John Wheelwright was minister at some place in Lincolnshire, where he was instrumental in the conversion of many souls, and highly esteemed among serious christians, but was silenced tor his nonconformity. After he was silenced, he lived privately, for some time, near Lincoln, but, on account of the oppressions of the times, was obliged to remove from one place to another.} Finding no rest for the sole of his foot, he withdrew from the scenes of persecution, and retired to New England. We do not, indeed, find in what particular year he crossed the Atlantic, but it is certain he was among some of the first settlers in the new colony. In the year 1629, part of the present state of New Hampshire in New England was purchased of the Indians, when a deed was obtained from them by Mr. Wheelwright and others from Massachusets. Before the year 1637, Mr. Wheelwright changed his religious sentiments, and appears to have become too much tinged with antinomianism. Never were any communities, it is said, in more alarming danger than the churches of Massachusets about this time; and seldom have any measures, to allay a public frenzy, been more successful than those now adopted. The cause of these evils was as singular as the effects were alarming. "Mrs. Hutchinson, a member of the church at Boston, a woman of ready wit and a bold spirit, had adopted two remarkable opinions:—1. That the person of the Holy Ghost dwells in those who are justified.—2. That sanctitication is no evidence of justification. From these two sentiments spread numerous branches: as, that our union with the Holy Ghost is such, that we are dead to every spiritual action, having no gift* nor graces more than hypocrites, nor sanctification, but the Holy Ghost himself, &c. Mr. Wheelwright, who was her brother, joined with her."
* Mather's Hist, of New Eng. b. iii. p. 157, 158. + Ibid. p. 158—160. t Life of Mr. Hansard Knollj-,, p. 11. Edit. 1692.
The news of these things soon spread abroad; and the ministers who attended the general court in October, 1636, made it an object of their attention to converse with Mr. Wheelwright and others, who had adopted these opinions, when they appeared to discover an accommodating spirit. Soon after, certainof the members of the church at Boston, who adopted the new opinions, publicly moved that Mr. Wheelwright should be called to be their teacher. This fanned the flame of opposition. The new opinions still rapidly spreading, the general court, in December, called together the ministers of the churches to advise with them respecting the existing divisions. As their passions grew warmer by constant disputation, they became more sanguine in their belief, bold in their expressions, and multiplied in their novelties. On public occasions it was now said, that the Holy Ghost dwelt in believers, as he is in heaven; that a man is justified before he believes; that the letter of scripture holds forth nothing but a covenant of works; that the covenant of grace was the spirit of the scripture, which was known only to believers; and that the ground of all religion was an assurance by immediate revelation.
These, and many other things, being so complete a jumble of nonsense and impiety, as appears almost too tedious to be read, were accounted of the very first importance; and all the congregation of Boston, except four or five, espoused most of these new opinions. At the next election it was agreed to put off all lectures for three weeks, that they might bring these disscntions to an issue. Previous to this, a general fast was appointed to be kept in all the churches; the occasion of which, beside other things, was, " the dissentions in the churches."* On the day of public fasting, Mr. Cotton, it is said, preached a very healing sermon from Isa. lviii. 4.; but Mr. Wheelwright, the other preacher at Boston,* filled his sermon with bitter invectives against the magistrates and ministers of the country, telling the people, " that they walked in such a way of salvation as was no better than a covenant of works." Under his third use, he said, " The second sort of people that are to be condemned, are all such as do set themselves against the Lord Jesus Christ: such are the greatest enemies to the state that can be. If they can have their wills, you will see what a lamentable state both church and commonwealth will be in: then we shall have need of mourning. The Lord cannot endure those that are enemies to himself, and kingdom, and people, and his church." He compared them to Jews, Herods, Philistines, and exhorted such as were under a covenant of grace to combat them as their greatest enemies. The above fast was held January 19, 1637
March 9th following, being the next court-day, Mr. Wheelwright was brought before the magistrates, who, after hearing what he could say in defence of his sermon, condemned it as seditious, and tending to disturb the public peace. They endeavoured to convince him of his offence, but without effect; and allowed him till the next session to consider whether he would make his submission or abide the sentence of the court. In the mean time, nearly all the church of Boston presented a petition to the court, declaring, " That Mr. Wheelwright had not been guilty of any sedition; that his doctrine was not seditious, being no other than the expressions of scripture; that it had produced no seditious effects,, for his followers had not drawn their swords, nor endeavoured to rescue their innocent brother: they desired the court, therefore, to consider the danger of meddling with the prophets of God, and to remember, that even the Apostle Paul himself had been called ' a pestilent fellow, a mover of sedition, and the ringleader of a sect.'" This petition was presented in the court presently after Mr. Wheelwright's censure, signed by above sixty hands, some of whom were members of the court; but it was rejected by the
* Morie and Parish'* Hist, of New Eng. p. 61, 142.
