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RET. JOHN HOWE.
In giving such a sketch of the life and character of the Rev. John Howe, as corresponds with the plan of this work, I can hardly hope to satisfy the curiosity respecting him, which the following treatises will excite. The history of his life, indeed, was such as might have furnished materials for a biography excelling in its general interest that of most literary men and theological writers even of the first rank in talents and reputation. The distinguished literary men with whom he was intimately connected, at a most interesting period in the history of English literature and philosophy, and, more especially, the place which he held for so long a time at the court of the Cromwells, must have given him the means of preparing a "memoir of his own life and times," not less instructive than any other work of the kind which that age has furnished. I mention this, because it appears that he accumulated a mass of papers for an object of this sort,but unfortunately for us, when near his death, required his son to commit them to the flames. The memoirs of his life, collected by Calamy and contained in the folio edition of his works, though scanty and unsatisfying, still contain much that is valuable, and nearly all that can now be known of one of the greatest men of the age in which he lived.
The Rev. John Howe was born at Loughborough, in Leicestershire, May 17,1630. His father was for sometime the minister of the town, a man of great piety and worth, and his mother is mentioned as a woman of distinguished abilities, whose influence was undoubtedly much felt in forming the character of her son. While he was yet very young his father, who had received the parish of Loughborough from Archbishop Laud, was ejected for siding with the Puritans, and went into Ireland with his family. After residing here for some time, and narrowly escaping with their lives during the rebellion of the Papists, the family returned and settled in Lancaster, where the subject of this memoir recei
VOL. I. B
ved his early education and was prepared for the university. He first entered at Christ's College, Cambridge, in what year is uncertain, though it must have been at a very early age, as he took his degree and removed to Brazen Nose College, Oxford, as early as 1648, when he was but 18 years of age. Here, in the next year, he was admitted to the same degree of Bachelor of Arts, which he had taken at Cambridge, was not long after elected a fellow of Magdalen College, and took the degree of M. A. in 1652.
Soon after taking his second degree, Mr. Howe returned to the county in which his family resided, and was ordained, by Mr. Charles Herle, in what he considered the primitive mode of ordination, believing, as he said, that Mr. Herle was a scriptural bishop, and that the concurrence of the ministers, who assisted him, was the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery. Being now regularly devoted to the labors of the ministry, he was soon called to a distant part of the island, and settled as pastor of a congregation at Great Torrington in Devonshire. Here he devoted himself with unsparing labor and zeal and with great success to the duties of his office, and acquired the respect and confidence of the neighboring churches and clergy. Among the latter he became particularly intimate in the family of Mr. George Hughes of Plymouth, the most distinguished minister in those parts, and married his daughter March 1,1654, a connexion which resulted it seems to his great happiness, and which he never had occasion to regret.
It could not have been long after this event, that his situation and sphere of usefulness were suddenly and unexpectedly changed. Having occasion to go to London, on business, he was detained longer than he expected, and being there on the Sabbath gratified his curiosity by going to the chapel at Whitehall. While there, "Cromwell, who," as Calamy observes, "generally had his eyes everywhere, spied out Mr. Howe in the auditory, knew him by his garb to be a country minister, and thinking he discerned something more than ordinary in his countenance, sent a messenger to him to desire to speak with him, when the worship of God was over." Such was his introduction to Cromwell, and the result of it was, that, notwithstanding his surprise and his efforts to excuse himself, his objections were overruled, and after preaching two or three times before the Protector, and much free conversation in private, he was at length prevailed upon, though with great reluctance, to leave his charge at Torrington, which Cromwell undertook to have supplied to their satisfaction, and became established as domestic chaplain, at the seat of government.
In this most trying and critical situation, considering the character of the times, Mr. Howe continued till the death of Cromwell, and through the protectorate of his son, exhibiting many examples of that prudence, moderation and good will to all parties, so necessary in his circumstances, both for his usefulness and his personal tranquillity. Several instances are mentioned, in which he employed his influence with the court for the benefit of those who differed from him in their viewsof church and state, and among the rest, in 1657, Dr. Seth Ward, afterwards bishop of Exeter. As a proof of his disinterestedness, and that he used his influence more for others, than for himself, it is related that Cromwell once said to him," Mr. Howe, you have obtained many favors for others, I wonder when the time is to come, that you will ask any thing for yourself or your own family." So little of the courtier had he indeed, that on one occasion he preached expressly against a favorite notion of Cromwell's respecting particular faith in prayer, and was supposed to have produced a coolness between himself and the Protector by so doing. Cromwell however had too high a value for his integrity and too much good sense to break with him for such a cause.
During the protectorate of Richard, Mr. Howe, assisted with Dr. Owen, and other leaders of the same persuasion, at the meeting of the Independents at the Savoy, in October, 165S. It was here that, with unexpected unanimity, they agreed upon articles of faith ; which, however, were afterwards silently abandoned for the Assembly's Catechism.
