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Francis Higginson

Francis Higginson, A. M.—This excellent minister was born in the year 1587, and educated in Emanuel college, Cambridge, and afterwards became pastor of one of the churches in Leicester. His preaching was truly evan

felical, and multitudes from all quarters flocked to hear im. The great object of his ministry was to produce that change of heart, and holy rectitude of conduct, without which no man can see the Lord. The effect, through a divine blessing, was such as might be expected. A remarkable revival of religion was the reward of his labours, and many were effectually turned from sin to holiness ; but, in the midst of his usefulness, he was deprived on account of his nonconformity. For some years after his settlement at Leicester, he continued a strict conformist; but, upon his acquaintance with Mr. Hildersham and Mr. Hooker, he was induced to study the controversy about ecclesiastical matters. He searched the scriptures, together with the earliest antiquity; and as he searched, the more he became dissatisfied with the inventions of men introduced into the worship of God. From his own impartial examination, therefore, and the clear evidence of truth, be became a decided and conscientious nonconformist. At this time the weight of his influence burst forth; and the

* Bridget's Hist, of Northamptonshire, vol. i. p. 366. t Fuller's Chorea Hist. b. iz. p. 168.—Collier's JEcd. Hist vol. ii. p. 582.

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arm of ecclesiastical power could not obscure the lustre of his talents. Such were the pathos and enchanting eloquence of his ministry, that the people could not be denied the benefit of hb instructions. " He was unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on aninstrument." The people obtained liberty for him to preach a lecture on one part of the sabbath, and on the other to aid an aged minister, who stood in need of assistance. They supported him by their own voluntary subscription; and such was his reputation, that, while it was sate, all the conformist ministers in the town invited him into their pulpits. He also preached to another congregation in the church at Bclgrave, a village near Leicester. His labours and usefulness were thus expanded. This, indeed, was through the connivance of the generous and worthy Bishop. Williams of Lincoln ;• and continued till Laud became bishop of London, when he determined to extirpate all nonconformists.

As it often happens in other cases, so it did in this; while one part of the community was delighted and encouraged in the practice of religion, another part, feeling themselves rebuked and condemned by his preaching, became more violent opposcrs, and more cruel persecutors. Mr. Higginson openly avowed his opinion, that ignorant and immoral people ought not to be admitted to the Lord's table. Accordingly, having preached a sermon from this text, " Give not that which is holy to dogs;" and being about to administer the sanmment, he saw a known swearer and drunkard before him, to whom he publicly said, " he was not willing to give the Lord's supper to him, until he professed his repentance to the satisfaction of the brethren, and desired him to withdraw." The man went out in a rage against Mr. Higginson, and, with horror in his conscience, was immediately taken sick, and soon after expired, crying out," J am damned." Another profane person being offended with his wife for attending upon Mr. Higginson^

* TMt Tery learned and religious prelate was a contlanl friend to the persecuted puritans, many of whom, as will appear from the present work, he protected from the intolerant proceedings of the ecclesiastical courts. We have given a particular account in the Introduction, of the barbarous persecution he endured from Archbishop Laud and his associates, lie was greatly admired for his deep penetration, solid judgment, and his wonderful memory, which was deemed almost a miracle. His parts were very extraordinary; and his constitution still more extraordinary than his parts; for, notwithstanding his hard study, and a multiplicity of business, he never required more than three hours sleep.—Le Ntvi'$ Lives, vol. i. part ii. p. 154.—Granger's Biog. Hist. vol. i. p. S55.

ministry, rowed revenge against him. Accordingly, he resolved on a journey to London, to complain against him in the high commission court. All things being ready for his journey, as he was mounting his horse, be was seized with insupportable pain of body, and most dreadful horrors of conscience; and being conducted into the house, died in a few hours.*

