Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson was fellow of King's college, Cambridge, and domestic chaplain to Lord Keeper Bacon. He preached and administered the sacrament in his lordship's family at Gorambury, and was statedly employed in the ministry at St. Alban's. In July, 1571, he was brought into trouble for nonconformity. He was cited before Archbishop Parker, and the Bishops of Winchester and Ely, at Lambeth. Upon his appearance, he was threatened to be silenced if he would not subscribe. Accordingly, not being satisfied in every point contained in the articles proposed to him, and refusing subscription, he was immediately suspended. Afterwards, he sent the following humble letter to the commissioners, earnestly desiring to be restored to his

• Baker's MS. Collec. vol. xxi. p. 384. t Ibid. p. 3S5.

t Strype's Parker, p. 466.

ministry. This letter was dated fiom the lord keeper's house, Gorambury, near St. Albans, August 14, 1571.

" Whereas July 4th," says he, " being before your lordships, to answer to your three articles, I did forbear to subscribe to the first, viz. ' That the Book of Common Prayer is agreeable to the word of God,' because it seemed to me to contain a license of administering baptism by women, a thing forbidden by the word of God. And being suspended and sequestered, I have abstained from preaching and administering the sacrament, and thereby, my lord, and his family, have suffered the want of those most necessary and comfortable religious privileges. Therefore, my duty to his lordship's household, and to that part of the church from which I receive some maintenance, move me with all due humility and submission, to beseech you that 1 may be restored to my former liberty.

" And concerning the articles, I trust this will suffice and fully auswer your intention, that, by this my letter, subscribed with my own hand, I do promise and declare, that I did not mean to vary from the ordinary book of service, in my ministry. Neither to inveigh against it by public speech, Avittingly, or maliciously; but to move the auditory to hold the truth in matters of faith and sound religious practice, and to live for ever in the fear of God. And I think that the contents of the service book, then expressly mentioned, and according to the exposition then given to me, are not defective, nor expressly contrary to the word of God ; and that the imperfections thereof, may, for the sake of unity and charity, be suffered, till God grant a more perfect reformation: for which, every man, according to his particular vocation, ought diligently to labour.

" As to the second article, 'That the apparel of ministers is not wicked, and directly against the word of God; and being appointed by the prince only for the sake of policy, obedience, and order, it may be used;' yet is it not generally expedient, nor edifying.

" And as to the third, ' That the articles of religion, which only concern the confession of the true christian faith, and the doctrine of the sacrament, comprised in a book, entitled Articles agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both Provinces, and the whole Clergy, in the convocation holden in London, in the year of our Lord 1569,' and every of them, contain true and godly christian doctrine.

u And because I perceived it to be offensive to his grace

VoL. I. N

the archbishop, that I hold by the favour of the lord keeper, a prebend in Norwich, I now inform you, that I mean to relinquish it the next half year following. Trusting, that upon the receipt of this my humble submission, you will release me, and grant me a new license to preach. And so committing your lordships, in all your godly and zealous undertakings, to the direction and blessing of Almighty -God. Subscribing myself your lordships' most humble petitioner " Robert Johnson."*

What effect this letter produced, we are not able to learn: but it probably failed to answer the end proposed. We find, however, in the year 1573, that Mr. Johnson was brought into f urther trouble. He was convened before the Bishop of Lincoln, and required to subscribe to the three curious articles following:

1. " I am content hereafter, in my open sermons and public preaching, to forbear to impugn the articles of religion agreed upon in the Synod at London, in 1562, or any of them.

2. " Neither will I speak against the state of the church of England, now allowed by the laws of this realm; nor against the Book of Common Prayer, or any thing contained therein.

3. " Neither will I say or sing, or cause, procure, or maintain any other to say or sing, any common or open prayer, or minister any sacrament, otherwise, or in any other manner or form, than is mentioned in the said book, till further order be taken by public authority."