On the removal of Richard Cromwell, Mr. Howe returned to his former charge at Torrington, and continued his labors in peace, till some months after the restoration. He was informed against for preaching seditious and treasonable sentiments, in October, 1660; but, proving his innocence, was discharged, and continued to preach to his people till the act of uniformity went into effect, Aug. 24, 1662. On that day he took a final leave of his congregation at Torrington, in a farewell sermon and parting addresses, deeply affecting to his congregation. Being now ejected from consecrated wails, he preached occasionally in the houses of his friends; but, a citation being out against him, he was obliged to desist, and seems to have been saved from further trouble from the citation by Dr. Ward, now bishop of Exeter, who it will be recollected had formerly been under obligations to Mr. Howe. In 1665 he took the oath under the "five mile act," but was still obliged to shift from place to place in order to avoid persecution, and it is supposed by his biographer, though he could not ascertain the circumstances of it, was imprisoned for two months, during the same year, in the isle of St. Nicholas. He still continued among his friends in the western counties, rendering himself as useful as the times would permit, and, while in this unsettled state, published, in 1668, the treatise on "the Blessedness of the Righteous," the substance of which it seems had been preached in a course of sermons at Torrington.
Being now out of regular employment, with a family dependenBIOGRAPHY OF
cleat mi him, he accepted an invitation in the year 1671, to remove to Ireland, and lived as chaplain to Lord Massarene in Antrim. Here he enjoyed the respect and confidence of all, the Metropolitan and Bishop of the diocese requiring no conformity, but giving him leave to preach in the pulpits under their control. During the first year of his residence here he published the discourse on "the Vanity of man as mortal," which, with the treatise before mentioned, is contained in this volume. Mr. Howe continued at Antrim till December, 1675, when he was invited to take charge of a congregation in London, made vacant by the death of Dr. Seaman, a non-conformist divine. In this charge he continued till 1685, and, during this period, was much occupied, beside his regular employment as pastor, with the public interests of the dissenters, as well as some controversial discussions on doctrinal subjects, and published many both of his larger and smaller works. During much of the time, however, his situation was rendered unquiet by the spirit of persecution, so that he sometimes could not walk the streets of London in safety. At length in 1685, being worn out with the vexations, to which the dissenters were exposed, he accepted an invitation of Lord Wharton to travel with him in foreign parts, and sailed with him in August. After visiting many places on the continent, and forming many valuable acquaintances among the wise and good, he settled in Utrecht, in 1686, surrounded by English acquaintances and friends, who were there for similar reasons with himself. Here he took his turn with other English clergymen, among whom was Dr. Burnet, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, in preaching in the English church, and gave occasional instruction to the English students, who were in the University of that place. With Dr. Burnet he had occasional interviews and much conversation on the public concerns of religion in England; and on Burnet's expressing a belief, that when he, Mr. Baxter, and Dr. Bates, with a few more, should pass off the stage, nonconformity would come to an end, Mr. Howe declared his full conviction, that it did not depend on men, but on principle, and, as its present supporters passed off, others would rise up in their place, a prediction of which Burnet afterwards acknowledged the truth. While here, Mr. Howe had also frequent interviews with William, afterwards king of England, who was free in his conversation with him, and asked him many questions respecting Cromwell, of whom Mr. Howe had of course an intimate knowledge.
In 1687 king James published a "declaration for liberty of .conscience," and at the earnest request of his people in London for his return to them, Mr. Howe complied, and after waiting upon the prince, who gave him very kind advice upon the occasion, leturned to London, and was gladly received by his friends in May of this year. In the following year, 1688, upon the arrival of the Prince of Orange at St. James' palace, Mr. Howe had the honor of addressing him at the head of the dissenting clergy, and expressing their views of the revolution which had taken place in his favor. It was now very naturally expected by him and his friends, that the terms of conformity would be so modified, as to give them no farther trouble; but when, to his surprise and mortification, he found that many dignitaries of the establishment were hostile to such a measure, notwithstanding the court paid to the dissenters during the reign of James, he drew up and published a piece entitled, "The case of the Protestant Dissenters represented and argued." At length in May, 1689, the Act of Uniformity gave them much of what they had desired; and, although still excluded from the establishment, they were content with toleration. Many of the Church party it seems, however, thought more severity should have been exercised; and, on the publication of some things of this sort, Mr. Howe, to prevent further collision, published an "Address to Conformists and Dissenters," in which the Catholicism and benevolence of his spirit, as well as his great wisdom, are clearly exhibited. This, with the other piece just mentioned, is preserved in his memoirs by Dr. Calamy.
Not long after this, divisions arose among the dissenters themselves, which greatly tried the patience of Mr. Howe and others of a kindred spirit. An attempt it seems was made to unite more closely in one body those who were Presbyterian with those who were Congregational among them, and Mr. Howe, with others, was concerned in drawing up "Heads of Agreement," which were generally assented to by the united ministers in and about London. Some, however, refused to subscribe, and discussions were occasioned, which finally ended in breaking up the proposed union, and what was intended for concord produced greater discord. Mr. Howe in the course of these debates was drawn in to write occasionally on the matters at issue, but with a view to make peace, and cool the heat of the parties. It was with this view, that he published " The carnality of Christian contention" in two sermons, in 1693, the preface to which, as well as the sermons, breathes a heavenly charity and truly pious concern for the real interests of religion. His efforts were unavailing, and in 1694 there was a division of those who had been united in the Lecture at Pinner's Hall, a new one being established at Salters' Hall, in which Mr. Howe, Dr. Bates, and Mr. Alsop joined with Mr. Williams, who had been excluded from the other.
About the same time there was also much discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, occasioned by the writings of Dr. Wallis, Dr. Sherlock, Dr. South, and Dr. Cudworth on that subject, and Mr. Howe published " An Inquiry into the possibility of a Trinity in the Godhead," which is perhaps as well deserving the attention of the student, as any thing written on the subject since.