Thomas Paget was a zealous and worthy minister in the diocese of Chester, but much persecuted for nonconformity. Through the severity of the times, when he could no longer enjoy the blessing of religious liberty in his own countiy, he sought refuge in a foreign land ; and, to escape the persecuting fury of the prelates, retired to Holland as a place of safety. He had been many years emploj-ed in the minisiry, in the above diocese, when Dr. Thomas Morton became Bishop of Chester. This learned prelate was no sooner comfortably seated in the episcopal chair, than he began to prosecute the nonconformists within his jurisdiction, and sent forth letters missive, summoning them to appear before the high commission. Among those who were cited was Mr. Paget. This was no sooner known in the country than many of the most worthy knights and gentlemen in the diocese took the matter into serious consideration, espoused the cause of the distressed ministers, and wrote a very appropriate letter to the bishop; in which they expressed themselves as follows:
" Jtighi Reverend, &c. Whereas we understand that divers of our painful and discreet ministers are lately, by letters missive from your lordship and others of bis majesty's high commission for causes ecclesiastical within the diocese of Chester, enjoined to appear before you, to answer to such matters as shall be objected against them. We, whose names are subscribed, have thought fit to acquaint your lordship with our opinion of those ministers, for the preventing, if need require, of such sinister and malicious informations; which, in these cases, are frequently stirred up against men of their sort and quality; sometimes by lewd and profane persons; and many times by the disguised, subtil, and superstitious Romanists and church-papists, whose hearts arc wholly against us, all the while their faces are seemingly for us. We have observed, so far as we are able to judge, in these our ministers, integrity of life and conversation, orthodox soundness of doctrine, diligence and painfulness in their places, sobriety and peaceableness in their dispositions, and freedom from faction. Also, as the great good and profit which our congregations where they live have abundantly received from their ministry; therefore we are emboldened to entreat your favour, &c."*
This letter was delivered to his lordship at Stockport; who, after reading it, said, " They whom the letter con
• Paget't Defence, Pref.
cemeth are the worse lo be liked, for the good testimony here given of them." Mr. Paget was one of the ministers in whose behalf the letter was written, and being present at the reading of it, the bishop immediately required his arguments against the use of the cross in baptism; that, as he then boasted, he might instantly discover their weakness and folly in refusing to conform. Mr. Paget and his brethren at first declined all disputation, pnrtly because their errand was not to dispute, but to obtain their release from the high commission; and because the bishop was to be the sole judge; so that they might bring themselves into danger. However, the bishop continuing to urge them in the presence of many persons of quality, lest they should seem to betray a good cause by total silence, Mr. Paget at length entered upon a disputation with his lordship; who, in the conclusion, ingenuously acknowledged his own neglect to study the controversy, but resolved in future to direct his attention more that way. And, besides releasing them from the high commission, he frankly owned, that he found in them more learning than he expected. But, in order to brinsj them to conformity, he commanded each of them to produce in writing, three arguments against the cross in baptism, the use of the surplice, and kneeling at the Lord's supper, and bring them to him in the space of a month. His order was accordingly obeyed; but it failed of the success which his lordship expected.