Mr. Johnson refusing subscription, answered as follows:— " Whether these articles be such as I ought in duty to subscribe, and whether for refusing this subscription, I deserve to be openly declared a forsaker of the church, and the flock committed to my care, and whether it be matter for which I ought to be defamed, I refer to your worship's consideration, upon the following reasons: , ** I take it for granted, that there are faults, and such as ought to be reformed, both in the government of the church, and in the Book of Common Prayer, upon which I reason thus. Either there is, or there is not, a reformation intended by those in authority. If there be a reformation intended, then it is good that the people's minds be prepared the more willingly to receive it when it comes, and to persuade then

i ; " - -» Strype's Parker, p. 327, 328.

by sound reason and the authority of scripture, before they are compelled by law to obey. This preparation of the people to obey, is necessary, lest they be compelled to obey they know not what. Therefore, that the people may the more willingly, and without murmuring, agree to a reformation, and praise the Lord for the same, it is necessary they should first know the defects in the church, which need reformation. But if no reformation be intended, it is proper the people should understand how much the church stands in need of it, that they may pray unto God to stir up those who are in authority to promote it; and, no doubt, the Lord will the sooner hear their prayers. So thatj whether a reformation be intended, or not intended, the church of God should be told of its corruptions, that the people may the more willingly praise God when they are taken away, and the more earnestly pray unto him until they be taken away. This is one reason why ministers should not bind themselves to conceal the faults and corruptions remaining in the church.

" Another reason is, that seeing there are many preachers who maintain that the government of the church is perfectly good, and that the Prayer Book needs no amendment; and as these preachers have license to preach where they please, they may preach these things to that flock over which God hath made me overseer; if I should consent and subscribe, that, in such a case, I will not speak, I cannot see how I could acquit myself before God. Therefore, the fear of this evil, in these days of peril and confusion, is another reason for not giving either the promise of my word, or the subscription of my hand, to hold my peace against the government of the church, and every thing contained in the Book of Common Prayer.

" Also, in the Book of Common Prayer, there is a manifest abuse of scripture: as in the ordination of ministers, it is said, Receive the Holy Ghost. Corrupt prayers: as in confirmation, " Almighty God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants, by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given them the forgiveness of all their sins. These and many such faults in the book, are such, that a preacher ought not to promise and subscribe, that he will never speak any thing against them. There are, likewise, many things in the government of the church: as the court of faculties, the high commission court, dispensations for non residence, and many others, against which I cannot oblige myself that I will never speak" This answer, withmuch more to the same purpose, Mr. Johnson delivered August 6, 1573, subscribed with his own hand *

We do not, indeed, find what immediately followed his refusing to subscribe; whether he was dismissed, and allowed to go on in his ministry, or sent to prison. Most probably he was released; for he afterwards became minister of St. Clement's church, London. Here, however, he enjoyed but little repose; for towards the close of December, in the above year, he and some others were committed close prisoners to the Gatehouse, for nonconformity. + February 2d, following, Mr. Johnson being still in prison, wrote a letter to Dr. Sandys, bishop of London, whom he styles " superintendant of popish corruptions in the diocese of London." In this letter, he reminds his lordship of some of the existing evils, especially that of professed christians persecuting one another. " There is," says he, " persecution enough. Some are imprisoned, and are in danger of losing, not only their liberty, but also their lives, being compelled to remain in filthy jails, more unwholesome than dunghills, and more stinking than pig-styes. Others are persecuted in their minds, by being enforced to subscribe to those things against which every good man's conscience makes a stand, and every godly man disallows. It is a great evil for a man to lose or spend his property in prison ; it is a greater, to lose his reputation; it is greater still, to lose his liberty; but it is greatest of all, to be greatly distressed and disquieted in his conscience. Take heed, therefore, lest you get your name enrolled amongst the number of persecutors. Let not worldly policy prevail more than true divinity. Let not man cause you to do that which God has forbidden. Let not the commission draw you further than God's word will allow. Let not your honour here on earth, cause you to do that which is against the honour of God. Let not your palace make you forget the temple of Christ.

