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Thomas Lever

Thomas Lever, B.D.—This celebrated divine was born of respectable parents at Little Lever in Lancashire, and educated in the university of Cambridge. After taking his degrees, he was chosen fellows then master of St. John's college; in which office he succeeded Dr. William Bill, and was the seventh master of the house. ^ He was a famous disputant, a celebrated scholar, and remarkably zealous in t!te advancement of true religion.|| He was ordained both priest and deacon, in the year 1550, by Bishop Ridley, afterwards martyr in the Marian persecution, and was a most eloquent and popular preacher to the close of the reign of King Edward.i This learned prelate had a very high opinion of him, and esteemed him famous for his bold and plain preaching. Speaking of the preaching of Latimer, Bradford, Knox, and Lever, he said: " They ripped so deeply in the galled backs of the great men at court, to have purged them of the filthy matter festered in their hearts; as, insatiable covetousness, filthy carnality, voluptuousness, intolerable pride, and ungodly loathsomeness to hear poor mens' cases and God's word; that they could never abide them above all others."** Afterwards,

• Master's HUt. of C. C. C. p. Ill, 112.

+ Strype't Parker, p. 289. } Wood's Athena: Oxon. vol. i. p. 725.

4 Baker'» MS. Collec. vol. i. p. 146.

P Strype's Cranmer, p. 163. i 1 Baker'»MS. Collec. vol. i. p. 146. Strype't Parker.p.211.

•when Ridley was cast into prison, and riot long before he was committed to the flames, he wrote a letter to his friend Grindal, then in exile, in which he made affectionate and honourable mention of Mr. Lever, as one of the persecuted servants of Christ*

In the above year he preached two sermons, the one at Paul's cross,t the other betbre the king, which, it is said, -would in that day have spoiled any man's preferment. As he delivered several things on these occasions, illustrating the history of the time, and particularly shewing the state of learning, the way of living, and the course of study, as well as the manner of preaching, in those days, we shall take notice of one or two passages; which serve also to describe the author in his spirit and address. Having spoken in commendation of King Henry's bounty, in giving j£200 annually, towards the exhibition of five learned men, to read and teach divinity, law, physic, Greek and Hebrew, and of his munificence in founding Trinity college, and other bounties, he proceeds as follows:

u Howbeit, all they that have knowcn the universitye of u Cambryge, sense that tyme that it dyd fyrst begynne to " receive these greate and manyefolde benefytes from the " kynges magstye, at youre handes, have juste occasion " to suspecte that you have decyved boeth the kynge and *' universitie, to enryche yourselves. For before that you " dyd begynne to be the disposers of the kynges lyberalitye *' towards learnynge and poverty, ther was in houses beu longynge unto the universitye of Cambryge two hundred *' students of dyvynytye, many verye well learned: whyche " be nowe all clene gone, house and name; younge towarde " 6cholers, and old fatherlye doctors, not one of them « lefte. One hundred also of an other sorte, that havynge " rich frendes or beying benefyced men dyd ly ve of theymu selves in otfels and innes, be eyther gon awaye, or elles "fayne to crepe into colleges, and put poore men from " bare lyvynges. Those bothe be all gone, and a small u number of poore godly dylygent students now remaynynge M only in colleges be not able to tary, and contynue " their studye in the universitye, for lacke of exhibition u and healpe. There be dy verse ther which ryse dayly " betwixt foure and fyve of the clocke in the mornynge;

• Fox's Martyrs, vol. tii.' p. 347.

+ Paul's cross was a pulpit, in the form of a cross, which stood neatly in the middle of St. Paul's church-yard, where the first reformers used frequently to preach onto the people.

w and from fyve untill syxe of the clocke, use common u prayer, wyth an exhortation of God's worde, in a common u chappell; and from sixe unto ten of the clocke, use ever " eyther private study or common lectures. At tenne of 0 the clocke they go to dynner, where as they be contente " wyth a penye pyece of biefe amongest foure, havynge " a fewe porage made of the brothe of the same byere, " wythe salte and otemel, and nothynge els.

" After thys slender dinner, they be either teachinge or " learnynge untyll fyve of the clocke in the evening, u whenas they have a supper not much better than theyr u diner, lmmedyatelye after the wyche, they go eyther to u reasonynge in problemes or unto some other studye, untyl "it be nync or tenne of the clocke; and there beynge u wythout fyre, are fayne to walke or runne up and downe u halfe an houre, to gette a heate on their feete, when they " go to bed."«

Notwithstanding tire heavy pressures under which the uajversity, and particularly St. John's college, groaned, of which Mr. Lever complains in his sermons, occasioned by the hungry courtiers invading the ecclesiastical preferments; yet his college greatly flourished, as well in religion as in sound learning. The reformation in no place gained more ground, or was maintained with greater zeal, than in this college, and under the worthy example and just government of this master. This was manifest in the day of trial; when he, with twenty-four of his fellows, quitted their places and preferments, to preserve their own consciences.+

Mr. Lever was a zealous advocate for the reformation, as well as genuine piety. He held a correspondence with his numerous friends; and among his letters, the following, which contains information not unworthy of notice, is given as a specimen of his sentiments and address. It is addressed to the learned Roger Ascham; and though there is no year mentioned, it appears from the contents to have been written November 13,- 1551, and about the time when he was preferred to the mastership of his college.^

" To Roger Ascham.

