John Gifford.—This person was born in the county of Kent; afterwards he became a major in the king's army during the civil wars. He was concerned in the insurrection raised in that county; for whicli lie was apprehended, and, together with eleven others, received the sentence of death. But, the night before he was to suffer, his sister coming to visit him, and finding the centinels who k pt the door of the prison fast aslc p, and his companions in a state of intoxication, she urged him to embrace the favourable opportunity and escape for his life. Having made his
• Wood's Athens, vol. ii. p. 127.
t The fifth monarchy men arose about the time of the death of Charles I. and during the commonwealth. They expected the immediate appearance of Christ to establish on earth a new monarchy or kingdom, and to commence his glorious personal reign of a thousand years. As there are four great empires mentioned in ancient history, which successively gained the dominion of the'world, so these men, believing that this new spiritual kingdom of Christ was to be the fifth, received the appellation of fifth monarchy men.
t Meen'a MS. Collec. p. 452.
cscnpe, lie fled into the fields arid crept into a ditch, where In" remained about three days, till search for him was over; and then, by the help of friends, he went in disguise to London. After concealing himself for some time in the city, and at various places in the country, he went to Bedford, where, though art entire si ranker, he commenced the pract'ee of physic; but still remained very debauched in his life. He was greatly addicted to drunkenness, swearing, gaming, and similar immoral practices. In his gaming he usually found himself a loser, which made him sometimes discontented, and resolve to leave off the practice; but his resr>lutions were soon broken, and he returned to his old course. One night, having lost fifteen pounds, he became almost outrageous, attended with most reproachful thoughts of (rod; hut looking into one of Mr. Bolton's books, something hid fast hold upon his conscience, and brought him for the first time to a deep sense of his sins. Under these painful convictions he laboured for about a month, when God by his word so discovered to him the forgiveness of his sins, through faith in Jesus Christ, that, as he used to say, be never lost sight of it afterwards.
M r. (iifi'ord having thus tasted that the Lord was gracious, presently sought an intimate acquaintance with the religious people in Bedford, whom he had before grievously persecuted, and had even resolved to murder the minister who had occasionally preached to them. Indeed, he had been a man of so profligate and base a character, that they were for sonie time jealous of his profession; but lie, being naturally oi a bold spirit, still thrust himself among tbem, both in their public meetings and private company. Havingmade sufficient trial, they embraced him as a disciple and a brother; and after some time he began to preach among them. The very first sermon he preached was made instrumental in the conversion of a female, whose future life b came an ornament to her profession. He afterwards collected the most pious persons in the congregation together; and, hnving repeatedly assembled and prayed to God for his direction and blessing, they formed themselves into a christian church. They were twelve in all, including Mr. JGtfford, and all ancient and grave christians, and well known to one another. Here was laid the foundation of that religious society of which the celebrated Mr. John Bunyan was afterwards pastor, and which exists and flourishes at the present time. It was formed upon strict congregational principles, admitting both paedobaptists and antiptedobaptiets, and still continues on the same broad foundation.
The members of this infant society, after giving themselves to the Lord and to one another, unanimously chose Mr. Clifford to the office of pastor. He accepted the charge, and gave himself up to the service of the Lord and his people, to walk with them, watch over them, and dispense among them the mysteries of the kingdom. This was about the year 1631. The principle on which they entered into church fellowship, and on which they added fre<h members, was, " Faith in Christ and holiness of life," without respect to any outward circumstances whatever. "By this means," it is said, "grace and faith were encouraged, and love and amity maintained; disputing and occasion of jangling*, and unprofitable questions, avoided; and many that were weak in faith confirmed in the blessings of eternal life." Mr. Giffbrd died September 21, 1656; who, on lib death" bed, wrote a most excellent letter to the congregation, earnestly persuading them io continue in the faithful maintenance of their principles, and affectionately exhorting them to promote peace, holiness, and brotherly love.»