" The present persecution is among brethren, not only of one nation, but of one profession : those who persecute, and those who are persecuted, believing in one God, professing one Christ, embracing one religion, receiving one gospel, communicating in one sacrament, and having one hope of salvation. Dissention in a kingdom, discord in a nation,' controversy among neighbours, and contention among brethren, are more to be feared than any of them among enemies. You say, you are our chief pastor, we desire

food : you say, you are our doctor, we desire to be taught. This is the best way to win us, and the best for you to use. The laws and authority of men, should not set aside the laws and authority of God. The popish logic of slander and imprisonment will not prevail at last. The Fleet, the Gatehouse, the White-lion, the King's-bench, and Newgate, are weak arguments to convince the conscience."*

Upon the 20th day of the same month, Mr. Johnson was brought to trial before his judges, and examined at Westminster-hall, in the presence of the queen's commissioners, the bishop of London, the dean of Westminster, the lord chief justice, and others. He was accused of marrying without the ring, and of baptizing without the cross, which he did for a time; but upon complaint against him, he begun again to use them. He was accused, also, of a misdemeanour, as it is called ; because when he was once administering the sacrament, the wine falling short, he sent for more, but did not consecrate it afresh, accounting the •former consecration sufficient for what was applied to the same use, at the same time. The examination which he underwent at his trial, was as follows:

Johnson. If it please your honours, may I not submit myself, and declare the truth of things as they were done ?

Lord Chief J ustice. Ves, you may. - J. I stand here indicted for three points. The first is, that I have not repeated the words of the institution; or, as they commonly call it, I did not consecrate the wine, when I delivered it to the communicants.—Secondly, that I have not married with the ring.—Thirdly, that I have not used the cross in the administration of baptism, and have left out the whole sentence for that purposes—Unto these charges, I answer, that respecting the contempt, as expressed in the indictment, I plead, not guilty. And as to tne first of those charges, I answer under my protestation, that at no time, in celebrating the communion, have I omitted any prayer or words of the institution, which the book prescribeth, but have used them in as full and ample a manner

• Parte of a Register, p. 101—105.

+ In Mr. Johnson's indictment, he was charged with having solemnized matrimony, between one Leonard Morris and Agnes Miles, without using the ring. And having baptized a male child that he did not know, he did not make the sign of the cross on its forehead, nor use the following words: " We receive this child into the congregation of Christ's flock, and do sign " him with the sign of the cross," as contained in the Book of Common Prayer: " And that he did the same voluntarily, and in contempt of the " queen and her laws, and against the peace of the realm."—MS. Register, p. 199.

as they are appointed. Only upon a certain occasion, when the wine failed, I sent for more, which I delivered to the people, using the words appointed in the book to be used in the delivery of the sacrament, not again repeating the words of the institution: partly, because, as I take it, being an entire action and one supper, the words of the institution at first delivered were sufficient; and partly, because, in the Book of Common Prayer, there is no order appointed to which I could refer the case. And as to the second, I answer that once or twice, I did not use the ring. For looking into the mass-book, 1 found the words with which the papists hallow the ring; and because this seemed to me no 1( 6s derogatory to the death of Christ, than holy bread and holy water, I thought as other persons had omitted those, I might omit this.

Commissioner. There is no such thing in. the Book of Common Prayer.

Dean. He speaketh of the mass-book.

Bishop. Then you compare the mass-book and the common prayer book, and make the one as bad as the other.

J. My lord, I make no such comparison. But after I was complained of to my ordinary, Dr. Watts, archdeacon of Middlesex, who reprehended me, I used the ring, as I have good and sufficient witness. Since, therefore, I did in this default correct myself, I refer myself to your honour's discretion, whether I have herein stubbornly and contemptuously broken the law.—As to the third charge, 1 answer, that I have omitted to make the sign of the cross, but not of contempt. But seeing I have already suffered seven weeks imprisonment, with the loss of my place and living, I beseech you, be indifferent judges, whether this be not sufficient for so small a crime.

