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Robert Harris

Robert Harris, D. D.—This learned divine was born at Broad Campden in Gloucestershire, in the year 1578, anp educated in Magdalen college, Oxford, where he became art excellent scholar, and a famous logician and disputant. By the blessing of God upon his studies, and the pious instructions of his tutor, he was brought to a saving knowledge of the gospel, and soon after became a celebrated puritan. He preached his first sermon at Chipping Campden in his native county. Such, however, is said to have been tfye ignorance of the times, that when he came to the church there was no Bible to be found; and it was with much difficulty that he could procure one to carry with him into the pulpit. Indeed, the vicar of the parish possessed a Bible, to whose house be was directed; but, as it had not been seen for many months, it was with great difficulty it could be found. Having at length procured the sacred volume, he went to the church and preached an admirable sermon from %m-V i.t

The excellent Mr. Dod being silenced for nonconformity, and ejected from Hapwell in Oxfordshire, Sir Anthony Cope ipvited Mr. Harris to become his successor. He, accordingly,, rempved to Hanwell, though with much grief and fear. The people \yould own no man as their pastor except him who had been ejected. It was, however, agreed upon that Mr. Harris should preach so long as there was any hope of recovering Mr. Dod. During this unsettled state at Hanwell, Archbishop Bancroft presented the living to one of his chaplams, on pretence of a lapse. But Sir Anthony Cope, then sitting in parliament, together with several other members of the house, waited upon the archbishop, and presented Mr. Harris, whom his grace, after a long contest, reluctantly admitted. Sir Anthony having formerly spoken against insufficient ministers, not without some reflection upon the intolerant proceedings of the archbishops and bishops, Bancroft embraced this opportunity of shewing his resentment; and, therefore, referred Mr. Harris to be strictly examined by the most learned of his chaplains. The chaplain, af+er sufficient examination, returned Mr. Harris moderately learned. This proving unsatisfactory to the archbishop, he was committed to the examination of Bishop Barlow, a person exactly suited to Bancroft's wishes. The bishop was a person of great wit and learning, and extremely glad of the opportunity. He examined Mr. Harris first in divinity, then in other branches of learning, particularly the Greek, in which his lordship was esteemed a celebrated critic. As the story is related, " they Greeked it till they were both run aground for want of words; upon which they burst into a fit of laughter, and so gave it over."* Barlow returned to the archbishop, and, delivering a most favourable testimony, his grace, it is said, was satisfied.

• Bownd's Funeral Sermon for Mr. Goodwin.

t Clark's Lives annexed, to Martyrologie, p. 314, 315.

Mr. Harris being now settled at Hanwell, Mr. Scudder at Drayton, and Mr. Whately at Banbury, they became particularly intimate, and were united in judgment and affection. Mr. Harris married Mr. Whately's sister, and Mr. Scudder his wife's sister. These divines commonly met together once a week, to translate and analyze a chapter of the Bible. This practice was productive of numerous good effects, by stirring them up to greater diligence, and promoting their mutual edification.

Though Mr. Harris was thus comfortably settled, he was called to endure many trials. His faith and patience were much exercised by his wife's long and painful illness. This affliction, said Mr. Dod, was designed to season him and fit him for his work. "And I should have been spoiled," says Mr. Harris, " had 1 not been thus taken down. Young ministers know not on what ground they tread till God make them humble." He, nevertheless, found much encouragement in his work. His people began to relish his ministry, and the Lord greatly blessed his labours. He did not feed

• Clark's Lives, p. 318.

them with airy notions, and dry speculations, but with " the sincere milk of the word;" and in a method adapted to those of the meanest capacity. And God is said to have so wonderfully blessed his endeavours, that there was not one prayerless family in Hanwell, nor one person who refused his examination and instruction previous to receiving the Lord's supper.

In this situation he continued about forty years, blessed in himself, and made a blessing to his people, until the commencement of the civil wars. The bloody battle of Edgehill, only a few miles distant, was fought October 23, 1642, being the Lord's day; yet, the wind being contrary, he did not hear the least noise of it till the public exercises of the day were over; nor could he believe the report of a battle till soldiers, besmeared with blood, came to make it known. From this time his troubles increased. Rude soldiers were quartered upon him, some calling him round-head, others malignant; but he continued to attend upon his numerous duties as at other times. One company that was quartered upon him was so outrageous in swearing, that he could not forbear preaching from James v. 12. " Above all things, my brethren, swear not at all." This so offended them, that they swore they would shoot him if he preached again from the same text. Undismayed by their threatenings, he ventured to preach from the same words the following sabbath; when, as he was preaching, he observed a soldier preparing his firelock, as if he meant to shoot; but Mr. Harris went on without fear, and finished his discourse without interruption.* He, indeed, endured the storm till he had suffered very material injury, and was at length driven from the place.

Mr. Harris, being forced from his flock, fled to London, when he was chosen one of the assembly of divines, and preached at St. Botolph's church, Bishopsgate. He was one of the preachers before the parliament. In the year 1646, he was appointed one of the six preachers to the university of Oxford; and, the year following, one of the visitors. Dr. Walker, with his usual slander, observes, that when the visitors proceeded to open their visitation, they began, as they did all their other distinguished wickedness, and according to their usual hypocrisy, with prayers and a sermon! The sermon was preached by Mr. Harris.+ He, at the same time, took his doctor's degree, was made presi

• Clark's Lives, p. 321. + Walkcr'i Atttmpt, part i. p. 127.

dent of Trinity college, and became rector of Garlington, near Oxford. He governed his college with great prudence, gaining the affections of all the fellows and students, who reverenced him as a father.

