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John Biddle

John Biddle, A.M.—This great sufferer was born at Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, in the year 1615, and educated in Magdalen-hall, Oxford, where he took his degrees in arts. Here he prosecuted his studies with great

* Funeral Sermon.

assiduity and success, and became an ornament to his college. In 1641 he was chosen master of the free-school of Crypt,* in the city of Gloucester; where, for his excellent talents and diligence in his profession, he was highly esteemed. Here his freedom of inquiry in his academical studies was directed to the subjects of religion. His opinions concerning the Trinity differed very soon from those commonly received; and, having expressed his thoughts with much freedom, he was presently accused of heresy. He was accordingly summoned before the magistrates ; to whom he presented, on the point about which he was accused, the following confession of faith:

1. "I believe that there is but one infinite and almighty essence, called God.

2. " I believe, that, as there is but one infinite and almighty essence, so there is but one person in that essence.

3. " I believe that our Saviour Jesus Christ is truly God, by being truly, really, and properly united to the only person of the infinite and almighty essence."i

This confession, dated May 2, 1644, proved unsatisfactory to the magistrates, who urged him to be more explicit concerning a plurality of persons in the divine essence. Accordingly, about four days after, he confessed, that there were three in that divine essence, commonly called persons. This appears to have given greater satisfaction.

Mr. Middle, having made up his mind more fully upon this subject, drew up his thoughts upon a paper entitled, " Twelve Arguments, drawn out of Scripture, wherein the commonly received opinion touching the Deity of the Holy Spirit is clearly and fully refuted." This paper he shewed to one whom he supposed to be his friend, but who was ungenerous enough to betray him to the magistrates of Gloucester, and to the committee of parliament, then residing there. Upon this information, he was committed to the common gaol, December 2, 1645, being at the same time ill of a dangerous fever, The design of his imprisonment was to secure his person, till the parliament should take his case into consideration. The intolerance of this proceeding was, however, soon mitigated by the interposition of a compassionate friend, a person of eminence m Gloucester, who, by givmg bail for his appearance, procured his enlargement.

About June, 1646, the famous Archbishop Usher, passing through Gloucester on his way to London, had a conference

• Biog. Britan. vol. ii. p. 303. Edit. 1778.

+ Toalmin'i Life of Biddje, p. 18. Edit. 1791.

with Mr. Biddle, respecting his sentiments upon the Trinity, and endeavoured to convince him of his dangerous error. Mr. Biddle, our author observes, had but little to say, and was none moved by the zeal, piety, and learning of the archbishop, but continued obstinate.* In about six months after Mr. Biddle was set at liberty, he was summoned to appear at Westminster, when the parliament appointed a committee, to whom the consideration of his cause was referred. Upon his examination he freely and candidly confessed, " That he did deny the commonly received opinion concerning the Deity of the Holy Ghost, as he was accused: but that he was ready to hear what could be opposed to him, and, if he could not make out his opinion to be true, honestly to acknowledge his error."+ However, at the distance of sixteen months from his first imprisonment, being wearied by tedious and expensive delays, he wrote a letter to Sir Henry Vane, a member of the committee, requesting him either to procure his discharge or to report his case to the house of commons. This letter, dated April 1, 1647, answered the end proposed. Sir Henry became a friend to Mr. Biddle, and reported his case to the house; but the result was not favourable to Mr. Biddle's comfort and liberty. Instead of obtaining his release, the house committed him to the custody of one of its officers, and he remained under this restraint five years. In the mean time the matter was referred to the assembly of divines, before some of whom, it is said, he often appeared, and gave them in writing, his " Twelve Arguments against the Deity of the Holy Spirit.";:

The answers which he received on these occasions not producing sufficient conviction in his mind, he was induced, during this year, to print this tract, with the above title. The piece was no sooner published than its author was summoned to appear at the bar of the house of commons, when he owned the book, and the sentiments therein contained, to be his. Upon this, he was sent back to prison; and by an order from the house, dated September 6, 1647, the book was appointed to be called in and burnt by the common hangman, and the author to be examined by the committee of plundered ministers.} Accordingly, he wa* examined, and the book was burnt, on the eighth of the same month.*

* Edwards's Gangrena, part iil. p. 87, 88.—Wood's Athene Oim. vol. ii. p. 197.

