(Thomson, Life of Dr. Owen. part 3)

to the popular notions of those whose sympathies are all on the side of 
Puritanism, Owen bore with him into public life none of the uncouth and 
lumbering pedantry of the recluse, but associated with his more solid 
qualities all the lighter graces of courtesy and taste. He is described 
by one contemporary as "of universal affability, ready presence and 
discourse, liberal, graceful, and courteous demeanour, that speak him 
certainly (whatsoever he be else) one that was more a gentleman than most 
of the Clergy." And Dodwell says, "His personage was proper and comely, 
and he had a very graceful behaviour in the pulpit, an eloquent 
elocution, a winning and insinuating deportment, and could, by the 
persuasion of his oratory, in conjunction with some other outward 
advantages, move and wind the affections of his auditory almost as he 
pleased. It is with such a manner that we can conceive him to have 
addressed the assembled heads of colleges, when he assumed the helm at 
Oxford with tremulous hand, yet with firm determination to do his utmost 
to discharge his high stewardship.  
  "I am well aware," said he, "gentlemen of the university, of the grief 
you must feel that, after so many venerable names, reverend persons, 
depositaries and preceptors of the arts and sciences, the fates of the 
university should have at last placed him as leader of the company who 
almost closes the rear. Neither, indeed, is this state of our affairs, of 
whatever kind it be, very agreeable to myself, since I am compelled to 
regard my return, after a long absence, to my beloved mother as a prelude 
to the duties of a labourious and difficult situation. But complaints are 
not remedies of any misfortune. Whatever their misfortune, groans become 
not grave and honorable men. It is the part of an undaunted mind boldly 
to bear up under a heavy burden. For, as the comic poet says,-- 
      The life of man 
      is like a game at tables. If the cast 
      Which is most necessary be not thrown, 
      That which chance sends, you must correct by art." 
  "The academic vessel, too long, alas! tossed by storms, being almost 
entirely abandoned by all whose more advanced age, longer experience, and 
well-earned literary titles, excited great and just expectations, I have 
been called upon, by the partiality and too good opinion of him whose 
commands we must not gainsay, and with whom the most earnest entreaties 
to be excused were urged in vain, and also by the consenting suffrage of 
this senate; and, therefore although there is perhaps no one more unfit, 
I approach the helm. In what times, what manners, what diversities of 
opinion (dissensions and calumnies everywhere raging in consequence of 
party spirit), what bitter passions and provocations, what pride and 
malice, our academical authority has occurred, I both know and lament. 
Nor is it only the character of the age that distracts us, but another 
calamity to our literary establishment, which is daily becoming more 
conspicuous, the contempt, namely, of the sacred authority of law, and of 
the reverence due to our ancestors; the watchful envy of Malignants; the 
despised tears and sobs of our almost dying mother, the university (with 
the eternal loss of the class of townsmen, and the no small hazard of the 
whole institution); and the detestable audacity and licentiousness, 
manifestly Epicurean beyond all the bounds of modesty and piety, in 
which, alas! too many of the students indulge. Am I, then, able, in this 
tottering state of all things, to apply a remedy to this complication of 
difficulties, in which so many and so great heroes have, in the most 
favourable times, laboured in vain? I am not, gentlemen, so 
self-sufficient. Were I to act the part of one so impertinently disposed 
to flatter himself, nay, were the slightest thought of such a nature to 
enter my mind, I should be quite displeased with myself. I live not so 
far from home, nor am such a stranger to myself, I use not my eyes so 
much in the manner of witches, as not to know well how scantily I am 
furnished with learning, prudence, authority, and wisdom. Antiquity has 
celebrated Lucullus as a prodigy in nature, who, though unacquainted with 
even the duty of a common soldier, became without any difficulty an 
expert general; so that the man whom the city sent out inexperienced in 
fighting, him the army received a complete master of the art of war. Be 
of good courage, gentlemen. I bring no prodigies; from the obscurity of a 
rural situation, from the din of arms, from journeys for the sake of the 
gospel into the most distant parts of the island, and also beyond sea, 
from the bustle of the court, I have retreated unskilful in the 
government of the university; unskilful, also, I am come hither." 
