Page images
PDF
EPUB

much assisted by Mr. Neale, a fellow of New College, and afterwards professor of Hebrew in Oxford.

He had not been long in the University, before he was taken notice of. He was thought a young man of good parts and considerable learning; and those who were not so well qualified to jud in either of these points, admired and loved him for the sweetness of his disposition, and the unaffected sincerity of his manners. At the usual term he took the degree of master of arts, and about the same time was elected fellow of his college.

The reformed doctrines had hitherto made no progress in England; and, as Mr. Gilpin had been bred up in the Romish church, he still continued a member of it. But though in appearance he was not dissatisfied with Popery, yet it is not improbable that at this time he had his suspicions of it. The writings of Erasmus had put him upon freer inquiries than were common in those days. He had the discretion, however, to keep to himself whatever doubts they might have raised in him; and before he said any thing which might shake the faith of others, he determined to establish his own.

Here were traces of a great and manly mind. It has passed into a proverb, that " a little learning is a dangerous thing ;" but the expression should be qualified. It is only when that learning is received into a mind equally little, that mischief is likely to result: a great mind will often make a noble use of it. The deeper it sinks down, the less likely will it be to flow forth in a wrong direction. Shallow minds are always restless. Unsettled themselves, there is constant danger of their unsettling others, and no sooner is any item of knowledge received than it is acted on, as if crude impressions required no time to ripen, or the first rudiments of an idea embraced the whole. It was not so with Mr. Gilpin.

When Cardinal Wolsey had founded Christchurch College, he had his agents in many of the universities in Europe, to procure men of eminence, whom he might transplant thither;

and copies of the best books then extant: for he designed that his college should be the means of the restoration of learning in England. Mr. Gilpin's character was then so great, that he was one of the first in Oxford to whom the Cardinal's agents applied. He accepted their proposal, and removed to Christchurch.

the

Here he continued his former studies, from the nature of which, and the ingenuity and honesty of his disposition, it is highly probable he might in time have been led by his own reasonings to that discovery of truth he aimed at; but Providence rewarded a pious endeavour by throwing in his way means of an earlier attainment of it.

King Henry the Eighth was now dead, and his young successor began in earnest to support that cause, which his father had only so far encouraged as it contributed to replenish an exhausted exchequer, and gratify that pique which he had taken at the Holy See. Under this prince's patronage, Peter Martyr went to Oxford, where he read divinity lectures in a strain to which the university had been little accustomed.

Mr. Gilpin's credit and standing at the university made the Papists very anxious to obtain his advocacy. But he was a careful student of scripture, and their zeal availed but little against his calm and dispassionate anxiety to know the truth. He inclined to “ stand by, as an unprejudiced observer," but such was the importunity used with him that he at length consented, against his better judgment, to withstand the innovations of Peter Martyr. His motive was probably good. By so doing he would place himself in the light of his opponent's arguments, and if he found himself worsted in the conflict, it was worth losing the battle for the sake of the great gain he should achieve by the establishment of truth. “ The sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God," was so wielded by his antagonist, that, in little time, he confessed himself beaten, and craved permission to retire into the quiet of his own heart and conscience till he should be fully able to refuse the evil and choose the good. In this election he received powerful aid from his former foe. “ It was the subject of his daily prayers,” he said, “ that God would be pleased at length to touch the heart of this pious papist with the knowledge of true religion.” And he prayed not in vain ; for Mr. Gilpin, from this time became every day more reconciled to the reformers.

The Bible had all along been the text-book of Mr. Gilpin in his antagonism to Popery. He now called in a new standard, and trying it by Reason, he found it “ utterly unable to stand that proof.” He next investigated the History of Popery, and discovered that its errors were of comparatively recent date, and formed no part of the religion which obtained in the earlier and purer ages of the Christian church. He then canvassed attentively the rites and ceremonies of the Romish church as they existed in his own day, and soon came to the conclusion of every honest and unprejudiced mind, that they were trifling, ridiculous, puerile, and offensively ostentatious.

The decision of the Council of Trent, that the traditions of the Church should be esteemed of equal authority with the Scriptures, hastened to a climax Mr. Gilpin's deliberations. He could not persuade himself to quit the Romish communion “ whilst she professed to draw her rule of faith from the Scriptures,” but now thought it was high time for all sincere Christians to take the alarm.