+ Life of Biddle, p. 28. J Ibid. p. 28—84.

S WaiUocke'i Memorial!, p. 270, 271.

In the year 1648 Mr. Biddle published " A Confession of Faith touching the Holy Trinity, according to Scripture;" and another work, emitted, " The Testimonies of Ireneus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Novatianus, Theophilus, Origen," &c. Upon the appearance of his writings, the presbyterians, having now !he ecclesiastical government in their own hands, and bemg altogcdier averse to a universal toleration, solicited the interference of the parliament, and obtained an ordinance for the punishment of all blasphemies and heresies. Hence Mr. Biddle's life was in danger. But the act was directed to so many objects, and so various, and meeting with considerable opposition from the army; and because there was a dissention m the parliament itself, it lay unregarded for several years. Though the force of this severe ordinance remained dormant, Mr. Biddle suffered, for several years, the miseries of a prison. His keeper, however, at length allowed him more liberty, and permitted him, upon security being given, even to go into Staffordshire. Here the oppressions he had suffered were, in some degree, counterbalanced by the patronage and kindness of a justice of the peace, who received him into his house, courteously entertained him, made him his chaplain, and appointed him preacher in one of the churches in that county, and, at his death, left him a legacy.

Mr. Biddle was not long permitted to enjoy the comfort of this friendly asylum. Sir John Bradshavv, president of the council of state, being informed of his retreat, issued orders for him to be recalled, and more strictly confined. In this confinement he continued in prison till February, 1651; and, during the whole of his seven years' imprisonment, no divine, it is said, except Mr. Peter Gunning, afterwards bishop of Ely, ever paid him a visit, not even to attempt to convince him of his errors. In addition to his long confinement in prison, he was reduced to great poverty and want. After having endured much suffering for want of the comforts and necessaries of life, a door was unexpectedly- opened for providing him a comfortable supply. A printer in London, being about to publish a Greek version of the Old Testament, Mr. Biddle, having an exact knowledge of that language, was employed

• This piece was answered by the learned Mr. Matthew Poole, in a work entitled, '< A Plea for the Godhead of the Holy Ghost."— JFe»<f» Mhtna Oxen. vol. ii. p. 198.

in correcting the press, by which means he obtained a com* fortable subsistence.*

In the j ear 1651, such public measures were taken as proved favourable to Mr. Biddle, and he again obtained his release. He improved his liberty by meeting his friends in London, every Lord's day, for the purpose of expounding the scriptures, and discoursing upon them. In 1654 Dr. Gunning, who had before visited him in prison, came to their meeting on the Lord's day, accompanied by several of his friends. His conduct coon explained his intentions; that he was not come to be a hearer of Mr. Biddle, but to confound and refute him publicly, and in the face of his own adherents. Therefore, he presently commenced a disputation with him, first concerning the Deity of the Holy Spirit; then, on the next Lord's day, concerning the Deity of Christ. His biographer informs us, " That Mr. Biddle acquitted himself with so much learning, judgment, and knowledge in the sense of the holy scriptures, that he gained much credit by the contest."t The doctor, however, paid him another visit, when they had another disputation.

During this year, Mr. Biddlc's life was distinguished mofe by the publication of" A Two-fold Catechism; the one simplycalled A Scripture Catechism, the other called A brief Scripture Catechism for Children," than by his public disi putations with Dr. Gunning. The celebrated Dr. John Owen published an answer to the "Two-fold Catechism," entitled, "Viudiciee Evangelicae; or, the Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated, and Socinianism examined." Also, for this publication, he was brought to the bar of the house of commons, and, December 12th, was committed close prisoner to the Gatehouse, and forbidden the use of pen, ink, and paper, and denied the access of any visitant. On the 13th of the same month, the parliament having voted that the book contained many impious and blasphemous opinions against the Deity of the Holy Ghost,J it was called in, and burnt by the common hangman. But the protector dissolving the parliament, he obtained his liberty, May 28, 1655.