  "'What madness is this, then?' you will say. 'Why have you undertaken 
that which you are unable to execute, far less to adorn? You have judged 
very ill for yourself, for the university, and for this venerable 
senate.' Softly, my hearers; neither hope nor courage wholly fails one 
who is swayed by the judgment, the wishes, the commands, the entreaties 
of the highest characters. We are not ourselves the sources of worthy 
deeds of any kind. 'He who ministereth seed to the sower,' and who from 
the mouths of infants has ordained strength, is able graciously to supply 
all defects, whether caused from without or felt within. Destitute, 
therefore, of any strength and boldness of my own, and of any 
adventitious aid through influence with the university, so far as I know 
or have deserved, it nevertheless remains to me to commit myself wholly 
to Him 'who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.' He has 
appointed an eternal fountain of supply in Christ, who furnisheth 
seasonable help to every pious endeavour, unless our littleness of faith 
stand in the way; thence must I wait and pray for light, for strength, 
and for courage. Trusting, therefore, in his graciously promised 
presence, according to the state of the times, and the opportunity which, 
through divine Providence we have obtained,--conscious integrity alone 
supplying the place of arts and of all embellishments,--without either a 
depressed or servile spirit, I address myself to this undertaking." 
  The facts that have been preserved by Owen's biographers sufficiently 
prove that this inaugural address was no mere language of dignified 
ceremony. By infusing that tolerant spirit into his administration which 
he had often commended in his days of suffering, but which so many in 
those times forgot when they rose to power,--by a generous impartiality 
in the bestowal of patronage,--by an eagerness to detect modest merit, 
and to help struggling poverty,--by a firm repression of disorder and 
licentiousness, and a steadfast encouragement of studious habits and good 
conduct,--he succeeded, during the few years of his vice-chancellorship, 
in curing the worst evils of the university, and restoring it to such a 
condition of prosperity as to command at length even the reluctant praise 
of Clarendon. 
  Among other honorable facts, it is recorded that he allowed a society 
of Episcopalians to meet every Lord's day over against his own door, and 
to celebrate public worship according to the forms of the liturgy, though 
the laws at that period put it in Owen's power to disperse the assembly; 
and there were not wanting those of a less enlarged and unsectarian 
spirit to urge him to such a course. In the same wise and conciliatory 
spirit he won the confidence of the Presbyterians, by bestowing upon 
their ablest men some of the vacant livings that were at his disposal, 
and taking counsel of them in all difficulties and emergencies. Many a 
poor and promising student was aided by him with sums of money, and with 
that well-timed encouragement which is more gratifying than silver and 
gold, and which, in more than one instance, was found to have given the 
first impulse on the road to fame. Foreign students of hopeful ability 
were admitted through his influence to the use of the libraries and to 
free commons; and one poor youth, in whose Latin epistle, informing Owen 
of his necessities, he had discovered an unusual "sharpness of wit," was 
at once received by him as tutor into his own family. 
  But, amid these generous and conciliatory measures, Owen knew how, by 
acts of wholesome severity, to put a curb upon licentiousness, and to 
invigorate the whole discipline of the university. At a public Act, when 
one of the students of Trinity College was "Terrae filius", he stood up 
before the student began, and told him in Latin that he was at liberty to 
say what he pleased, on condition that he abstained from all profane and 
obscene expressions and personal reflections. The student began, but soon 
violated all the conditions that had been laid down to him. Owen 
repeatedly warned him to desist from a course so dishonouring to the 
university; but the youth obstinately persisting in the same strain, he 
at length commanded the beetles to pull him down. This was a signal for 
the students to interpose; on which Owen, determined that the authority 
of the university should not be insolently trampled on, rose from his 
seat, in the face of the remonstrances of his friends, who were concerned 
for his personal safety, drew the offender from his place with his own 
hand, and committed him to Bocardo, the prison of the university,--the 
students meanwhile standing aloof with amazement and fear at his 
resolution. Was there not something, in this scene, of that robust 
physical energy which had distinguished Owen at Oxford in earlier days in 
bell-ringing and the leaping of bars? 