+ Mr. Wheelwright was preacher to a branch of the Boston church, which assembled at Braintree, a place near Boston.—Backups Hist, of Ntm Eng. flap. vol. i. p. 81.
majority, and the chief petitioners were severely punished for it the next session.*
In the above petition two things were requested: " That as free men they might be present in cases of judicature, and that the court would declare, whether they might deal in cases of conscience before the church." The members of the court considered this as a reflection upon them, and replied, that their proceedings had been always open. Mr. Wheelwright was accused of calling those by the name of antichrist, who believed sanctification to be an evidence of justification, and of stirring up the people with bitterness and vehemence. He endeavoured to justify himself; but the court adjudged him guilty of sedition and contempt. Many pamphlets were published on both sides of the question. Mr. Wheelwright published a " Treatise in Defence of his Sermon," to wrhich the ministers answered, and Mr. Cotton replied. Mr. Wheelwright appeared before the court to hear his sentence; but they gave him respite till the next session, in August, that he might have time, it is said, for cool reflection. But he appeared bold and confident; and to the court he said, that, if he had been guilty of sedition, he ought to die; that he should retract nothing, but should appeal to the king; adding, that he had been guilty neither of sedition nor contempt; that he had delivered nothing but the truth of Christ, and the application of his doctrine was made by others, and not by himself." At length, in October, 1637, the court sentenced him to be disfranchised, to be banished from the colony, and to be taken into immediate custody, unless he would give security for his departure. He was, therefore, banished, with several others, and he continued in a state of banishment seven years.t
Mr. Wheelwright afterwards growing wiser, renounced his errors, begged pardon of God and the country, was restored to his people, and lived many years a useful minister of Christ, at Hampton, in New Hampshire. "He was literally a wandering star. At Boston, at Quincy, at Exeter, at Salisbury, and at Wells, difficulties pursued him." From this last place he wrote to the government of Massachusets, whence he had been banished, a very humble confession, which was accepted, and he had the liberty to return. In this confession, he said, " It is the grief of my soul, that I used such vehement and censorious speeches. I repent me that I did adhere to persons of corrupt judgments, to the countenancing and encouraging of them in any of their errors or evil practices." 'Hie order of the court for taking off the sentence of his banishment, and receiving him as a member of the commonwealth, is dated Boston, May 29, 1644.* His difficulties taught him wisdom. After his confession and restoration he lived nearly forty years " a valued servant of the church ;"t and he died about the year 1680, being an old man and full of years.
* Backus's Hist, of New Eng. Bap. vol. i. p. 81.—Neal's Hist, of New Eng. vol. i. p. 169,170.
+ Morse and Parish's Hist, of New Eng. p. 87, 143—145.—Neal'a Hist, of New Eng. vol. i. p. 174. Mrs. Hutchinson, his sister, was sent into banishment about the same time, and was afterwards murdered by the Indians.—Sglucat»r's Life of Baxter, part i, p. 75.