Wednesday, May 18, 2016



Joseph Alleine:  His Companions & Times; A Memorial of "Black Bartholomew,"1662

     After an imprisonment of twelve months, Mr. Alleine was set free on the 20th of May, 1664.....    
     On the 1st of July, 1664.....the Conventicle Act came into operation.  Hitherto the law had only punished the pastors, now its penalties lighted on the flocks.  It was enacted that if any person above the age of sixteen attended any meeting under colour of a religious exercise not allowed by the liturgy or practice of the Church of England, where five or more persons were present besides the household, he should for the first offence suffer three months' imprisonment, or pay a sum not exceeding 5 pounds; for the second, six months' imprisonment, or pay 10; for the third, to be banished to certain specified plantations for seven years.  "With refined cruelty it was provided, that the offender should not be transported to New England, where he was likely to meet with sympathising friends." (Macaulay).   If he returned to his own country before the expiration of his term of exile, he was liable to capital punishment.  A jury was unnecessary.  A single justice of the peace, and the oath of an informer were sufficient, and this Act was to continue in force for three years after the next session of Parliament.....
     Try to picture the effect; on any modern congregation of such penalties as these, softened as they were by the ministries of Christian pity.....If such agencies serve to thin our churches, how many worshippers would be there, if they anticipated as the probable consequence, the payment of a fine, suffering in a prison, or the chance of slavery and death beneath the blaze of a tropical day?
     Even Mr. Alleine's brave people were so far dispersed by these terrors, that he deemed it sufficient to hold henceforth two Sunday services instead of four; still continuing, however, his various other labours in the week, both at home and in the villages.
     His own languid health yet more imperatively required him thus to lessen his usual amount of work.  The prison had made him an old and weary man.  It had made his life wither as a flower will wither if the fire has once passed over it.  His iron power of endurance, his elastic spring of recovery had gone for ever.  He could hardly hold on his way, and at last he broke down utterly.  At the close of August, having travelled sixteen miles to visit a church which had been deprived of its pastor, he sank into such utter exhaustion after preaching, that he could not be removed for three or four days, and then was with great difficulty borne back to Taunton.  (Taunton was a city in England where Joseph Alleine preached.)  For many weeks his strength consumed away so fast, that his friends thought he would soon die.  In October he began to revive, but even then his disorder so affected him, that he could not use his arms so as to write letters, or put off and on his clothes.....
     In his accustomed rounds, then, this servant of the Lord still determined to toil on—his strength strained to the utmost, and his life beset with perils; but though many threats were uttered against him by the magistrates, and many warrants out for him, nothing ruffled his placid courage, or shook his firm resolve.  He would say, when his enemies were plotting to get him into prison, "They could not do me a greater kindness.  I can do but little because of my distempers; but if I cannot work for God, I can suffer for Him, if He would so far honour me."  But the time was not yet come for this, and, till then, he seemed to lead "a charmed life."
     All this while the Plague was raging in London.  The old Gothic city, with its foul nests of narrow streets, each having in its centre a black rivulet trickling along to the river, seemed marked for such a doom.  The avenger had often sent warning of his approach, and now he had come, walking in darkness, wasting at noonday, and filling the whole scene with horrors which the tongue trembles to utter, and the pen refuses to record.  In the month of September, the terrific number of ten thousand at least, was the weekly average of the bills of mortality.  In one night—a night long to be remembered—it is said that four thousand died.  Shop after shop was closed, door after door was inscribed with a long red cross, having over it the words, "The Lord have mercy upon us," and street after street became still, with the awful peace of death—the doors left open, the casements clapping in the wind, the rooms empty, the inmates gone.....
     The pestilence travelled on until nearly a hundred thousand souls had been swept away before it.
.....Survivors thronged to the churches, but with a few honour- able exceptions the clergy had fled.  Handbills were thrown about the streets, bearing the title, "A Pulpit to Let," on which were printed the following lines:—

    "They that should stay, and teach us to reform,
    Gird up their loins, and run to 'scape the storm;
    They dread the plague, and dare not stand its shock,
    Let wolves or lions feed the fainting flock.
    Think you these men believe with holy Paul,
    For them to be dissolved is best of all;
    Then, their own bodies they would never mind,
    More than the souls of those they left behind.
    Who now, those sons of Aaron being fled,
    Shall stand between the living and the dead?
    We have at home the plague, abroad the sword,
    And will they add the famine of the word?"
                          from Vincent's "God's Terrible Voice
                                     in the City."