" My salutation in Christ. I have received your letters " written unto me. As concerning a privilege to be pro*' cured for you, so that the reading of Greek in Cambridge (' might be free from Celibatus, and such acts as the fellows

• Baker's MS. Collec. vol. i. p. 147} 148. t Ibid. p. 149, ISO.

t Ibid. vol. xxxli. p. 496,-497.

" of the house be bound unto. I have also shewed Mr.

" Cheek your request, and have as yet no answer from him. " Your letters of news written to all the fellows of St. " John's, are as yet reserved there, and come not as yet

" Duke of Somerset and his wife, the Earl of Arundel, the " Earl Paget, Lord Gray and others, that be lately put * into the Tower, other men that know more than I do " may write unto you better than I can. The bishoprics of " Lincoln, Rochester and Chichester, be as yet void, and " appointed as yet certainly to no man for as much as I know. " Mr. Home is dean of Durham, Dr. Redman is deceased, " and Dr. Bill by the king is appointed master of Trinity u college, Cambridge, and I. to succeed him in the master

" did look certainly for death, and did ever talk of religion M as one who had clean forsaken the world, and look and " desire to be with God. I will shew you part of such talk " as Mr. Young of Cambridge did hear of Dr. Redman " himself, and did shew unto me afterwards. First, Dr. " Redman being desired to answer to questions of religion " his judgment, did say, that he would answer betwixt God " and his conscience, without any worldly respect. Then u being demanded what he thought of the see of Rome, he " said, it was the sink of iniquity: but do not you also think " that we have a s} inking pump in the church of England? w To the demand of purgatoryt\xe said, there was no such pur" gatory as the schoolmen do imagine; but when Christ shall " come surrounded with Are from heaven, then all meeting " him shall there be purged, as 1 think, said he, and as " many authors do take it. And to make the mass 9 " sacrifice for the dead, is to be plain against Christ. And " to the proposition, faith only juslifiein, he answered, that " was a comfortable and sweet doctrine, being rightly under" stood of a true and lively faith, and that no works could " deserve salvation; no, not the works of grace in a man " that is justified. When he was asked what he thought of " transubstantiation, he said, he had studied that matter u these twelve years, and did find that Tertullian, Irenaeus " and Origen, did plainly write contrary to it, and in the other " ancient writers it was not taught nor maintained. There-' " fore, in the schoolmen, he thought he should have found " plain and sufficient matter for it; but in them there was " no good ground, but all was imaginations and gross errors. " Concerning the presence, he said, that Christ was in the

in a consumption

** sacrament really and corporally, as Mr. Young told me; " and yet being asked whether that was Christ's body which " we see the priest lift up, he said that Christ's body " could neither be lifted up, nor down; and carrying it " about to be honoured, he said, was an evil abuse. Also, " he said, that evil men do not receive Christ's body, but " the sacrament thereof. He advised Mr. Young to study f* the scriptures, and to beware of men. He said also that " the book which my lord of Canterbury last set forth " of this matter, is a wonderful book, and willed Mr. u Young to read it with diligence. Mr. Young said to me, " that whereas be was aforetime as ready and willing to " have died for the transubstantiation of the sacrament, as " for Christ's incarnation; he is now purposed to take M deliberation, and to study after a more indifferent sort, to " ground his judgment better than upon a common consent " of many that have borne the name of Christ. I trust that " not only Mr. Young, but many others are drawn from " their obstinacy unto more indiflerency, by Dr. Redman's " communication.

M If I be master of St. John's college, I shall be desirous " to have you at home, and not unwilling that you should " have and enjoy any privilege that may encourage you to " a better knowledge of the Greek tongue.* Since I wrote " last, there be dead of your acquaintance Dr. Neveyear, " Dr. Redman, and Dr. Bell the physician. All other your " friends and acquaintance are in good health. When you " talk with God in meditation and prayer remember me. " Consider; be vigilant; pray, pray, pray. Scribbled at M London, I3 November.

" Faithfully yours,

" Thomas Levee."

