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William Erbery

William Erbery, A. B.—This person was born at tfoath-Dagfleld in Glamorganshire, in the year 1604, and educated in Brazen-nose college, Oxford. Having finished his studies at the university, he entered into the ministerial office, retired into Wales, and became vicar of St. Mary's in Cardiff. Wood says that he was always schismatically inclined, that he preached in conventicles, and that, for refusing to read the king's declaration for sports on the Lord's day, he was brought several times into the high commission court at Lambeth, where he suffered for his obstinacy.+ The Bishop of Landaff, visiting his diocese in the year 1634, pronounced Mr. Erbery a schismatical and dangerous preacher; and, for disobeying his majesty's instructions, he gave him judicial admonition, and threatened to proceed further against him if he did not submit. Refusing to debase himself by submission, contrary to truth and his own conscience, the bishop, the year following, preferred articles against him in the high commission court, threatening to punish him according to his deserts. In 1636 his lordship complained of the slow prosecution against

• Wood's Athena Oxon. vol. ii. p. 100, 101. t Ibid. p. 103.

him, and observes, that "this made him persist in his byways, and his followers judge him faultless." Though die prosecution was slow, it was sure. It was committed into the hands of proper persons, and success was certain. Therefore, in the year 1658, Mr. Erbery was forced to resign his vicarage, and he left the diocese in peace.*

Being thus deprived of his living, and driven from his flock, he most probably went from place to place through the country, and preached as he could obtain an opportunity, as did his brethren, Messrs. Wroth, Cradock, and Powell. In the year 1640, says Wood, he shewed himself openly, preached against the bishops and ceremonies, and made early motions towards independency. + Mr. Edwards, with his usual scurrility, gives the following account of him: " In the beginning of the parliament, he was an independent, but by degrees is fallen to many gross errors, holding universal redemption, &c. and is now a seeker, and I know not what. This man was a chaplain in the Earl of Essex's army a great while, and there did broach many antinomian doctrines, and other dangerous errors: but having left the army a good while smce, he was about London, and did vent his opinions here. About last spring he betook himself to the Isle of Ely for his ordinary residence, from whence he takes his progress into one county or another in private houses, venting lu's opinions amongst wcll-aflccted people, under the habit of hoihess. In July last he was at Bury, where he exercised in private, some forty persons being present, and declared himself for general redemption; that no man was punished for Adam's sin ; that Christ died tor all; and that the guilt of Adam's sin should be imputed to no man. He said also, that within a while God would raise up apostolic.nl men, who should-be extraordinary to preach the gospel; and after that shall be the fall of Rome. He spake against gathering churches, the anabaptists' re-baptizing, and said men ought to wait for the coming of the Spirit, as the apostles did. 'Look, as in the wilderness they had honey and manna, but not circumcision and the passover till they came into Cnnaan; so now wc may have many sweet things, conference and prayer, but not a ministry and sacraments. And then, after the fall of Rome, there shall be new heavens and a new enrth: tln:re shall be new Jerusalem; and then shall the church be one, one street in that city, and no more.'

• Wharton's Troubles of Laud, vol. i. p. 536—555. + Athene Oxou. vol. ii. p. 103.

Not long after lie went to Northampton, where in a private meeting the main scope of his exercise wis, to speak against the certainty and sufficiency of the scriptures, alleging that there was no certainty to build upon them, because there were so irany several copies. He was also at Oundle, Newport Pagnel, and appointed shortly to return again to Bury."* The reader will judge for himself how far this account, from the unworthy pen of Mr. Edwards, is deserving of credit.

Alter the surrender of Oxford in 1646, Mr. Erbery, still a chaplain in the parliament's army, was sent thither; where, says Wood, "he kept his conventicles in a house opposite to Morton college church, and used all the means in his pow^br in opposing the doctrine of the presbyterian ministers, who were sent by the parliament to preach the scholars into obedience." t He was certainly held in high favour and esteem among the soldiers, but is said to have envied the reputation of the presbyterians. While he was at Oxford he opposed them in several public disputations. At one time the subject of debate was, "Whether the ministry of the church ought to be entrusted to a select number of persons?" In the conclusion, Mr. Erbery and his party are said to have put the presbyterian disputants under the same difficulty as our Lord did the unbelieving Jews, by his question about John's baptism. For, demanding of them, "whence they h;id their orders," they durst not say, " from the bishops," whom both sides confessed to be antichrist ian; nor could they deny it, as they had all been episcopally ordained; so the shout went in favour of Erbery's party, and the meeting was dissolved, to the great disturbance of the presbyterian disputants. Afterwards Mr. Erbery had a disputation with Mr. Chcynel, one of the presbyterian ministers. The debate was conducted in St. Mary's church, when, it is said, he maintained, among other things, " That the saints shall have the same worship, honour, throne, and glory, as Christ now hath; and shall be endowed with a greater power of working miracles than Christ had when he was on earth." The contest, which lasted about four hours, was not carried without tumult; and in the conclusion, each party retired claiming the victory^ The account of this dispute was afterwards published by the adverse party, entitled, "A Relation of a

• Gangrn»na, part i. p. 109, 110. Second edit.

+ Athens Oxun. vol. ii. p. 11)1.

J Walker's Attempt, part i. p. 125,126.