During Mr. Higginson's abode at Leicester, a clergyman lived in the town who was a doctor in divinity, a prebendary in a cathedral, and chaplain to his majesty; but very seldom preached. Indeed, when he did preach, he discovered so much ostentation, that the people mostly attended upon Mr. Higginson's edifying preaching, rather than Lis affected and empty harangues. This greatly displeased the doctor, who embraced every opportunity of expressing his resentment and indignation against Mr. Higginson; and declared he would certainly drive him out of the town. This doctor was nominated by the sheriff to preach the assize sermon, and had three months notice to make preparation. During the whole of this period, he was, however, unable to provide a sermon to his own satisfaction. About a fortnight before the time was expired, he expressed his fears of ever being provided; when his friends urged him to attempt it again; and signified, that, if there was no other alternative, Mr. Higginson, being always ready, might be procured. The doctor, being exceedingly averse to the last proposal, studied with all his might to prepare an agreeable sermon, but without success. So the very night preceding the assize, he got a friend to prevail upon Mr. Higginson to supply his place; which he did, to the great satisfaction of the audience. Afterwards, when all the circumstances were known, and become the common topic of conversation, the doctor was so mortified and confounded, that he left the town, declaring he would never come into it any more. While Mr. Higginson, therefore, continued highly respected in the place, the learned doctor was driven out.t

Mr. Higginson was afterwards chosen by the mayor and aldermen to be the town-preacher. He thanked them for the honour which they conferred upon him; but, because he could not with a good conscience conform, he declined the offer, recommending to them Mr. John Angel, then a

• Mather's Hist, of New Eng. b. lit. p. 7l, 78. + Ibid. p. 78,73.

conformist, bat a good man, whom they accepted. Indeed, several rich livings were offered him; but, as his nonconformity was growing upon him, he modestly refused them all. He could never sacrifice truth and a good conscience to obtain any worldly emolument whatever. Mr. Higginson was very useful in the education of young men, many of whom afterwards became famous in their day. Among these were Dr. Seaman, Dr. Brian, and the excellent Mr. John Howe, all noted for their learning, moderation, and nonconformity. At length, however, when Laud was translated to London, complaints were exhibited against him in the high commission court, and he was in continual expectation of being dragged away by pursuivants, when perpetual imprisonment was the least he expected.

A number of respectable and wealthy merchants, having obtained a charter of King Charles I., and being incorporated by fhe name of the governor and company of Massachusetts' Bay, in New England, determined, in the year 1629, to send over some ships to begin the plantation. They, having heard of Mr. Higginson's situation, sent two messengers to invite him to join their company, engaging to support him on the passage. These messengers, understanding that Mr. Higginson was in daily expectation of officers to carry him to London, determined to have a little sport. Accordingly, they went boldly to his door, and with loud knocks, cried, " Where is Mr. Higginson? We must speak with Mr. Higginson." His affrighted wife ran to his chamber, entreating him to conceal himself. 4; No," said he, " I will go down and speak to them, and the will of the Lord be done." As they entered his hall with an assumed boldness, and roughness of address, they presented him -with some papers, saying, " Sir, we come from London: our business is to carry you up to London, as you may see by these papers."—" I thought so," exclaimed Mrs. Higginson, and immediately began to weep. Upon a slight examination of the papers, Mr. Higginson found himself invited to Massachusetts by the governor and company of the intended colony; he welcomed his guests, had free conversation with them, and after taking proper time to ascertain the path of duty, resolved to cross the Atlantic. His farewell sermon was preached from Luke, xxi. SO, 21. " When ye see Jerusalem encompassed with armies, &c. then flee to the mountains." Before a vast assembly he declared his persuasion, that England would be chastised by war, and that Leicester would have more

than an ordinary share of sufferings.* He expressed his thankful acknowledgments to the magistrates and others, for their favour ana encouragement; and informed them that he was going to New England, which he believed God designed as a refuge for persecuted nonconformists. He soon took his journey with his family to London, in order to his embarking for the new colony, when the streets, as he passed along, were filled with people, bidding him farewell, with prayers and cries for his welfare.

