction of their intercourse. There was sound policy, besides, in seeking by this means to convince an age remarkable for its religious earnestness that he enjoyed the confidence and friendship of the chiefs of the religious world; and hence we find him at a later period securing the presence of John Howe at Whitehall, and aiming by repeated efforts to subdue the jealous penetration of Baxter. This latter motive, we cannot doubt, had its own influence in inducing him to take Caryl and Owen with him to Scotland; and it is very probable, moreover, that, with all his passion for theological polemics, he foresaw that, in his anticipated discussions with the Scottish clergy, he would be all the better of these Puritan chiefs to help him at times in untying the Gordian knots which they were sure to present to him.

We are able to trace but a few of the steps of Owen in Scotland. He appears to have joined Cromwell at Berwick, where he preached from the text, Isa. lvi. 7, “For mine house shall be called an hour of prayer for all people;” and, as we conclude from a letter of Cromwell’s,4747   Carlyle’s Cromwell, ii. 18. assisted, with “some other godly ministers,” in drawing up a reply to the Declaration of the General Assembly, which had already been sent to Cromwell ere he could cross the borders. We next find him writing from Musselburgh to Lisle, one of the commissioners of the Great Seal, describing a skirmish between some of Cromwell’s troops and those of “cautious” Leslie. Next, the battle of Dunbar has been fought. Cromwell is in possession of Edinburgh, but the castle still holds out against him, and the ministers of the city have sought protection within its walls. The pulpits of Edinburgh are consequently in the hands of Cromwell’s preachers. Owen preached repeatedly in old St. Giles’, and is listened to at first with wonder and jealousy, which gradually melt into kindlier feelings, as the multitude trace in his words a sweet savour of Christ.4848   His second sermon, on Isa. lvi. 7, was preached at Edinburgh. It is the opinion of many that Owen’s hand is visible in the letters which passed between Cromwell and the governor of Edinburgh castle, on the offer of the Lord-General to allow the ministers to come out and occupy their pulpits on the Sabbath-day; when, on their somewhat suspicious and sulky refusal, Cromwell addressed them in that celebrated letter of which Carlyle says, that “the Scotch clergy never got such a reprimand since they first took ordination.”4949   Carlyle’s Cromwell, ii. 59. Undoubtedly there are striking resemblances to Owen’s turn of thoughts especially in the paper of “Queries,” which abounds in “lumbering sentences with noble meanings.” We next follow him with Cromwell to Glasgow, where Zachary Boyd thunders against the Lord-General in the old cathedral, and Cromwell listens with calm forbearance, and where a discussion takes place between Owen and the Scottish ministers, of which the following anecdote is told:— A young Scottish minister, named Hugh Binning, not yet twenty-six years of age, so managed the dispute as to confound Owen and the other English divines. Oliver, surprised and half-pleased, inquired, after the meeting was over, who this bold young man was; and being told that his name was Binning, — “He has bound, well indeed,” said he; “but,” laying his hand on his sword, “this will loose all again.” The discussion, with Binning’s victory, is not improbable; but the bad pun and the braggart threat are not like Oliver, and may safely be consigned to those other “anecdotes of Cromwell at Glasgow,” of which Carlyle says, that “they are not to be repeated anywhere except in the nursery.”5050   Ibid., ii. 79.

But long ere Cromwell’s campaign in Scotland was over, and that last battle, in which he gained “Worcester’s laureate wreath,” had been fought, which drove Charles back to Breda, and reduced Scotland under the generous sway of the Commonwealth, Owen had been permitted to return to his books and to his quiet pastorate in Essex. It was only a short breathing-time, however, before his connection with Coggeshall was loosed for ever. One morning he read, to his surprise, in the newspapers of the day, the following order:— “On the 18th March 1651, the House, taking into consideration the worth and usefulness of John Owen, M.A., of Queen’s College, ordered that he be settled in the deanery of Christ Church, in room of Dr Reynolds.”5151   Asty, p. x. A letter soon after followed this from the principal students of Christ Church, expressing their great satisfaction at the appointment. Cromwell before this had been chosen Chancellor of Oxford. And on the 9th of September of the following year, letters from Cromwell nominated Owen vice-chancellor of the university, and thus placed him at the head of that great and ancient seat of learning from which we have seen him, ten years before, walk forth an exile for conscience’ sake.5252   His preaching before Parliament, about the period of these appointments, appears to have been frequent. On October 24, 1651, being the day of thanksgiving of the victory of Worcester, we find him preaching his sermon entitled, “The Advantage of the Kingdom of Christ in the Shaking of the Kingdoms of the World,” Ezek. xvii. 24. Next, February 6, 1652, in the Abbey Church of Westminster, on the occasion of the funeral of Henry Ireton, Lord-Deputy of Ireland, and Cromwell’s son-in-law, he preached his sermon on Dan. xii. 13, — “The Labouring Saint’s Dismission to Rest.” Once more, October 13, 1652, on “Christ’s Kingdom and the Magistrate’s Power,” from Dan. vii. 15, 16.


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