  But the aims of the vice-chancellor rose far above the mere attempt to 
restrain licentiousness within moderate bounds;--his whole arrangements 
were made with the anxious desire of awakening and fostering among the 
students the power of a living piety. His own example, as well as the 
pervading spirit of his administration, would contribute much to this; 
and there are not granting individual facts to show with what earnestness 
he watched and laboured for the religious well-being of the university. 
It had been customary for the Fellows to preach by turn on the afternoon 
of the Lord's day in St. Mary's Church; but, on its being found that the 
highest ends of preaching were often more injured than advanced by this 
means, he determined to undertake this service alternately with Dr 
Goodwin, the head of Magdalene College, and in this way to secure to the 
youth of Oxford the advantage of a sound and serious ministry. It is 
interesting to open, nearly two hundred years afterwards, the 
reminiscences of one of the students, and to read his strong and grateful 
testimony to the benefits he had derived from these arrangements of the 
Puritan vice-chancellor. We have this privilege in the "Memoir of Philip 
Henry, by his son." "He would often mention, with thankfulness to God," 
says the quaint and pious biographer, "what great helps and advantages he 
had then in the university,--not only for learning, but for religion and 
piety. Serious godliness was in reputation; and, besides the public 
opportunities they had, many of the scholars used to meet together for 
prayer and Christian conference, to the great confirming of one another's 
hearts in the fear and love of God, and the preparing of them for the 
service of the church in their generation. I have heard him speak of the 
prudent method they took then about the university sermons on the Lord's 
day, in the afternoon, which used to be preached by the fellows of 
colleges in their course; but that being found not so much for 
edification, Dr Owen and Dr Goodwin performed that service alternately, 
and the young masters that were wont to preach it had a lecture on 
Tuesday appointed them." 
  But the combined duties of his two onerous offices at Oxford did not 
absorb all the energies of Owen. His mind appears to have expanded with 
his position, and to have shown resources that were literally 
inexhaustible. The few years which saw him the chief agent in raising the 
university from the brink of ruin, were those in which he was most 
frequently summoned by Cromwell to his councils, and in which he gave to 
the world theological works which would have been sufficient of 
themselves in the case of most men, to occupy and to recompense the 
energies of a lifetime. We now turn with him, then, for a little to the 
platform of public life, and to the toils of authorship. 
  On the 25th of August 1563 we again find him preaching, by command, 
before Parliament, on occasion of that celebrated victory over the Dutch 
fleet which established the reputation of the arms of the Commonwealth by 
sea, and paved the way for an honorable and advantageous peace with 
Holland. In October of the same year he was invited by Cromwell to 
London, to take part, along with some other ministers, in a conference on 
Christian union. The matter is stated in such interesting terms in one of 
the newspapers of the day, and, besides, affords such a valuable 
incidental glimpse of Cromwell's administration, that we prefer giving it 
in the words of that document:--"Several ministers were treated with by 
his Excellency the Lord-General Cromwell, to persuade them that hold 
Christ, the head, and so are the same fundamentals, to agree in love,-- 
that there be no such divisions among people professing godliness as has 
been, nor railing or reviling each other for difference only in forms. 
There were Mr Owen, Mr Marshall (Presbyterian), Mr Nye (Independent), Mr 
Jersey (Baptist), Mr Harrison, and others; to whom the advice and counsel 
of his Excellency were so sweet and precious, and managed with each 
judgment and graciousness, that it is hoped it will much tend to persuade 
those that fear the Lord in spirit and truth to labour for the union of 
all God's people." 