They sailed from the Isle of Wight in the beginning of May, 1629, and arrived in Salem harbour the 24th of June following. The ships were filled with religious passengers, among whom were Mr. Samuel Skclton and Mr. Ralph Smith, both nonconformist ministers. Mr. Higginson kept a journal of the voyage, a copy of which is still preserved.? They were no sooner arrival at Salem, than they entered upon the important object for which they went. They began the new plantation by calling on the

Plymouth, who sent messengers to their assistance, they set apart the sixth of August as a day of fasting and prayer, and for settling the order of their intended church. On this interesting occasion, Mr. Higginson drew up a confession of faith, and a covenant^ a copy of which was given to each of the thirty persons who became members; and to this confession and covenant, these thirty persons did solemnly and severally declare their consent. Mr. Higginson was then chosen teacher, Mr. Skelton the pastor of the church, and Mr. Houghton ruling elder. Afterwards, many other persons joined the church, but none were admitted without giving satisfactory evidence of their conversion to God. This was the first christian church that was ever formed in the Massachusetts' colony.^

Some of the passengers who went with these new planters, observing that the ministers did not use the Book of Common Prayer; that they administered the sacraments without the English ceremonies; that they refused to admit disorderly persons to the Lord's supper; and that they resolved to exercise discipline against all scandalous

* Not many yean after, Leicester, which was strongly fortified, receiied the wealth of the adjacent country. It was then besieged, taken by storm, given op to plunder and violence, and eleven hundred of its inhabitants were slain in the streets.—Mathet'i Hist, of Ntm Eng. b. iii.

name of the

After consulting the brethren at

members of the church, began to make disturbance, and set up a separate assembly, according to the usage of the church of England. The chief promoters of this breach were Mr. Samuel Browne and his brother, the one a lawyer, and the other a merchant. The governor, perceiving this disturbance, sent for these two gentlemen, who accused the ministers of " departing from the order of the church of England;" adding," that they were separatists, and would shortly be anabaptists; but as to themselves, they would hold to the orders of the church of England." To these accusations, the ministers replied, " That they were neither separatists nor anabaptists; that they did not separate from the church of England, nor from the ordinances of God there, but only from the disorders and corruptions of that church; that they came away from the common prayer and ceremonies, and had suffered much for their nonconformity in their native land; and, therefore, being in a place where they might exercise their liberty, they neither could, nor would use them; especially because they judged the imposition of these things to be sinful corruptions of the word of God."» The governor, the council, and the people in general, approved of the answers given by the ministers. The two brothers, however, not being satisfied, and endeavouring to raise a mutiny among the people, were sent back to England, by the return of the same ships which carried them.

The faith and patience of these adventurers were exercised with other trials. The first winter after their arrival proved very fatal. It carried off nearly one hundred of their company, among whom was Mr. Houghton the elder of the church. Mr. Higginson himself, not being able to Undergo the fatigues of a new settlement, fell into a hectic fever, of which he lingered till the month of August following. The last sermon he preached was from Matt. xi. 7. " What went ye out into the wilderness to see?" It was delivered to several hundreds of persons just arrived from England, whom he suitably reminded of their design to promote true religion, in transporting themselves to that country. Mr. Higginson was soon after confined to his bed, when he was visited by the chief persons of the colony. He was deeply humbled under a sense of his own unworthiness; and when his friends endeavoured to comfort him by reminding him of his faithfulness and usefulness, he replied,

• Morton's New Eng. Mem. p. 76, 77.—Mather's Hist, of New Eng. b. i. p. 19.

" I hare been an unprofitable servant; and all my doings " I count but loss and dung. Al l my desire is to win " Christ, and be found in him, not having ray own " righteousness." He died in the month of August, 1630, aged forty-three years. His funeral was attended with all possible solemnity. He was richly endowed with divine grace, mighty in the scriptures, a good linguist, and an excellent preacher. He held the hearts of his people, and his memory was dear to their posterity. He left a widow and eight children. Mr. Higginson had two sons, Francis and John, who afterwards became ministers; the former at Kirkby Stephen in Westmoreland, England, where he conformed at the restoration.* The latter was chosen pastor of his father's church, in the year 1659; and was labouring there in the year J 696, in the eightieth year of his age, and the sixtieth of his ministry. Mr. Higginson's posterity still remain in New England, and are among the most respectable people of the commonwealth.