Such were the cautious steps Mr. Gilpin took before he declared himself a protestant. His more than ordinary candour and sincerity, through this whole affair, met with much applause, and gained him great esteem. Many years afterwards, the Earls of Bedford and Leicester having heard there was something very uncommon in his manner of proceeding on this occasion, wanted to be more acquainted with the circumstances of it, and, for that purpose, applied to Mr. George Gilpin, Bernard's brother, who was on terms of great intimacy with those two noblemen, and then in London. Accordingly, this gentleman, taking the opportunity of a visit to his friends in the north, persuaded his brother to give him in writing an exact account of the progress of his change from the Romish religion.

This he did in a very explicit manner, the chief points on which he dwelt being the ignorance, worldliness, treachery, and misgivings of the Romish clergy themselves, the blind devotion of their followers, and “ the gross worshipping of the gaping people,” whose idolatry he witnessed at Paris, Antwerp, and other places. The assumed infallibility and unchangeableness of their religion staggered him not a little, When asking why the grosser superstitions were not reformed, “I was answered,"

“ We may not grant to the ignorant people, that any of these things hath been amiss : if we do, they will strait infer other things may be amiss as well as these, and still go further and further.” This grieved me, and made me seek

he says,

for quietness in God's word: no where else I could find any stay.

My delight” he says again, “ and desire, hath been to preach Christ, and our salvation by him, in simplicity and truth; and to comfort myself with the sweet promises of the gospel, and in prayer."

Though not fully convinced of the errors of Popery, he still thought that more learning was necessary in that controversial age than he had yet acquired; and his chief argument with his friends, who were continually soliciting him to leave the university, was, that he was not yet enough instructed in religion himself, to be a teacher of it to others. It was an arduous task, he said, especially at that time; and protestantism could not suffer more, than by the rawness and inexperience of its teachers.

In this unresolved state, he continued till his thirty-fifth year, when he was persuaded, almost against his will, to accept the vicarage of Norton. “ If I offended God,” says he, with reference to this appointment, “ in taking such a charge before I was better learned and better resolved in religion, I cry God mercy, and doubt not but I have found mercy in his sight.” So wisely cautious was this great man in all that belonged to an office of such vast responsibility. The apostle's experience became his; and though zealous and faithful in the discharge of his pastoral duties, his constant cry was, “ Who is sufficient for these things ?" He thought he had engaged too soon in his office--that he could not sufficiently discharge it—that he should not rest in giving his hearers only moral instructions—that, overspread as the country was with popish doctrines, he did ill to pretend to be a teacher of religion, if he were unable to oppose

such errors. These thoughts made every day a greater impression upon him. At length, quite unhappy, he gave Bishop Tunstal an account of his situation. The bishop told him, as he was so uneasy, it was his advice that he should think of nothing till he had fixed his religion: and that, in his opinion, he could not do better than put his parish into the hands of some person, in whom he could confide, and spend a year or two in Germany, France, and Holland, by which means he might have an oppor

tunity of conversing with some of the most eminent professors on both sides of the question.

With the latter part of this suggestion he readily complied, though his conscience would not allow him to depute the oversight of souls, for which he considered himself responsible, to others. He, therefore, resigned his preferment, and went abroad - first to Mechlin and the Low Countries, and afterwards to Paris.

Whilst on the Continent, he received the offer of a rich living from his uncle, Cuthbert Tunstal, Bishop of Durham. This he declined, under the conscientious belief that non-residence was a crying evil. “I trust,” said he, “ so long as I have to live, never to burthen my conscience with having a benefice and lying from it.” The alternative of returning home at once seems scarcely to have crossed his mind, so thoroughly was he engaged in investigating the great questions then agitating the public mind. He was present at all public readings and disputations: he committed every thing material to writing: all his opinions he re-examined ; proposed his doubts in private to his friends; and, in every respect, made the best use of his time.

On his return to England, his friend and relative, the bishop, gave him the archdeaconry of Durham, to which the rectory of Easington was annexed. Once established in his cure, this meekest and most unpresuming of men became indefatigably faithful. Not only did he seek earnestly the spiritual good of his hearers, but in virtue of his archidiaconal office, he felt constrained to see that his brother clergymen did their duty. The more ingenuous of the inferior clergy he endeavoured to bring by gentler methods to their duty: the obstinate he would rebuke with all authority. And as he feared no man in the cause of religion, no man's family or fortune could exempt him from his notice. At visitations particularly, and wherever his audience was chiefly clerical, he would express himself against every thing he observed amiss, with a zeal, which might have been thought affected in one of a less approved sincerity.

Finding, at length, that he could not conscientiously discharge the weighty duties of both offices, he prayed leave of the bishop to resign one of them, and this being refused, gave up both. Before they were disposed of, the rectory of Hough

« PreviousContinue »