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Henry Denne

Henry Denne.—This zealous person was educated in the university of Cambridge, and ordained by the Bishop of St. David's about the year 1630. Afterwards he signalized himself by his preaching and writings, his disputing and sufferings. He entered upon his ministerial labours at Pirton in Hertfordshire, where he remained about ten years, and was much beloved and respected by his parishioners. In the year 1641 he was appointed to preach at a visitation h id at Baldock in the same county. This occasioned him to be more publicly known, and made him many friends and enemies. He had always been suspected of puritanism. The difference now subsisting betwixt the king and parliament gave many ministers an opportunity of declaring their sentiments more openly, and of endeavouring to promote the desired reformation of the church. Among these was Mr. Denne, who embraced this opportunity of exposing the sin of persecution, the viees of the clergy, and the numerous corruptions in the worship and discipline of the established church. The introduction to his sermon was extremely singular, but discovered considerable ingenuity. His text was John v. 35. He was a burning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.

• Wood't Athcnsc Oxoo. vol. ii. p. 175,176.

In the sermon he freely censured the principal evils of th« time, and laid open the numerous vices of Hie cU-rgy; particularly their pride, their covetousness, their pluraliii s, and nonresidence. His applications were close and searching; one instance of which it mny not be improper to give. The court for receiving presentments against nonconformists being held at those visitations, after having enumerated and exposed some of the most flagrant crimes of the clergy with great freedom, he said, "I must call upon those in authority, that they would make diligent search after these foxes. If the courts had been as diligent to find out these, as nonconformable ministers; surely by this time the church would have been as free from them, as the land is from zcolves. But they have preferred the traditions of men before the commandments of God. I tell you, that conformity hath ever fared the worse tor their sakes, who, breaking the commandments of God, think to make amends by conformity to the traditions of men."

During the delivery of the sermon, some of the clergy could hardly exercise patience to hear it out; and afterwards there was so great a noise in the country, and so many false reports were propagated against both the preacher and the sermon, that he was obliged to publish it in his own defence. From this time he began to be much noticed, not only as a man of considerable parts, but as one suitable to help forwards the reformation of the church. The revolution which soon after took place in the state occasioned a material alteration in the affairs of religion. Many learned men were led to a closer study of the sacred scriptures, as well as a more accurate investigation of some doctrines, then generally received as true. Of this number was Mr. Denne, who, judging that the baptism of infants had no foundation in scripture, or in the purest ages of the church, publicly professed himself a baptist, and, about the year lb'43, was baptized by immersion. He immediately joined himself to Mr. Lamb's church, meeting in Bell-alley, Coleman-street, London; where he still continued to preach, as well as in different parts of the country.*

This change in Mr. Denne's sentiments exposed him to the resentment of the riding powers, who put frequent obstructions in the way of his preaching and public usefulness. In the year 1644 he was apprehended in Cambridgeshire, by the committee of that county, and sent to prison

• Crotby's Hill, of Baptists, Toi. i. p. 897—302.

for preaching against infant baptism. Having suffered confinement tor some time, his case, through the intercession of friends, was referred to a committee of parliament. He was accordingly sent up to London, where he was kept prisoner in Lord Petre's house in Aldersgate-street, till the committee heard his case and released him.*

At this time there was confined in the same prison, the learned Dr. Daniel Featly, famous for his opposition to the baptists. The doctor having just published his book, entitled, "The Dippers Dipt; or, the Anabaptists Ducked and Plunged over Head and Ears, at a Disputation in Southwark," it was laid in the way of Mr. Denne, who having read it, thought himself called upon to defend his principles. He therefore challenged the doctor to a disputation, which being accepted, Mr. Denne is reported to have had the best of the argument, and that the doctor declined proceeding further, under pretence that it was dangerous so to do without a license from government. Mr. Denne, upon the invitation of the doctor, immediately set about answering the book, and in the course of a few weeks produced a very learned and ingenious reply.