Mr. Gerard. You were not sent to prison for that, but for your irreverent behaviour.

J. I trust, sir, I did not behave myself more irreverently than I do now. Whereas the indictment is, that I omitted the whole prayer, " We receive this child," &c. This is false; for I never administered baptism without using that prayer, though 1 omitted making the sign of the cross.

B. Those two are but trifles. The chief is the consecration of the sacrament. For, as it had not the word, it was no sacrament, and so the people were mocked.

J. My lord, I did not mock the people; for it was a sacrament.

D. St. Augustin saith, " That the word must be added to the element, to make a sacrament." You lacked the wordj

therefore, it was no sacrament. . J. I had the word.

B. How had you the word, when you confess that you recited not the institution ?

J. I had recited the institution before, and that was sufficient.

D. Yea, for that bread and wine that was present; but when you sent for more bread or wine, you should again have rehearsed the words of the institution.

J. The book appointed no such thing.

B. Yes, sir, the book saith, you shall have sufficient bread and wine, and then the prayer of the institution must be recited. Now, as you had not sufficient, you should, therefore, have repeated the institution.

J. There is no such caveat, nor proviso, appointed in the book.

B. But that is the meaning of the book. J. Men may make what meaning they please; but I refer myself <o the book, whether or not it be so appointed. D. You are not forbidden to use the repetition. J. Neither am I commanded.

D. I will prove this to be the meaning of the book. For it is said in the prayer, " these creatures of bread and wine:": so that the book hath respect to the bread and wine there present, and not to any other. Therefore, if there be any more brought, it must be consecrated afresh, by the words of the institution.

J. I pray you tell me one thing. Are the words of the institution spoken for the bread, or for the receivers ? J

D. For both.

J. I deny that. For the evangelist declares, that Christ said unto his disciples, to teach them for what end and pur* pose they should take the bread. i

D. Then the word is of no force.

J. I deny that. The word is necessary to the substance of the sacrament. But this is not the question : we both confess this. Herein is the controversy, whether it be ne* cessary for the institution to be repeated, seeing it is but one and the same action, and the same communicants as before, for whom the words are spoken. If it had not been the same supper, or if the communicants had been changed, it would have been necessary to rehearse the institution.

B. You like yourself very well, and you are stubborn and arrogant. I have before heard of your stubborn heart, but now I perceive it.

J. My lord, who he is that liketh himself so well, and is so stubborn and arrogant, that Lord, who trieth the hearts of all, must judge.

B. Why, you being unlearned, stand stubbornly against us all, and so no learning will satisfy you.

J. I would fain understand with what words Christ did consecrate.

Dr. Wilson. With this word, benedixit.

J. Be it so. But we know not the words with which Christ did benedicere. Therefore, we must consecrate with we know not what.

L.C.J. Ah! Johnson. Is this your submission ?

J. I must needs defend my own innocence.

G. Johnson, you in a manner confess as much as you are charged with. For you confess, that when the words of the institution were recited, you had no wine. . J. I do not confess that. I had both bread and wine.

G. But you had not that wine.

J. No.

G. Therefore it was not consecrated. J. The words before repeated were sufficient for the consecration.

: D. Then, with those words you consecrated all the wine in the tavern.

J. No, sir, it was the wine that was brought from the tavern to the church, and of a common wine, was appointed to be a sacramental wine, to represent Christ's blood ; and this is consecration.

D. Why then, with you, the word is of no force. ' J. It is not of force to bring any holiness to the sacrament. I trust you do not think that the word maketh the bread any holier when used in the sacrament.