Disputation in St. Mary's church in Oxon, between Mr. Cheynel and Mr. Erbery," 1646. A particular detail of other disputes which he had with the visitors was also published by his opponents, entitled, "An Account given to the Parliament by the Ministers sent by them to Oxford," 1647. In this piece they give a circumstantial account of their disputations with Mr. Erbery, but not sufficiently interesting to deserve the reader's particular atteniion. Mr. Erbery had a public dispute with one Mr. Nichols, of which lie gave a particular account in a piece entitled, " A Dispute at Cowbridge, (Glamorganshire,) with Mr. Henry Nichols, Pastor of an Independent Church, and Parson of a ParishChurch."* But this is not more interesting than the former.

Upon Mr. Erbcry's departure from Oxford, says Wood, "he went to London, where he vented his blasphemies in several places against the glorious divinity and blood of .Jesus. Christ, especially in his conventicle at Christ-church within Newgate, where those of his opinion met once a week. He was at length brought before the committee of plundered ministers at Westminster; when, to the admiration of those who had heard his blasphemies, he began to make a solemn profession of his faith in orthodox language: but the chairman took him up, and commanded him silence, saying, < We know your tricks well enough.' To say the truth," adds our author, " he had language at command, and could dissemble for matter of profit, or to avoid danger; and it was well known he was a mere canter." This account, from the bigotted historian, is extremely partial and incorrect, as appears from a particular narrative published by Mr. Erbery himself, in which he denies many of the charges alleged against him, and acquits himself of others. The piece is entitled, <; The Honest Hcritique: or, Orthodox Blasphemer, accused of lleresie and Blasphemic, but cleared of both by the judgment of God, and of good Men, at a Committee for Plundered Ministers of the Parliament, March 9th, 1652: With a double Answer to Articles charged against him; whereupon he was freed from his Prison, and liberty granted by the Lord to preach, again."t

"October 12, 165S, Mr. Erbery and Mr. John Webster endeavoured," says Wood, " to knock down learning and the ministry together, in a disputation they had with two

• Erbcrj'« Testimony, p. 25*. + Ibid. p. 310.

ministers in a church in Lombard-street. Erbery then declared, that the wisest ministers and purest churches were at that time befooled, confounded, and defiled by learning. Pie said, also, that the ministers were monsters, beasts, asses, greedy dogs, and false prophets; that they are the beast with seven heads and ten horns; that Babylon is the church in her ministers; and that the great Whore is the church In her worship. So that with him," he adds, "there was an end of ministers, and churches, and ordinances together. While these things were babbled to and fro, the multitude being of various opinions, began to mutter, and many to cry out, and immediately there was a tumult, wherein the women bore away the bell, but some of them lost their kerchiefs. And the dispute was so hot, that there was more danger of pulling down the church than the ministry."*

It is observed of Mr. Erbery, by one who appears to have been well acquainted with him, that the four principal things upon which he chiefly dwelt in his ministry, were the following: " That there was a measure of a pure appearance of spirit and truth in the days of the apostles.—That about the latter end of their days, or soon after, the spirit of the Lord withdrew itself, and men substituted an external and carnal worship in its stead.—That this apostacy was not yet removed from the generality of professing christians, . notwithstanding their pretence of deliverance; but that they still lay under it, and were likely so to do for some time.—That when the appointed season came, the apostacy should be removed, and the new Jerusalem come down from God, of which some glimpse might now appear in particular saints; yet the full view and accomplishment thereof seemed to be at some distance."*

Mr. Baxter denominates him "one of the chief of the anabaptists," and Mr. Neal calls him "a turbulent antinomian ;"t whereas he was neither the one nor the other. Primitive baptism, he thought, consisted in going into the water ankle-deep, and not in a total immersion; but judged that none have now any right to administer that ordinance without a fresh commission from heaven. In his views of the trinity he was of the Sabellion cast; and it appears from the general strain of his writings, that he drunk very deep in the spirit of mysticism. He was an admirer of the Quakers, with whom his wife united,* and from whom he expected great things, but did not unite with them. He had formerly laboured under a sore affliction, which had deeply affected his head; previous to which he was a man of good purls and an excellent scholar, zealous and successful in his ministry, and particularly grave and religious in his life.t Mr. Christopher Love thus observes: "As for Mr. Erbery, though he is fallen into dangerous opinions; yet, he being my spiritual father, I do naturally care for him; and my heart cleaves more to him than to any man in the world. I speak to the praise of God, he was the instrument of my conversion nearly twenty years ago, and the means of my education at the university; for which kindness, the half of what I have in the world I could readily part with for his relief. It is true, about eight or nine years since, he was plundered in Wales, and came to see me at Windsor castle; but a son could not make more of a father than I did of him, according to my ability. When I had not twelve pounds in the world, I let him have six of it; and I procured him to be chaplain to Major Skippon's regiment, where he had eight shillings perday."t He is characterized by those of his own persuasion, as a holy and harmless person, for which the world hated him.$ He died in the month of April, 1654, aged fifty years.

• Athens Oion. vol. ii. p. 104. + Erbery's Testimony, Pref.

t Meal's Puritsni, vol. iii. p. 397.

His Works.—I. The preat Mysterie of Godliness: Jesus Christ our Lord Cod and Man, and Alan with God, one in Jesus Christ our Lord, 1640.—2. Ministers for Tythcs, proving they are no Ministers of the Gospel, 1663.—3. Sermons on several Occasions, one of which is entitled, " The Lord of Hosts," 1633.—4. An Olive Leaf: or, some peaceable Considerations to the Christian Meeting at Christ's Church in London, 1654.—5. The Reign of Christ, and the Saint* with him on Earth a Thousand Years, one Day, and the Day at hand, 1654.—6. The Testimony of William Erbery, left upou Record for the Saints of succeeding Ages, 1658.—This contains several of the foregoing pieces.