  It does not appear that any immediate practical measures resulted from 
this conference. The mistake, by which many such laudable attempts were 
defeated, was that of attempting too much incorporation was sought, when 
they should have been satisfied with mutual Christian recognition and 
cooperation up to the point of agreement; and sometimes a constrained 
silence on matters of difference, where there should rather have been a 
generous forbearance. But it is wrong to speak of such conferences and 
communing, when they failed of their immediate object, as either useless 
or fruitless. To the good men who mingled in them, it must have deepened 
the feeling of unity even where it did not increase its manifestation, 
and even unconsciously to themselves must have lowered the walls of 
division. Nor is it without interest and instruction to remark, that the 
best men of that age and of the next were ever the readiest to give 
themselves to movements that had this aim. Owen, by the reproaches which 
he brought upon himself on this account from weaker brethren, showed 
himself to be before his age. The pure spirit of Howe, which dwelt in a 
region so far above the petty passions of earth, has expressed its 
longings to see the church made "more awful and more amiable" by union, 
in his essay "On Union among Protestants," and "On the Carnality of 
Religious contentions." Baxter, with all his passion for dialectics, felt 
and owned the power of these holy attractions and longed the more for the 
everlasting rest, that he would there at length see the perfect 
realization of union. And the saintly Usher, prompted in part by the 
sublime seasonings of Howe, actually proposed a scheme of comprehension, 
of which, though defective in some of its provisions, and not permitted 
to be realized, God doubtless said, "It was good that it was in thine 
heart to do it." The Puritans did more than make unsuccessful experiments 
of union: they expounded in their writings many of the principles on 
which alone it can be accomplished; and it seems now only to need a 
revival of religion from on high in order to accomplish what they so 
eagerly desired. They were the Davids who prepared the materials of the 
temple,--shall the Christian of this age be the sons of peace who shall 
be honoured to build? 
  It was in all likelihood while Owen was attending in London on the 
meetings of this conference, that the senate embraced the opportunity of 
diplomating him Doctor of Divinity. For we find it recorded by Wood in 
his "Fasti Oxoniensis," that, "On Dec 23, John Owen, M.A., dean of Ch. 
Ch., and vice-chancellor of the university, was then (he being at Lond.) 
diplomated doct. of div." He is said in his diploma to be "in palaestra 
theologia exercitatissimus, in concionando assiduus et potent, in 
disputando strenuus et acutus". Owen's fiend, Thomas Goodwin, president 
of Magdalene College, was diplomated on the same occasion; and the 
honoured associates are sneeringly described by Wood, after his manner, 
as "the two Atlases and Patriarchs of Independency." 
  In the midst of these engagements, Dr Owen produced and published, in 
Latin, one of his most abstruse dissertations,--"Diatriba de Divina 
Justitia, etc.; or, the claims of Vindicatory Justice Asserted." The 
principle which it is the design of this treatise to explain and 
establish is, that God, considered as a moral governor, could not forgive 
sin without an atonement, or such provision for his justice as that which 
is made by the sacrifice of Christ. It had fallen to his lot some months 
before, in certain theological discussions to which he was called by his 
office, "to discourse and dispute on the vindicatory justice of God, and 
the necessity of its exercise on the supposition of the existence of 
sin;" and his hurried treatment of the subject, in the brief hour which 
was allowed him, had the rare success of bringing many over to his views. 
Owen was convinced that his principle "struck its roots deep through 
almost the whole of theology." He saw plainly that its effect, if 
established, was to raze the very foundations of Socinian error;--yet he 
was grieved to find that many excellent divines, who held views in common 
with him on all the great truths of the evangelical system, wavered on 
this, and that some honoured names had lately given a new sanction to the 
opposite opinion; among whom were Dr Twisse of Newbury, prolocutor of the 
Westminster Assembly, in his "Vindicice Gratiae, Potestatis, ac 
Providentiae divinae," and the venerable Samuel Rutherford of St Andrew, 
in his "Disputation Scholastics de divina Providentia" This made him the 
more readily accede to the wishes of those who had received benefit and 
confirmation from his verbal exposition of the subject, that he would 
enter on its more orderly and deliberate investigation. We do not wonder 
that the future expositor of the Epistle to the Hebrews should have been 
strongly prompted to contend for this principle, since it seems wrought 
up with more than one part of that colossal argument of inspired 
  In pursuing his argument, he evidently felt himself dazzled at times by 
the lustre of those interior truths to which his thoughts were turned. 