W. Yes, it is holy bread.

B. It is a holy sacrament.

J. That I confess. But holiness is in the use and end, pot in the substance. For otherwise you would make a magical enchantment of it, and not a consecration. Dr. Cranmer, in his book on the sacrament, saith, " There cometh no holiness to the bread by consecration."

G. If thou wert well served, thou wouldst be used like a magician.

J. Whatever your judgment may be, I stand or fall to my own Lord.

B. You know not what harm you have done, by defending an error before this company, bringing them so into doubt, that they know not which way to take.

J. My lord, I defend no error. I maintain the truth.

D. Nay, you maintain a horrible heresy.

Bromley. Yea, if you were well served, you should fry a faggot.

J. As you say that I maintain a heresy, I pray you shew me by what commandment I am bound to the precise words of the institution.

D. As the word in baptism is, " I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost:" so the word in the Lord's supper is the rehearsal of the institution.

J. Bullinger was of another mind; for he saith, " The consecration of sacraments is not by the nature, will, command, or precept of Christ, nor from the authority of any other."

D. Where doth he say this ?
J. Sermon vi. decad 5.
D. You falsify his words.

J. No, I cite them right. And the churches of Geneva and Scotland consecrate with other words, without using the words of the institution, except in preaching.

D. You slander those churches, as appeareth from their own words, which I have here in a book.

J. I have not slandered those famous churches. Let their liturgy witness. And as to that book, there is nothing in it which I do not believe. But I pray you, my lord of London, answer me one question. Must consecration be performed before the delivery of the elements, or after ?

B. I will not answer it.

J. It is only a question. I pray you answer it.

B. Answer it thyself. - -' 1

D. It shall be answered. The consecration must go before; for Christ gave a sacrament, which could not be without the word. Consecration, therefore, must go before.

J. But Christ spake the word after the distribution. For he first gave them the bread, and then said, " Take, eat, this is my body."

D. And what then?

J;. Then, according to what you say, Christ did not consecrate aright.

D. You defend a horrible heresy: for you reject the -word.

J. I do not reject the word, but would understand what the word meaneth.

D. It meaneth the institution of Christ.

J. All writers do not so understand it. Some by the word, understand the promises, as Musculus, Bullinger, Peter Martyr, and Calvin.

D. The word is not the promise.

J. These learned men so take it. Herein I am content to refer mvself to the judgment of the learned. ,

L.C.J. Here is my lord of London, a prelate of the realm, and a bishop, and this gentleman, Mr. Dean; dost thou think they are not learned ?

J. I neither despise, nor deprave their learning. But as to the words of the institution, I say, they are to be considered, either as they are expressly set down by the evangelist; or, as other words are used equivalent to them, declaring the sum and substance of them, and, in either case, the institution is whole and sound. Consecration may be taken either according to the consecration of the papists, who say, " This is my body, and this is my blood;' or,, as the best writers in our time, take it for the rehearsal of the promises and thanksgiving to be enjoined; and whichsoever of these two be accepted, seeing I used the words of delivery, there was sufficient consecration.

L. C. J. Let us make an end of it. Charge the jury.— The witnesses were then called and sworn, some of whom were known papists, and others had done penance for the foulest crimes, against whom no exception would be taken; and Mr. Johnson being by their verdict found guilty, was condemned to one year's imprisonment, and immediately sent back to the Gatehouse.*

The hard treatment Mr. Johnson received from Bishop Sandys, and the other commissioners, as appears in the above examination; with the heavy sentence pronounced upon him, after having endured some close and severe imprisonment already, were, surely, more than proportionate to any crime with which he was charged, even supposing he had been guilty. Indeed, whether the principal thing with which he was charged was good or evil, was matter of mere opinion, and a point much to be disputed. But right or wrong, he must be punished.

, During the execution of the heavy sentence, and about two weeks after his trial, Mr. Johnson wrote a letter t»

• Parte of a Register, p. 105—111.