After his release, notwithstanding the obnoxious nature of his opinions, Mr. Denne obtained, by some means, the vicarage of Eltisley in Cambridgeshire, where he preached publicly in the church, and was much followed. But this excited the jealousy and opposition of the presbytcrians. Having, on a certain occasion, to preach a lecture at St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, the committee of the county issued an order to prevent him; upon which he went into a neighbouring church-yard, and preached under a tree to a great number, of people, and to the great mortification of bis opponents. In June, 1646, he was again commuted to prison, for preaching his own sentiments and baptizing by immersion, at Spalding in Lincolnshire. Here his chief persecutors were two justices, who sent the constable on the Lord's day morning to apprehend him. Their object was to prevent him preaching; for, to their great mortification, multitudes flocked to hear him. Upon the examination of his case, the only crime brought against him was that of dipping, and only one person could be produced in evidence of the charge. When, first called before his spiritual judges, he was urged to accuse himself; but this he utterly refused. The single witness produced in proof of the

• Edwards's Gangrajna, part i. p. TT» ( .

charge was one Anne Jarrat, who, June 22, 1646, made the following deposi ion: " This exaininale saith, on Wednesday last, in ihe night, about eleven or twelve o'clock, Anno Rennet and Anne Smith, the servants of John Mackern< s»e, did call out this examinate io go with them to the little croft, with whom this examinate did go; and coming thither, Master Denne, and John Mackernesse, and a stranger or two, did tbllow after. And being come to the river-side, Masier Denne went into the water, and (here did baptise Anne Slennct, Anne Smith, Godfrey Jtoote, and John Sowter, in this examinate'spresence."*

It was accounted a sad crime to perform this ceremony in the night. The oppressions of the times not suffering it to be observed in open day, ought, however, to bear all the blame. Though his persecutors discovered a most intolerant spirit, and by their extreme bigotry, exposed themselves to the reproach of all unbiassed minds, they succeeded in one thing according to their wishes. For, through their repeated oppressive proceedings, Mr. Denne was at length obliged to quit his living; and seeing no prospect of usefulness in the church, he went into the army. As he was a man of great courage and zeal for the liberties of his country, he behaved himself so well in the character of a soldier, as to gain a reputation not inferior to many who had made it the profession of their lives. At the conclusion of the war he returned to his former exercise of preaching, and took every opportunity of defending his principles.

In the year 1658 Mr. Denne was engaged in a dispute concerning baptism with Dr. Gunning, in St. Clement's church, near Temple-bar, London. The disputation lasted two days; and he is said to have afforded strong proofs of his abilities and learning, as a good scholar and a complete disputant. Indeed, he was accounted by one who had a considerable hand in the public affairs of the nation, "the ablest man in the kingdom tor prayer, expounding, and preaching." In his views of the doctrines of the gospel he took the middle way, with Bishop Usher, Bishop Davenanr, Mr. Baxter, and others. + Mr. Edwards, who was never suspected of partiality to those called sectarians, acknowledges " that he had a very affectionate way of preaching, and was much esteemed among the people;" yet he denominates him a great antinomian, and a desperate arminian!"t Another writer observes, that he was formerly " a high altar

• Edwards's Gaogrrcna, part iii. p. 86, ST.

+ Crosby's Baptists, vol. i. p. 221—284,302—30T.

J Edwards's Gaugrsoa, part I. p. 76, 77.

To tell his wisdom, learning, goodness, unto men,
I need to say no more, but here lies Henry Denne.

His Works.—1. The Doctrine and Conversion of John the Baptist: a Visitation Sermon, 1642.—2. Antichrist Unmasked, 1644.— 3. The Foundation of Children's Baptism Discovered and Raised, 1646.—4. The Man of Sin discovered, whom the Lord will destroy with the Brightness of his coming, 1645.—5. The Drag-Nct of the Kingdom of Heaven; or, Christ drawing all Men, 1646.—6. The Levellers Design discovered, 1649.—7. A Contention for the Truth; in two Public Disputations between Dr. Gunning and Henry Denne, concerning Infant-Baptism, 1658.—8. Grace, Mercy, and Peace.

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