"Those points," he remarks, "which dwell in more intimate recesses, and 
approach nearer its immense fountain, the Father of light, darting 
brighter rays by their excess of light, present a confounding darkness to 
the minds of the greatest men, and are as darkness to the eyes breaking 
forth amidst so great light. For what we call darkness in divine subjects 
is nothing else than their celestial glory and splendour striking on the 
weak ball of our eyes, the rays of which we are not able in this life, 
which is but a vapour and shineth but a little, to bear." 
  In other places we can trace indications, that when he was rising to 
the height of his great argument, his fertile mind was revolving new 
treatises, which he afterwards gave to the world, and longing for the 
hour when he would descend from his present altitudes to those truths 
which bear more directly and powerfully on the spiritual life: "There 
are, no doubt, many other portions and subjects of our religion, of that 
blessed trust committed to us for our instructions on which we might 
dwell with greater pleasure and satisfaction of mind. Such, I mean, as 
afford a more free and wider scope of ranging through the most pleasant 
meads of the holy Scripture, and contemplating in these the transparent 
fountains of life and rivers of consolation;--subjects which, 
unencumbered by the thickets of scholastic terms and distinctions, 
unembarrassed by the impediments and eophisms of an enslaving philosophy 
or false knowledge, sweetly and pleasantly lead into a pure, unmixed, and 
delightful fellowship with the Father and with his Son, shedding abroad 
in the heart the inmost loves of our Beloved, with the odour of his sweet 
ointment poured forth." 
  The usual number of replies followed the appearance of this treatise, 
in which Baxter once more stood forth equipped in his ready armour. 
  In the following year Dr Owen gave to the world another work, of much 
greater magnitude, extending over nearly five hundred folio pages. He has 
himself supplied its best description and analysis in its ample 
title-page,--"The Doctrine of the Saints' Perseverance Explained and 
Confirmed; or, the certain permanency of their acceptation with God and 
sanctification from God manifested and proved, from the eternal 
principles, the effectual causes, and the external means thereof; in the 
immutability of the nature, decrees, covenant, and promises of God; the 
oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ; the promises, exhortations, 
and threats of the Gospel: improved in its genuine tendency to obedience 
and consolation." The work was immediately called forth by the 
"Redemption Redeemed" of John Goodwin, an Arminian writer, to whom Owen 
allows nearly all the most brilliant qualities of a controversialist, 
except a good cause. He describes him as not only clothing every 
conception of his mind with language of a full and choice significance, 
but also trimming and adorning it with all manner of signal improvements 
that may render it keen or pleasant, according to his intendment and 
desire, and happily applies to him the words of the Roman poet:--- 
      Monte decurrens velut anmin, imbres 
      Quem super notas aluere ripas, 
      Fervet, immnsusque ruit profundo 
                      Pindarus ore. 
The treatise, however, would be almost as complete were every part of it 
that refers to Goodwin expunged, and undeniably forms the most masterly 
vindication of the perseverance of the saints in the English tongue. Even 
Goodwin, with all his luxuriant eloquence, is sadly shattered when 
grasped by the mailed hand of the great Puritan. 
      Luxuriant artus, effusaque sanguine laxo 
      Membra natant. 