     An eye-witness declares, that seeing these pamphlets of  "A Pulpit to Let" scattered over the thoroughfares, and finding the churches open, many of the Nonconformist ministers ventured to accept the challenge, and fill the pulpits,—secure in a toleration decried by law, but allowed by the exigencies of the hour.....(Note:  the plague was from 1665-66.)
     We naturally ask what their old foes were doing through all this dreary season?  Most of them were too absorbed in their own affairs to care for those of others.....Others, and this is our present point, were absorbed in plans of new persecution; the self-devoting labour of the Nonconformists, instead of making them relent, only seeming to lash up emotions of more pitiless forging the infamous Five-Mile Act, which received the royal assent on October 31, 1665.  This Act set forth a certain oath, which every Nonconformist minister was to take, declaring his conviction that it was unlawful, under any pretence whatever, to take up arms against the sovereign, and promising not to attempt any alteration of the Government, either in Church or State.  It also provided, that those who refused to take such an oath, should not come within five miles of any corporate city or town, or within five miles of any place in which they had heretofore been settled, or in which they had preached, under enormous penalties.....
.....The ministers therefore refused the oath, as was anticipated, and were a second time driven from their homes.  While they kept in their old haunts, the most persecuted could preach occasionally; however poor they were, however scorned by the world, they could always be comforted by the presence of a few who held them in unspeakable reverence,—who were ready to give away their last crust to keep them from starvation,—and who, in the most evil day, would have found for them the safest nooks of concealment, or have risked life itself to cover their escape from the troopers.  But from this time, their lot was to be cast among strangers, and their final possibility of preaching the Gospel seemed to be taken away.....
.....Some degree of gloom was natural, and it hung heavily over the spirits of many—not, however, as it seems, over the spirits of Mr. Alleine.  You are eager to know how the new Act affected his proceedings.  He resolved to take up his abode at Wellington, a town more than five miles away; but, a few nights before doing so, he obtained the largest room that could be found, probably one at Fullands,—called his people together, and held a service of solemn thanksgiving!  The rough notes of his address on this occasion have been preserved, and we must spare space for a few sentences here:—
      Most dearly beloved brethren, with no little joy and thankfulness have I thought of this time, when I should once more see your faces together; and be so truly glad, with so heart-contenting a mercy, as to 'rejoice with the joy of God's people, and to glory with His inheritance.'    
     "It is a time that, to some, may seem unseasonable to set up thanksgivings, when our calamities are so near approaching.  But surely, if I had never hopes to enjoy one day with you more, the last day should be a day of praise.  And if I were sure that we were now to take our farewell of Christians and ministers, and of all our former liberties, I should exhort you that we might join once more in lifting up hearts and hands in blessing God for all the mercies that we have met with together.  Your condition is never such but your mercies are infinitely greater, and more than your afflictions.  Neither may the sense of misery at any time surprise you, so as to drown the thankful acknowledgment of God's mercies.  God, that hath been always good to you, hath never been better than since you have had affliction.  Elijah was never so happily fed at a full table as when it was a time of great famine; when God sent every bit of bread and flesh by the mouth of a raven.  O how sweetly, do you think, that every bit of this bread did relish with the man of God, when he saw that he received it immediately out of God's own hand?
     "Brethren, though it hath been a time of great calamity, yet God hath herein heightened His mercy to you;—you have seen the bush burning, and yet not consumed.  The portion of God's children hath been taken away, and yet our cheeks have been fat.  We have been cast with Daniel into the lion's den; but God hath sent His angel and shut the lion's mouth, and we have not been destroyed, but are here together to praise the Lord.
     "Methinks there are several periods of time, since the time of our calamities, wherein God hath appeared to us, when we thought all had been gone.  One period was when your ministers were shut out of public by the Act of Uniformity.  Another, when we were cast out of our private meetings by the Act made against seditious conventicles, so called by the iniquity of the times.  Another, by this Act that doth now cast ministers out of their habitations.  And, methinks, every period should end with praise.  We read, that when they removed the ark, that when they had passed such a number of paces, then they 'slew a sacrifice.'  So, methinks, as we pass these periods of time, at the end of every period we should offer praise.  What! though God hath separated your preachers from you, yet, as He said, if the soldier dies fighting, and the preacher preaching, and the swan singing, then the saints should part praising.  Oh, Christians, this is the spirit that should be in you, that whatever God doth with you for the time to come, you should resolve to end in His praise for the mercies past.  If it were the last day we should have together, surely, me-thinks, we should end in praise.
