John Knewstubs

John Knewstubs, B.D. - This learned divine was born at Kirkby Stephen in Westmoreland, in the year 1540, and chosen fellow of St. John's college, in the university of Cambridge,1 where he was much esteemed for his great piety, abilities, and learning. During his abode in the university, he united with Dr. Andrews, afterwards bishop of Ely, Dr. Chadderton, Mr. Culverwell, Mr. Carter, and other distinguised persons, in the observance of weekly meetings for conference upon certain portions of scripture. these meetings were conducted with great decorum, and found of signal advantage to all.

In the year of 1579, Mr. Knewstubs, upon his removal from Cambridge, became minister at Cockfield in Suffolk. Here he was labouring in the vineyard of Christ, when sixty ministers, from the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridge, assembled in his church to confer about the Book of Common Prayer, with the view of coming to an agreement concerning what things might be tolerated, and what were to be refused. They consulted also about the clerical apparel, holidays, fasts, injunctions, and other matters.2 Dr. Heylin says, this meeting was held May 8, 1582.3

In the year of 1583, upon the publication of Whitgift's three articles, Mr. Knewstubs and sixty other ministers of Suffolk, whose names are now before me, were not resolved to subscribe, and, for further satisfaction, wrote to their diocesan, desiring the resolution of their doubts, some of which were the following: -"The administration of baptism in private. -The use of the cross in baptism. -The interrogatories proposed to the infants. -The burial service, requiring us to commit to the ground all characters, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. -And the reading of apocryphal books in public worship, to the exclusion of some parts of canonicl scripture."4 Their application, however, proved unsuccessful, and they were all suspended from their ministerial work, upwards of forty of whom received the ecclesiastical censure on one day.5

This excellent divine being laid aside from his beloved work, the Lord Treasurer Burleigh wrote to him and Mr. John Oxenbridge, another suspended minister, requesting them to declare, "That they would use the Book of Common Prayer: and that in their publich ministry they would not preach agains it." Upon the reception of this, they returned his lordship the following open and generous declaration, earnestly soliciting his favourable attention to their case, as the silenced ministers of Christ: -"Right honorable and very good lord," say they, "we find it is your lordship's pleasure that we should declare in writing our consent to these two points: That we will use the Book of Common Prayer; and that we will not inveigh against it in our public ministry. -In the first place, as we have hitherto used the said book in our public worship, so we do purpose to use it ,and no other, except some other shall be established by public authority. And, secondly, we always have had a special regards, both in our public ministry and private life, for the peace of the church and our duty to her majesty, and to walk in all quite and christian behaviour towards all who use the book in some things more strictly than we can do: and we mean always to act thus in future.

"Seeing these are the things which your honour thinketh good to request at our hands, we most humbly beseech your lordship's favour, that we may be relieved from that subscription, which, as we verily think, the states of the realm have not required of us; and that we may be restored to our ministry, as in times past. Which, if we obtain, we shall be bound both to praise God for your clemency and to pray for the increase and continuance of your honour's estate and hapiness."6

It does not appear how long these learned divines remained under the bishop's censure, nor wheter their application to the treasurer proved at all available. Mr. Knewstubs joined with his brethren in subscribing the "Book of Discipline." He laboured with great zeal and moderation to carry on the work of reformation in the church, and frequently met with his brethren at their associations in the counties of Sufflok, Norfolk, and Cambridge. Being a known and decided nonconformist, though a man of no severe principles, his house was narrowly watched, and afterwards strictly searched, by the prelate's officers.7

In the year of 1603, Mr. Knewstubs was one of the puritan divines appointed by King James to attend the Hampton-court conference. He signified, on this occasion, his objections agains the interrogatories in baptism. But Dr. Barlow, who published "The Sun and Substance of the Conference," instead of informing us what he said upon this point, is pleased to observe, that his discourse was so extremely perplexed that it was very difficult to be understood.8 This, surely, is a short and easy method of answering an argument, and of reproaching an adversary. Mr. Knewstubs also excepted agains the cross in batpism;9 because, as he observed, it gave offence to many weak brethren, contrary to Rom. xiv. and 2 Cor. viii., where their consciences are not to be offended. He inquired whether the church had the power to add external significant sign. Then, if it had such power, whether it might add them where Christ hath already ordained one. To attempt this, appeared to him no less derogatory to the institution of Christ, than if any person in the land should presume to add his own seal to the great seal of England. But if the church had this power also, Mr. Knewstubs further inquired, How far is such an ordinance to bind us, without impeaching our christian liberty? The king, hearing this, was greatly moved and said it smelt rankly of anapabtism; and, therefore, he would nor argue the point with him! "I will," added his majesty, "have one doctrine, one discipline, and one religion, in substance and in ceremony; and, therefore, I charge you never more to speak upon that point, how far you are to obey, when the church hath ordained it!"10 Such was the logic of that prince who was styled the Solomon of the age!