  The style of argument is much more popular than that of the former 
treatise; partly because of the insinuating rhetoric of his adversary, 
and also because Owen knew that Armenian sentiments had found their way 
into many of the churches, and that if he was to convince the people, he 
must write for the people. The following weighty sentence refers to his 
avoidance of philosophical terms and scholastic forms of argument, and is 
worthy of Owen's sanctified wisdom: "That which we account our wisdom and 
learning may, if too rigorously attended, be our folly: when we think to 
sharpen the reason of the Scripture, we may straiten the efficacy of the 
spirit of it. It is oftentimes more effectual in its own liberty, than 
when restrained to our methods of arguing; and the weapons of it keener 
in their own soft breathing, than when sharpened in the forge of 
  No part of this elaborate work is more characteristic of Dr Owen than 
his preface to the reader, which extends over forty folio pages, until 
you begin to fear that "the gate shall become wider than the city." It 
contains an account of the treatment which the doctrine had receded from 
the first Christian century to his own; and in its pages, which are 
literally variegated with Greek and Latin citations, displays an immense 
research. But what most surprises the reader, is to find the Doctor, when 
about the middle of his way, deliberately turning aside to discuss with 
Dr Hammond the genuineness of the Epistles of Ignatius, and to weigh the 
evidence which they would afford, on the supposition of their 
genuineness, for a primitive Episcopacy. One is tempted to trace a 
resemblance between the theological writing of those times and their 
modes of journeying. There was no moving in those days with all possible 
directness and celerity to the goal. The traveller stopped when he 
pleased, diverged where he pleased, and as often as he pleased, whenever 
he wished to salute a friend or to settle a controversy.--The work is 
dedicated to Cromwell. The strong language in which Owen speaks of his 
religious sincerity is interesting, as showing the estimate which was 
formed of the Protector's character by those who had the best 
opportunities of judging regarding it. 
  The mention of Cromwell's name naturally brings Us back to public 
events, and to an occurrence which, more than almost any other in Owen's 
life, laid him open to the reproaches of his enemies. Cromwell having 
dissolved the Long Parliament in the end of 1653, had a few months after 
issued writs for a new election. The university of Oxford was empowered 
to return one member to this Parliament, and Dr Owen was elected. That he 
did not evince any decided unwillingness to accept this new office may be 
presumed for the fact that he at once took his seat in the House, and 
continued to sit until the committee of privileges, on account of his 
being a minister of religion, declared his election annulled. His 
systematic detractors have fastened on this part of his conduct with all 
the instinct of vultures, and even his friends have only ventured, for 
the most part, on a timid and hesitating defense. Cawdrey and Anthony 
Wood, not satisfied with commenting on the fact of his seeming eagerness 
to grasp at civil power, accuse him, on the authority of public rumour, 
of refusing to say whether he was a minister or not,--a charge which he 
left at first to be answered by its own absurdity, but which, on finding 
some actually crediting it, he repelled with a pardonable amount of 
vehement indignation, declaring it to be "so remote from any thing to 
give a pretence or colour to it, that I question whether Satan have 
impudence enough to own himself its author." 
  But there have been others, who, while disowning all sympathy with 
these birds of evil omen that haunted the path of the noble Puritan, have 
questioned the propriety and consistency of one in Owen's circumstances, 
and with all his strongly-professed longings for the duties of a tranquil 
pastorate, so readily "entangling himself with the affairs of this life;" 
and this is certainly a more tenable ground of objection. And yet, to 
judge Owen rightly, we must take into view all the special elements of 
the case. All except those who see en ordination a mysterious and 
indissoluble spell, and hold the Romish figment of "once a priest, always 
a priest," will admit that emergencies may arise in a commonwealth when 
even the Christian minister may, for the sake of accomplishing the 
highest amount of good, place in abeyance the peculiar duties of his 
office, and merge the pastor in the legislator. Persons had sat with this 
conviction in the immediately previous Parliament; and in the last 
century, Dr Witherspoon, one of the purest and most conscientious of 
Scottish ecclesiastics, after emigrating to America, united the duties of 
pastor and president of Jersey College with those of a member of 
Congress, and was only second to Washington and Franklin in laying the 
foundations of the infant republic. Dr Owen, in all likelihood, acted on 
principles similar to those which swayed the Scottish divine; and when we 
consider the avowed and fanatical animosity with which Oxford was 
regarded by a turbulent party in the state, as well as the active 
interest which Cromwell and his, Parliament took in the religious 
condition of the nation, it is easy to conceive how Owen felt that he was 
only placing himself in a better position for watching over the well- 
being of the university, and for promoting the interests of religion and 
of religious liberty, by being there to bear his part in the 
deliberations regarding it. At the same time, with all these facts before 
us to qualify our censure, we cannot help thinking that when Owen saw the 
validity of his election so vehemently questioned, he would have 
consulted his dignity more had he declined to sit.  
