Robert Balsom.—This pious and courageous divine was bom at Shipton Montague in Somersetshire, and educated at New-inn-hall, Oxford. Having finished his studies at the university, he became assistant to Mr. Richard Bernard of Batcombe, in his native county; and upon the death of this venerable divine, he removed to Stoke, a village in the same neighbourhood. In this situation, his ministerial labours were attended with wonderful success; and, it is observed, that he scarcely ever preached a sermon that was not instrumental in the conversion of some poor wandering sinner to God. After labouring at Stoke about two years, the confusion of the civil war obliged him to flee for safety; when he took refuge in Warder-castle, which was soon after besieged by the royal forces. Previous to this, he had intended to have gone to London; but through the solicitation of Colonel Ludlow, governor of the castle, he remained in the place during the siege. Upon the treaty of surrender, Mr. Balsom, walking on the roof of the castle, heard three soldiers say, " We have sworn upon the Bible to take away the life of one in the castle." He asked diem who they meant, and whether it was the minister. "Yes," said they, "for he is a witch; because the castle has been several times strangely relieved with provisions."
The treaty being ended, and the enemy having entered the castle, Mr. Balsom was immediately seized and confined in close prison, a soldier being confined in the same room, who was hanged the next morning. At midnight the key of the prison was given to the three soldiers, when they presently entered the room; and having opened the door, they pulled off" their hats, and stood at some distance, but said nothing. Mr. Balsom expecting they were the men who meant to take away his life, thus addressed them: "Friends, what is your business? Are not you the men who have sworn to take away my life?" With fear and trembling they answered, " We Have taken a wicked oath: God forgive us. We will do you no harm." When he desired them to come forwards, they urged him to make his escape, kindly offering him all the assistance in their power; but this he refused, suspecting they might have some ill design upon him. Though they assured him of their good intentions, and gave hiin the most evident proofs of it, he still refused to accept their offers, saying, " I will rather endure the utmost that God will suffer them to inflict upon me, than risk the lives of those who have shewed themselves friendly." As an evident token of their esteem, they brought him out to the fresh air, cleaned his room, and so left him.
The next morning a council was called, particularly with a view to determine what should be done with Mr. Balsom; and as they were debating about putting him to death, a captain, being one of the council, stood up, and said, " I will have no hand in the blood of this man;" and went out of the room, and so nothing was done. The prisoner was then carried to Salisbury; and on the very night of his arrival, another council was called, and picked for the purpose, by which he was condemned to be hanged. Having received the sentence of death, the high' sheriff waited upon him in prison; who, after much ill language, told him that he must prepare to suffer at six o'clock next morning; assuring him, at the same time, that if he would ask the king pardon, and serve his majesty in future, his life would be spared, and he might have almost any preferment he pleased. Mr. Balsom, being remarkably courageous, and not in the least afraid of death, boldly replied, "To ask pardon when I am not conscious of any offence, were but the part of a fool; and to betray my conscience in hope of preferment, were but the part of a knave: and if 1 had neither hope of heaven, nor fear of hell, I would rather die an honest man, than live a fool or a knave." He accordingly rose next morniug in full expectation of his doom; and about six o'clock, the officers came to the prison with a view to carry him forth to execution. As he was preparing to go, he heard a post ride in, immediately asking, Is the prisoner yet alive? He brought a reprieve from Sir Ralph Hopton, when, instead of death, Mr. Balsom was immediately carried to him at Winchester. As he entered the city, Sir William Ogle, governor of the place, said, " I will feed you witli bread and water two or three days, and then hang you." He fell, however, into better hands. For upon his appearance before Sir Ralph Hopton, after some familiar conversation relative to his espousing the parliament's cause, and the principles on which he acted, he was committed with this charge, " Keep tins man safe, but use him well." tell him plainly of his blood-guiltiness; have sent for out of Scotland the ablest ministers to converse with him; have banished all malignants six miles from his person by proclamation; refused to entertain him with any token of joy; and told him he was a great sinner before God, and that he must give satisfaction to both kingdoms. The malignants droop, who were gathering towards him out of both kingdoms. The French agent, who was active in making a breach, is much discountenanced. The nobles and ministers profess their earnest longing after a happy union, the settling the government of Christ in his church; which being done, they will presently return to peace. The independents themselves stand amazed at their wisdom, resolution, and fidelity: zeal, with humility, doth accompany all their actions. The malignant party, which was much feared, is borne down. The mouths that were so wide, both of independents and malignants, are sewn up: they have not a word to say. And see how the Lord blesses them. All their enemies in Scotland are routed and brought to nothing. The king refuses to proclaim Montrose and his adherents rebels; but the King of kings hath taken the quarrel into his own hand, and utterly dispersed them. I have not time to write the particulars, only to let you know I am
Mr. Balsom, after remaining in a state of confinement for some time, was at length, by an express order, next carried to Oxford, and committed prisoner to the castle. Here he set up a public lecture, preached twice every day, and was numerously attended, not only by the prisoners and soldiers, but by courtiers and townsmen. After having been once or twice prohibited, he said, " If you be weary of me, I do not wish to trouble you any longer; you may turn me out of doors when you please. But while I have a tongue to speak, and people to hear, I will not hold my peace." At length, by an exchange of prisoners, he was released. And having obtained his liberty, he was sent for by the Earl of Essex; when he became chaplain in his army, and continued with him during his command.
Mr. Balsom afterwards settled at Berwick, where he was statedly employed in his beloved work of preaching. In this situation he had the strong affections of the people, the smiles of God upon his labours, and the satisfaction of seeing the work of the Lord prosper in his hands. His labours were made extensively useful; but having occasion, after some time, to visit his own neighbourhood, he never returned. For, to the great anguish of his affectionate people, he was taken ill and died, in the year 1647-*
This zealous and faithful servant of God, a short time before his death, wrote a letter to a friend in London, giving him some account of the transactions in the north; and because the sight of it will be gratifying to every inquisitive reader, it will be proper to be inserted. It is dated May 21, 1646, and is as follows :t
"My dear friend,
"Yours was not a little welcome to me, nor am I put to it to send you a requital. The news here is so good, that I can hardly hold my pen for joy. The king's coming to the Scotch army in aU probability will prove one of our greatest mercies since the wars began. And never did I hear of any christians carrying themselves so boldly and faithfully in reproving their prince, so humbly before their God, so innocently towards their brethren, so desirously of a settled and well-grounded peace, as the Scots now do. They labour with much earnestness for the king's conversion;
Your assured friend,
• Clark's Lives annexed to his Martyrologie, p. 179—182.
+ Edwards's Gangrojna, part iii. p. 73, 74.