Towards the close of he conference, Dr. Chadderton having requested that he wearing of the surplice, and the use of the cross in baptism, might not be urged upon certain pious and painful ministers in Lancashire, Mr. Knewstubs, upon his knees, requested the like favour and forbearance for certain of his brethren in Sufflok say8ing, it would be much against them to require these things. "Sir," replied the king, "you shew yourself to be uncharitable. We have taken pains, and in the end have concluded on unity and uniformity; and you, forsooth, must prefer the credit of a few private men, before the peace of the church. I will non of that; and, therefore, let them either conform themselves, and that shortly, or they shall hear of it."11 Some further account of this mock conference, as it is very commonly and very justly denominated, is given in another place.12

Mr. Knewstubs was a learned and celebrated divine, and though the productions of his pen do not appear to have been very numerous, Fuller denominates him one of the learned writers of St. John's college, Cambridge.13 He continued his zealous and faithful ministry at Cockfield to the day of his death, having laboured at that place forty-five years. He died May 29, 1624, aged eighty years, when his remains were interred at Cockfield, and over his grave a monumental inscription was erected to his memory, of which the following is a translation14

of that most humble
and affectionate Servant of God
forty-five years the very watchful
and faithful pastor of the church of Cockfield;
a teacher of the church, and an excellent scholar;
a firm asserter and defender of Christian Truth,
the wholesome doctrines of the Gospel,
and uncorrupted Religion.
He bravely withstood the storm of life,
and patiently endured the greated sufferings
for the glory of God.
At length, worn out with infirmities,
in the 80th year of his age,
with divine serenity,
he withdrew from this mortal life
and entered the celestial Country,
on the 29th of May, 1624.
As there are
never-fading monuments of his Genius,
lest posterity should wish
for some memorial of his body also;
this Monument,
too small for so great a man,
contains the mortal part of

Friends maye awhile by Arte our Viewe commende.
But tys not longe eare all Thinges heere shall ende.
The Arte of Artes is so to lyve and dye,
As we may lyve in Heav'n eternally

Mr. Knewstubs is classes among the generous benefactos of St. John's college, Cambridge. September 1, 1623, he founded two exhibitions for two poor scholars; for which purpose he gave to the college eleven pounds a year, out of certain lands, called squires' lands, at Southminster and Steeple in Essex. He appointed twenty shillings of this annuity for the use of the college, and ten pounds for two poor scholars, to be elected at the general election of scholars, one of them, to be elected at the general election of scholars, one of them to be out of the north, the other from the south. The former of these was to be a person born within the parish of Kirkby Stephen; or, in case of the want of such a one, any one born in the county of Westmoreland, or educated in the school at Kirkby Stephen: but in the want of such a one, then a person to be chosen out of the school at Appleby. The scholar from the south was to be a person born within the parish of Cockfield in Suffolk: and in the want of such a one, then a persona to be chosen from the school at Sudbury. He appointed the nomination of the one to the vice-chancellor, or the incumbent of Kirkby Stephen and the schoolmaster for the time being: and of the other to the uncumbent of Cockfield for the time being. He further ordered, that if either of the scholars should be absent from the college upwards of fifty days together, the allowance during that period, should go to the use of the college; and if absent ninety-one days, he should forfeit his exhibition.15

His Works. -1. A confutation of certain Monstrous and Horrible Heresies, taught by H. N. (Henry Nichols) and embraced by a number who call themselves The Family of Love, 1579. - 2. Lectures of Various Portions of Scripture. -3 An Answer to certain Assertions


1: Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, vol. i. b. vi. p. 22.

2: Fuller's Church Hist. b. ix. p. 185.

3: Heylin's Hist. of Pres. p. 292.

4: MS: Register, p. 434,435.

5: Ibid. p. 436,437.

6: MS. Register, p. 587,588.

7: MS. Chronology, vol. ii. p. 593. (4.)

8: Barlow's Account, p. 163.

9: He might with properiety have asked, Why may not any other sign be used in baptism, as well as the sign of the cross? If it had been said, Because our Saviour was crucified upon the cross; he might have inquired of what shape or figure was the Saviour's cross; lest, in making the sign of it, they should not make the sign of that cross, but of some other. And how shall we know the exact figure of our Saviour's cross? The original word, as used in the New Testament, according to the opinion of the learned, signifies a stake or post, as well as a cross.

10: Ibid. p. 164-166.

11: Barlow's Account, p. 176, 177

12: See Art. Dr. John Rainolds.

13: Fuller's Hist. of Cambridge, p. 95

14: Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, vol. i. b. vi. p. 22.

15: Baker's MS. Collec. vol. xxiii. This volume is not paged.

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