  In the "Instrument of Government" presented by Cromwell to this 
Parliament, it was proposed that all who professed faith in God by Jesus 
Christ should be protected in their religion. In the debates which took 
place on this part of the instrument, its language was interpreted as 
recommending toleration to those only who were agreed on the fundamentals 
of Christian doctrine,--an interpretation which, there is reason to 
think, injuriously restricted the Protector's meaning. But the question 
immediately arose, what were fundamentals? and a committee of fourteen 
was appointed to prepare a statement for the House on this subject; who, 
in their turn, committed the work to fourteen divines of eminence. Owen 
was on this committee; and, according to Baxter, had the principal share 
in "wording the articles." He has been beamed for seeking to limit the 
blessings of toleration, on the now generally-admitted principle, that a 
man's religious belief ought not to be made the condition of his civil 
privileges. But the censure is misplaced. Owen was responsible for the 
correctness of his answers,--not for the use which the Parliament might 
make of them; but the abrupt dissolution of the Parliament which, 
disappointed Cromwell's expectations, prevented their being embodied in 
any legislative measure. 
  About the sane period Dr Owen was invited by the Protector and his 
Council to form part of a committee, from whose labours the cause of 
religion in England reaped great and permanent advantage. We refer to the 
commission appointed to examine candidates for ordination; whose powers 
soon after included the ejection of ministers and schoolmasters of 
heretical doctrine and scandalous life. Cromwell has been condemned for 
thus invading the proper functions of the church; and undoubtedly he did 
in this measure boldly overstep the province of the legislator; at the 
same time, he was right in thinking that the true greatness of his 
kingdom, and the stability of his government, depended on the pervading 
influence of religion among the people; and that it was better that the 
church should in this irregular manner be purged of its hirelings and 
moneychangers, than left to sink into inefficiency and corruption. 
  About forty ministers, "the acknowledged flower of Puritanism," were 
united with a few Puritan laymen, and appointed to this most delicate 
office. Undoubtedly, the power committed to them was tremendous, and, in 
the hands of unscrupulous men, might have been turned to purposes the 
most inquisitorial and vile. But seldom has power been less abused, or 
the rare and incidental mischief arising from its exercise, more 
immeasurably outweighed by its substantial benefits. It afforded, indeed, 
a tempting theme for the profane genius of Hudibras, to represent the 
triers, in their inquiries regarding the spiritual life of candidates, as 
      "To find, in lines of beard and face,  
      The physiognomy of grace;  
      And, by the sound of twang and nose,  
      If all be sound within disclose;" 
and high Royalists and partisans like Bishop Kennel, who had probably 
smarted under their investigations, in their eagerness to find matter of 
accusation against them, might blunder out unconscious praise. But the 
strong assertion of the historian of the Puritans has never been 
disproved,--that not a single instance can be produced of any who were 
rejected for insufficiency without being first convicted either of 
immorality, of obnoxious sentiments in the Socinian or Pelagian 
controversy, or of disaffection to the present government. Cromwell 
could, before his second Parliament, refer to the labours of the 
commissioners in such strong terms as these: "There has not been such a 
service to England since the Christian religion was perfect in England! I 
dare be bold to say it." And the well-balanced testimony of Baxter, given 
with all his quaint felicity, may be held, when we consider that he had 
looked on the appointment of the triers with no friendly eye, as 
introducing all the shadings necessary to truth: "Because this assembly 
of triers is most heavily accused and reproached by some men, I shall 
speak the truth of them; and suppose my word will be taken, because most 