Soon after, several of the ministers were again cited into the high commission court, and used with great cruelty. Mr. Paget himself met with much unkind treatment, and was under the necessity of making three journies of sixty miles each, within the space of fourteen days, the bishop and other commissioners still deferring the consideration of his case to a future court-day. The bishop's officers treated him with much vile and abusive language, attended with blasphemous cursing and swearing, declaring he should assuredly be damned. On a day appointed, the good man again appeared before the commission at Chester; when the bishop expostulated with him a full hour, concerning the observance of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, and signified that his own remissness in prosecuting the nonconformists, had hindered his preferment to the bishopric of Lincoln. In the conclusion, his lordship being in a violent passion, threatened to suspend, excommunicate, and degrade him, and to make the land too hot for him; and asked him what he would then do. Mr. Paget meekly replied, in the words of the prophet: " I will look unto the Lord; I wfll wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me." The bishop immediately retorted, saying, " God will no* hear a blasphemer: a blasphemer of his mother the church of England, and one who despiseth her ordinances." Mr. Paget then replied, " I desire to fear God and abhor blasphemy; and my refusal of conformity to superstitious ceremonies, which even by the prelates themselves are esteemed indifferent, is neither blasphemy nor contempt." The angry prelate at length dismissed him without any censure, but ordered him to pay large fees to the officers of the court.*
In the year 1618, Morton being translated to the see of Lichfield and Coventry, Dr. Bridgman became his successor at Chester. The latter prelate did not, at first, manifest any great opposition against the nonconformists, except by suspending a few of them, together with Knutsford chapel.f Afterwards, however, the bishop took courage, and inhibited most of the puritans in his diocese. Mr. Paget, among the rest, was convened before him, when the good old man humbly desired his lordship's connivance; which he denied, lest, as he observed, he should lose the favour of his prince. And when he required Mr. Paget to assign his reasons for refusing to kneel at the sacrament, he cited the words of our Lord: " Howbeit, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." These words, he observed, might be justly applied to the imposition of kneeling at the Lord's supper. The bishop then signified, that he expected a more learned argument, and supposed that Mr. Paget would have insisted upon the posture used
• This learned prelate, writing of Ihcselimes, sajs, "The nonconformists have suffered what is next to death; aod too maoy have suffered nnto death in prisons. Imposers," he justly adds, " should not esteem any thing a just cause of bringing any under the censures of silencing of preachers from preaching, for which they may not adventure to take away their lives." Dr. Morton was a bishop forty years; and duriog that long period, it is said, there was not his superior in the church, for temperance, industry, and piety. He constantly rose at four o'clock in the morning to bis studies, when he was eighty years of age; usually lay upon a straw bed; and, through the whole course of his life, seldom exceeded one meal a day.—Cumformitl't Plea, p. 14. Edit. 1681.—Granger'* Biog. Hut. vol. ii. p. 155.
+ The curious occasion of the bishop's suspending this chapel, was the following : " A gentleman of Knutsford, being fond of sport, caused a bear, passing along the streets, to be led into the chapel. The bishop no sooner heard of the chapel being thas profaned by the bear, than he suspended ic from being used for public worship, and it remained a long time under his lordship's ecclesiastical censure. This was episcopal superstition in perfection I—Paget'! Defence, Ptef.
by Christ and his disciples, at the institution of the ordinance. And, to convince Mr. Paget how unseemly that posture would now be in the church, his lordship gravely laid himself upon a bench by the side of a table, leaning on his elbow, affirming that to have been the posture of Christ at the institution of the supper; which, said he, you cannot contradict, especially if you understand Greek. Mr. Paget replied, that whatever was his knowledge of Greek, doubtless the translators of the New Testament were skilful in that language, and they had rendered it sitting. Also, he further observed, that Dr. Morton, his lordship's predecessor, notwithstanding the stir he made about the translation, confessed it was a kind of silling. However, to close the business, Mr. Paget, together with many others, was suspended from the ministry, and remained under his lordship's censure about two years.
In the year 1621, when it was hoped the storm was abated, means were used to obtain his liberty, but without effect. Afterwards, written testimonies were procured from York, signed by the register of the high commission court, in behalf of Mr. Paget and two other ministers in Cheshire, releasing them from suspension, and allowing them to go on in their ministerial work as usual. But within three months, without any previous warning, attachments were issued from the high commission to apprehend them, and bring them to York; when they were ordered to be cast into prison till they could give satisfaction to the court. In these painful circumstances, obtaining information of the approaching storm, and having already too much felt the cruel oppressions of that court, they withdrew, as did the prophet to escape the fury of Ahab. When they could not be found, heavy fines were laid upon them; and, for their non-appearance, their fines were aggravated from one court-day to another; till at length their case was returned into the exchequer. In the end, having suffered great poverty, and many other troubles, they were obliged to compound. But upon no consideration could they obtain their liberty to preach. Therefore, Mr. Paget forsook his native country, and went to Holland, where he most probably spent the remainder of his days. He wrote the preface to Mr. John Pagct's " Defence of Church Government," 1641, whence the above account is collected. But whether they were at all related, we have not been able to learn.