     "The mercies of God are a deep that cannot be fathomed.  Where shall I begin or end.  Let me this evening show a little of God's mercy to you, and let my message live in your hearts as long as you live."
     He first aims to show the mercies enjoyed by his people as the people of God.  He shows how they may prove the existence of this relation, and then, that this relation involves the following things, on each of which he enlarges:—"You are the election of grace—you are the first-born of God—you are the first-fruits of the creation—you are the burgesses of heaven—you are the members of Christ—you are the living stones of the temple."
     He next asks the people to call to mind the particular mercies they have enjoyed as the inhabitants of Taunton;—
     "Though praise for the higher mercies should ever ring loudest, these should not be forgotten.
     "Firstly.  He has been a Saviour to you.  He hath saved your lives from the sword.  Have you forgotten that you were a people devoted to destruction by the sons of violence?  But God disappointed them, and gave your lives for a prey.
     "Your dwellings from the flames.—The flames have been set in ambush against you, and yet your habitations have not been burnt down to this day.  (Note:  London fire was in September of 1666.)
     "Your lives from the plague.—It hath devoured others, but it hath not devoured you.  How eminently hath God preserved you in this place, in the time of common calamity that hath been among others!  O think not that it was because those were greater sinners than are in Taunton; no, but because God hath a peculiar intention of saving you.  Yet I say to you, as Christ to them, ‘Think not that those upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, were greater sinners than any in Jerusalem.  I tell you, nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.'  We have had the same sins, and yet God hath preserved us.    
     "Your persons from the prison.—How often hath God preserved you?  He hath been like the cloud upon Israel; 'and upon all the glory there hath been a defence.'  Once, indeed, some of you have tasted of a prison; but what a mercy was it, that it was but once.
     "Secondly.  God hath been a Shepherd to you.—Therefore, you have not wanted.  Who is it that leads you by the still waters?  Whence is it that you lie down in green pastures?  It is because God is your Shepherd.  How hath God provided for you formerly and of late?
     "Thirdly.  God hath been a keeper to you.  When you were sent to prison God did keep you.  O do not forget the mercies of a prison!  I believe, that of all the passages of our lives, many of us have no such experience of God's mercy as in a prison.  O the provision that God did make for us there!
     "Brethren, now let us thankfully commemorate all these mercies.  Let me call upon you, as the Psalmist, 'Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous;' and again, ‘Rejoice, O ye people, let your voice be heard on high.'  'Let us worship and fall down before the Lord our Maker.'  Let it be said, 'Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Taunton.'  Well might praise wait for God in Taunton, for God hath waited to be gracious to us.  There was the place where He chose to put His name.  'There brake He the arrows and the spear.'  Who is like our God, who rideth on the heaven for our help, and on the sky for our aid?  Blessed is the people that heareth the joyful sound; they shall rejoice in thee, O Lord.  'The Lord is our deliverance, and the Holy One of Israel is our King.'  Shout, therefore, O inhabitants of Taunton, for great is the work of the Lord with you.  And now, O Lord, bless them, and accept the work of their hands, and lift them up for ever!"
     At Wellington, he preached in a dye-house.....It was a very obscure shelter; but good men, like diamonds, shine in the dark, and light will not remain a secret long.  Mr. Alleine was soon discovered by informers, and a warrant placed in the constable's hand for his apprehension.....(Note:  In July of 1666, Joseph Alleine was arrested and instead of paying a fine of 3 pounds he spent 60 days in prison.) 
.....His last imprisonment, both by its direct influence, and by depriving him of his intended visit to Devizes, had greatly increased his disorder.
     In June, 1667, he went to Devizes again.  On this account, therefore, as well as on account of the medicinal advantages which the sick man primarily sought, Devizes was always an attractive retreat.....
.....The waters failed to produce the usual effect on the Invalid, and in July he was stricken down with a fever.  When to all appearance he was lying at the point of death, he dictated a long letter to his people.....
.....In six weeks' time the sentence of death seemed to be revoked, and he was able to travel back to Taunton.  He only remained there for a short period, and in September we find him at Dorchester.....
.....the sick man suddenly lost the use of all his limbs.  Looking at his dead hands, he said, "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord."  He could not lift a finger.  Two attendants were needed even to turn him in bed, and this they sometimes did forty times in a night.  In this living death he lay from September the 28th to November the 16th, and all through the winter there was but little change.....(Note:  From February of 1668 until his death on November 17, 1668, he had periods of improvement and then his health would relapse.)
     The mourners could not forget the charge given by their beloved minister while yet with them, "If I should die fifty miles away, let me be buried at Taunton;" and a grave was, therefore, found for him in St. Mary's chancel.....
                                                                                                                                    Charles Stanford

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