of them took me for one of their boldest adversaries. The truth is, 
though some few over-rigid and over-busy Independents among them were too 
severe against all that were Arminians, and too particular in inquiring 
after evidences of sanctification in those whom they examined, and 
somewhat too lax in admitting of unlearned and erroneous men that 
favoured Antinomianism or Anabaptism; yet, to give them their due, they 
did abundance of good in the church They saved many a congregation from 
ignorant, ungodly, drunken teachers,--that sort of men who intend no more 
in the ministry then to read a sermon on Sunday, and all the rest of the 
week go with the people to the alehouse and harden them in sin; and that 
sort of ministers who either preached against a holy life, or preached as 
men who were never acquainted with it. These they usually rejected, and 
in their stead admitted of any that were able, serious preachers, and 
lived a godly life, of what tolerable opinion soever they were; so that, 
though many of them were a little partial for the Independents, 
Separatists, Fifth-monarchy Men, and Anabaptists, and against the 
Prelatists and Armenians, yet so great was the benefit above the hurt 
which they brought to the church, that many thousands of souls blessed 
God for the faithful ministers whom they let in, and grieved when the 
Prelatists afterwards cast them out again." 
  Every student of the Puritan history is familiar with the magnanimous 
act of Howe, in recommending Fuller the historian for ordination, though 
a Royalist, because he "made conscience of his thoughts;" and an equally 
high-minded and generous act of impartiality is recorded of Owen. Dr 
Pocock, professor of Arabic in Oxford, and one of the greatest scholars 
in Europe, held a living in Berks, and was about to have hard measure 
dealt to him by the commissioners for that county. No sooner did Owen 
hear of this than he wrote to Thurloe, Cromwell's secretary, imploring 
him to stay such rash and disgraceful procedure. Not satisfied with this, 
he hastened into Berkshire in person, warmly remonstrated with the 
commissioners on the course which they seemed bent on pursuing, and only 
ceased when he had obtained the honorable discharge of the menaced 
scholar from farther attendance. 
  Owen's wisdom in council involved the natural penalty of frequent 
consultation; and, accordingly, we find him in the following year again 
invited to confer with Cromwell on a subject which, in addition to its 
own intrinsic interest, acquires a new interest from recent agitation. 
Manasseh Ben Israel, a learned Jew from Amsterdam, had asked of Cromwell 
and his government permission for the Jews to settle and trade in 
England, from which they had been excluded since the thirteenth century. 
Cromwell, favourable to the proposal himself, submitted the question to a 
conference of lawyers, merchants, and divines, whom he assembled, and 
whom he wished to consider it in relation to the interests which they 
might be held respectively to represent. The lawyers saw nothing in the 
admission of the Jews contrary to the laws of England, some of the 
merchants were friendly, and some opposed; and though a living historian 
has described theologians as unanimous in their opposition, they were, in 
fact, divided in their opinion too; some, like Mr Dury, being fierce in 
their opposition, even to fanaticism; and others, of whom there is reason 
to think Dr Owen was one, being prepared to admit them under certain 
restrictions. Cromwell, however, was on this subject in advance of all 
his counsellors, and indeed of his age, "from his shoulders and upward he 
was higher than any of the people," and displayed a faith in the power of 
truth, and an ingenuity in turning the timid objections of his advisers 
arguments by which they might at once have been instructed and rebuked." 
Since there is a promise in holy Scripture of the conversion of the 
Jews," he said, "I do not know but the preaching of the gospel, as it is 
now in England, without idolatry or superstition, may conduce to it." "I 

(continued in part 4...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: owlife-3.txt