Bishop Sandys, dated March 7, 1574, in which he earnestly pleads for more kind treatment. He thus observes, " Our Saviour saith, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy: And the apostle, He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy. I wonder what mercy you, and the rest of the commissioners, hope for, and what judgment you look for, seeing for trifles and of no weight, nay of no truth, as I doubt not you are persuaded in your own consciences, you not only mock and molest men, deprave and deprive them, but to their great poverty and utter ruin, and without any bowels of mercy, you condemn them to long imprisonment. Where hath God given any such commandment ? Where hath Christ given any such precedent ? Where did the apostles put any such thing in practice? If you say, that we hold errors, are schismatics, and promote sects ; then do you the part of a teacher, to reform our errors, to reduce schismatics to unity, and to dissuade sectaries from dissention. Your office and function, your name and title, your degree and profession, your knowledge and religion, yea the apostles, Jesus Christ, and God himself, requireth this at your hands. You know who saith, If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness. Compare your doctrine in time past, and your doings now, and see how they agree. We may say as the prophet said: The Lord God of your fathers was wroth with Judah, and he hath delivered them into your hand, and you have persecuted them in a rage that reachetk up to heaven.

" If-tp imprison and famish men, be the proper way to instruct the ignorant and reduce the obstinate, where is the office and work of a shepherd, to seek that which was lost, and bring home that which went astray ? We beseech you, therefore, to gather something out of the Old and New Testament, that you may reduce those who go astray, and heal that which is bruised and broken. And I pray you, let us feel some of your charitable relief, to preserve us from death, under this hard usage; especially as you have been the chief cause of my trouble, I desire you to be some part of my comfort. Let pity requite spite, and mercy recompence malice. Thus beseeching God, that you may proceed faithfully in all the duties of a bishop, I commend you to Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls.

" Robert Johnson."*

• Parte of a Register, p. 117,118.

- Mr. Johnson, at the same time, presented a petition- td the queen or council, desiring to be restored to his former liberty of preaching, from which he was restrained by the foregoing heavy sentence. This petition, together with a letter from the court, dated Greenwich, March 19, 1573, were sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, pressing t hem to take the case into consideration, and take such order therein as should appear most convenient. The council also sent another letter to the Bishop of London, dated Greenwich, May 16, 1574, signifying that their lordships were given to understand, that Mr. Johnson, committed to the Gatehouse for nonconformity, was very sick and likely to die, unless he might enjoy more open air. Therefore they commanded his grace to give order for the poor afflicted man to be bailed, and upon sureties to be removed to his own house, but not to depart thence without further order.*

All these efforts were, however, without any good effect. The relentless prelate continued inflexible. Mr. Johnson experienced neither his lenity, nor his charity, nor any other favour: for the good man died soon after, a prisoner in the Gatehouse, through the cruelty of his imprisonment, and his extreme poverty and want.t Herein, surely, his inhuman persecutors would be highly gratified. Bishop Sandys, who was at the head of these proceedings, is said to have been " a man very eminent for his learning, probity, and prudencebut, surely, it may be questioned whether he exercised these excellent qualifications on the present occasion. This is even admitted by his partial biographer: for

• he observes, that during the above period, the good bishop proceeded so vigorously against the puritans, that his doings brought public reproach on his name and reputation.^

Mr. Johnson wrote a letter, a little before his death, to the Dean of Westminster, another zealous promoter of his persecution. This letter is still preserved.|| Mr. Strype charges Mr. Johnson as a false accuser, and, in 1609, as reviling the puritans. But the fact of his being dead several years before either of these events are said to have taken

• place, at once acquits him of the twofold charge. Some . other person of the same name, who was a rigid churchman, owe believe to have been guilty of those crimes.i

• faker's MS. Collec. Toi. mi. p. 383, 384. + Parle of a Register, p. ill, 118.

Le Neve's Lives, vol.i. part ii. p. 69. ^ Ibid. p.-SI.

Parte of a Register, p. 112—116. I Strype's Parker, p. 338, 329.