Dr. Harris, in his last sickness, being desired to admit

company, said, " It is all one to me whether I am left alone

or have my friends with me. My work is now to arm myself

for death, which now assaults me, and apply myself to that

great encounter." Accordingly, he spent all his time in

prayer, meditation, and reading the scriptures; and when he

became unable to read himself, bis friends read to him. He

said to them, " You must put on all the armour of God, and

then go forth in the strength of the Lord. Stand in the

tight, and the issue will be glorious: only forget not to call

in the help of your General. Do all from him and under

him." Bemg asked whence he derived his comfort, he said,

"From Christ and the free grace of God." When it was

signified that he might take much comfort from his labours

and usefulness, he replied, " All is nothing without a Saviour.

Without him my best works would condemn me. Oh! I

am ashamed of them, being mixed with so much sin. Oh! I

am an unprofitable servant. I have not done any thing for God

as I ought. Loss of time sits heavy upon my spirit. Work,

work apace. Be assured nothing will more trouble you, when

you come to die, than that you have done no more for God,

who has done so much for you." He said, " I never saw the

worth of Christ, nor tasted the sweetness of God's love, in

so great a measure as I do now." When his friends asked

what they should do for him, he replied, " You must not only

pray for me, but praise God for his unspeakable mercy to me.

O, how good is God! Entertain good thoughts of him. We

cannot think too well of him, nor too ill of ourselves. I am

now going home, even quite spent. I am on the shore, but

leave you still tossing on the sea. Oh ! it is a good time to die

in." Afterwards, being asked how he did, he said, " In no,

great pain, I praise God, only weary of my useless life, if

God hath no more work for me to do, I would be glad to be

in heaven, where I shall serve him -without distractions. I

pass from one death to another; yet 1 fear none. I praise

God that I can live, and dare die. If God hath more work

for me to do, I am willing to do it, though my infirm body be

tery weary." He professed that he lived and died in that faith

which he preached, and found its unspeakable comforts now in

the immediate prospect of death. He closed his eyes' in peace, resigning his soul to God, December 11, 1658, aged eighty years.*

Mr. Clark gives the following account of his excellent endowments:—H e was a hard student, endowed witli great parts, and furnished with all manner of learning necessary to a divine. He was a pure and elegant Latinist, very exact in the Hebrew, and much admired as a subtle, clear, and ready disputant. He excelled in chronology, church history, the councils, case divinity, and in the knowledge of the fathers. Hut his parts were best seen in the pulpit. His gifts in prayer were" very great; his affections warm and fervent; his petitions weighty and substantial; and his language, pertinent, unaffected, and without tautology. He preached with learned plainness, unfolding the great mysteries of the gospel to persons of the meanest capacities. He used to say, " a preacher hath three books to study: the Bible, himself', and his people." He observed, that the humblest preachers converted the greatest number of souls, not the most learned scholars while unbroken. He valued no man for his gifts, but for his humility under them. Nor did he expect much from any man, were his parts ever so great, till he was broken by temptations and afflictions. He was a man who ruled well his own house, was of great moderation about church discipline, exceedingly charitable to the poor, and eminently distinguished for humility, mortification, and self-denial. In short, he was richly furnished with every necessary qualification to render him a complete scholar, a wise governor, a profitable preacher, and an excellent christian.+

Notwithstanding this account from the impartial pen of one who must have been well acquainted with him, Dr. Walker has stigmatized him as " a notorious pluralist." He rests the evidence of this slanderous accusation upon the authority of a scurrilous and abusive letter, published to expose and pour contempt upon the puritans. The doctor also observes, "that he had somewhere read, that in those times Dr. Harris's picture wras drawn with one steeple upon his head, and others coming out of his pockets." We shall not attempt to justify pluralities. They are undoubtedly indefensible. Yet the satire had certainly been more seasonable, if pluralities did no where exist among rigid churchmen.? Respecting this charge, Dr. Harris himself made the following open and generous declaration: "I stood clear," sayj

* Clark's Lives, p. 325—327. + Ibid. p. 327—331.

t Walker's Attempt, part i. p. 127.

he, " in my own conscience, and in the consciences of those who best knew me. I was far from allowing nonresidence and a plurality of livings; yet, to such as were ignorant of all circumstances, there was some appearance of evil."* He undoubtedly possessed several benefices; but whether he received the profits of them all, and enjoyed them all at the same time, appears extremely doubtfuf. Though Dr. Grey denominates him " a fanatical hero, and a professed enemy to the constitution, both in church and state;" yet he in part acquits him of the vile charge, and invalidates, in a great measure, the authority of the above scurrilous letter.t

The Oxford historian brings accusations against Dr. Harris, which, if true, would prove him to have been one of the basest of men. He charges him with having taken for his own use two bags of gold,containing one hundred pounds each, which he found among some old rubbish in Trinity college, soon after he became president. He also affirms, that Dr. Harris told several most glaring falsehoods, with a view to secure the money to himself. Though our documents will not afford us materials for a complete refutation of these charges; yet the whole of what is asserted, and especially the worst part of it, is so contrary to the uniform spirit and deportment of this learned and pious divine, that the account appears extremely suspicious, and only designed to reproach the memory of the puritans.?

Dr. Harris's last will and testament contains much excellent advice to his wife and numerous children, but is too long for our insertion.^ His works came forth at different times, but were afterwards collected and published in our volume folio, in 1654. The pious Bishop VV'ilkins passes an high encomium upon his sermons.|| It does not appear whether, he was any relation to Dr. John Harris, whose memoir is given in a foregoing article.