This great sufferer did not, indeed, enjoy his liberty very long. For July 3d, this year, he was, by an order from Cromwell, apprehended and committed to the Compter, then to Newgate; and, at the next sessions, was tried for his life, on the ordinance against blasphemy and heresy before mentioned. At his trial, when he requested that counsel might

• Wood's Athene Oxon, vol. ii. p. 199.—Life of Biddle, p. 34—8?. t Ibid. p. 70. % Wbitlocke'f Mem. p. 591.

be allowed him to plead the illegality of the indictment, and it was denied him by the judges, he gave in his exceptions, and, by much struggling, at length had counsel allowed him: but the trial was deferred to the next day. In this emergency, the principles and policy of Oliver Cromwell operated in favour of Mr. Biddle.* He saw it would be against the interest of his government to have Mr. Biddle either condemned or absolved. He, therefore, took him out of the hands of the law, and detamed him in prison. The protector, at length being weary with receiving petitions for and against him, to terminate the affair, and, in some degree, meet the wishes of each party, bamshed Mr. Biddle to the island of Scilly, whither he was sent October 5, 1655. After he had been some time in a state of exile, Cromwell, who could by no means approve of his sentiments, allowed him a hundred crowns a year for his subsistence. This act of pure generosity, shewn to a persecuted man, reflects no small honour on his uame.t

Iu 1658, through the continued solicitations of friends, the protector suffered a writ of habeas corpus to be granted out of the upper-bench court, by which Mr. Biddle was brought back, and, nothing being laid to his charge, was by that court tet at liberty. Upon his return to London, he resumed his ministerial exercises among his friends, and became pastor of a congregation in the city, formed on the principles of the independents in matters of discipline. Here he did not contmue very long. For, upon the death of Cromwell, in about five months, and his son Richard calling a parliament

• The protector was an enemy to persecution. Among the capital articles on which his government was founded, was this: "That such as profess faith in God by Jesus Christ, though (hex differ in judgment from the doctrine, worship, or discipline publicly held forth, shall not be restrained from, but shall be protected in the profession and exercise of their religion; and that all laws, statutes, and ordinances against such liberty shall be esteemed null and void."

+ The name of Cromwell was formidable abroad as well as at home. This will appear from the following anecdotes: " A tumult having arisen at Ntsmes in France, in which some disorder had been committed' by the Hogoeoots; and they, apprehending severe proceedings upon it, sent one ever with great expedition to Cromwell, who sent him back to Paris in an hour's time, with a most decisive letter to his ambassador at the court of France,requiring him either to prevail that the matter might be overlooked, otto come away immediately. Cardinal Mazarin complained of this way of proceeding as too imperious; but the state of their affairs made him yield." It is also observed", that the cardinal would change his countenance whenever he heard the name of Cromwell mentioned; so that it became a proverb in France, " That Mazarin was not sn much afraid of the devil as of Oliver Cromwell."—Burnet'i Hitl.of hit Time, vol. i. p. 77.-1" fFctuood'i Mcmoin, p. 104.

consisting chiefly of presbjterians, whom of all men Mr. Biddle most dreaded, he retiied privately into the country. On the dissolution of the parliament he returned to his former station. But this period of tranquillity was of-very short continuance. Lpon the restoration of Charles II. all dissenters from the episcopal worship were treated on the saine intolerant principles. Their liberty was taken away, and their assemblies were punished as seditious. Mr. .Biddle endeavo*ired, however, to avoid the threatening storm, by restraining himself from public to more private assemblies. Nevertheless, June 1, l66ti, he was dragged from his lodgings, where he and a lew of his friends were met for divine worship, and carried before Sir Richard Brown, a justice of lh# peace, who committed them all to prison, without admitting them to bail. Mr. Biddle was doomed for some time to a dungeon; but the recorder afterwards released them on giving security for their appearance. Accordingly, they were tried at the following sessions, when his hearers were fined in a penalty of tiventy pounds a piece, and Mr. Biddle himself in one "hundred; and they were ordered to lie in prison till their several penalties were paid. But in less than five weeks, Mr. Biddle, through the noisomeness of the place and the want of fresh air, contracted a disease which presently cut him off. He died September £2, 1662, aged forty-seven years.* His life was irreproachable, and, according to Wood, there was little or nothing blaine-worthy in him, excepting his opinions. He was a hard student, an exact Grecian, a ready disputant, and had a prodigious memory.t It is, indeed, said, that he retained all the New Testament in his memory, and could repeat it verbatim, both in English and in Greek, as far as the fourth chapter of Revelation.} In addition to the articles already mentioned, Mr. Biddle published a piece upon the Apocalypse, and several translations ol other men's productions.