On the death of King Edward, and the return of popery and persecution, Mr. Lever withdrew from the storm, fled beyond sea, and was involved in the troubles at Frankfort. It does not, however, appear that he took any active part in

* Roger Ascham, to whom this epistle was addressed, was one of the brightest geniuses and politest scholars of bis age. He was public orator of the university of Cambridge, and Latin secretary to Edward VI., Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, the last of whom he taught to write a fine hand, and instructed in the Greek and Latin languages, of which he was a consummate master. His letters are valuable both for style and matter, and are almost the only classical work of the kind written by an Englishman ; yet with all his learning and refinement, he was extravagantly fond of archery, dicing and cockfighting.—Wood') Athena: 0X9%. vol. i. p. 695. Granger's Slug. Hist. vol. i. p. 276.

those disgraceful broils, but was invited thither to be one of the pastors of the church, and a judicious mediator between the contending parties. Herein his worthy service utterly failed. He also visited the learned protestants at Strasburgh, Basil, Zurich, Berne, Lausanne, and Geneva; among whom he discovered great learning, sound doctrine, and godly discipline, especially in Bullinger and Calvin; as he wrote to his intimate friend Mr. John Bradford, then in confinement previous to his martyrdom.* While Mr. Lever was in a state of exile, he lived chiefly at Arrau in Switzerland, where he was chosen pastor to the English church. The members of this church, under his pastoral care, are said to have lived together in godly quietness among themselves, and in great favour with the people among whom they were planted. Upon the arrival of news of the queen's death, and a prospect of better days in his own country, he united with his brethren at Arran, in addressing a most affectionate letter of congratulation to their brethren in exile at Geneva. + .

On the accession of Queen Elizabeth, Mr. Lever returned home, but not to the mastership of his college, having brought with him, it is said, " that unhappy tincture which disqualified him for his preferment."! This was his nonconformity. Having acted upon the genuine protestant principles, in matters of ceremony and discipline, while in a foreign land, he wished to act upon them now he was returned to his native country, and was desirous that the reformation might be carried on towards perfection.

He was a celebrated preacher at court, and was often called to preach before the queen. He had so much, influence over her majesty, that he dissuaded her from assuming the title of Supreme Head; for which, though he did it with great temper, he was severely censured by persons of another spirit.^ It was this which gave the first and great offence to the ruling courtiers. Though they had heard him with great attention in the days of King Edward, they would not amend their lives under Queen Elizabeth, nor would many of them attend upon his ministry. He entered upon the married state soon after his return from exile, and sooner than he could do it with safety. His marriage, as well as his puritanical principles, appears to

• Troubles at Frankeford, p. 30.—Strvpe'i Annate, vol. i. p. 131,

+ Troubles at Frankeford, p. 159, 164'.

± Baker's MS. Collec. vol i. p. 150. ' ...

5 Strvpe'i Annals, vol. i. p. 132.

have been some hinderance to his return to the mastership of his college.*

In the year 1561, according to Mr. Strype, he was preferred to a prebend in the church of Durham, and to the mastership of Sherborn hospital, near Durham ; the former of which, he says, in one place, he supposes Mr. Lever was deprived of for nonconformity, and in another, that he resigned it in the year 1571.t In addition to this information, he tells us that upon Mr. Lever's return from exile, he obtained no other preferment besides that of the mastership of the above hospital, which he kept to his death: yet he mentions him as Archdeacon of Coventry, and in this capacity, sat in the convocation of 1562, and subscribed the Articles of Religion.} It is extremely difficult, not to say impossible, to reconcile these accounts of the learned and voluminous historian. By another writer, he is said to have been collated to the mastership of the above hospital, January 28, 1562; and, the year following, to his prebend in the church of Durham; both of which, ne supposes Mr. Lever held by connivance from Bishop Pilkington, who had formerly been one of the fellows in the university

Archbishop Parker having pressed conformity to the habits and ceremonies, sequestered and deprived many learned and faithful ministers. This was a great affliction to the Lord's servants. They were exceedingly tempted and tried. The sorrow of most ministers was, indeed, very great; and they murmured, saying, " We are killed in our souls, by this pollution of the bishops. We cannot perform our ministry in the singleness of our hearts. We abide in extreme misery, our wives, and our children, by the proceedings of the bishops, who oppose us, and place ignorant ministers in our places. "|| Mr. Lever, therefore, addressed an excellent letter to the Earl of Leicester and Sir William Cecil, dated February 24, 1565, in which he exposes the extreme hardships under which the puritans laboured, by the imposition of the habits and ceremonies; and earnestly solicits them to use their utmost endeavours to procure some favour for his silenced brethren, who had been lawfully admitted into the ministry, and had always

• Baker's MS. Collee'. vol. i. p. 152. + gtrvpe's Annals, vol. i. p. 133.—Parker, p. 325. Strype'» Annals, vol. i. p. 390. vol. ii. Appen. p, 15. Baker's MS. Collec. vol. i. p. ISO. | Ibid. vol. ixvii. p. 388, 389.:- '


faithfully preached the gospel. In this letter, he expressed himself as follows:*

" Wherefore in the universities and elsewhere," says he, u no standing but sinking doth appear; when, as the office and living ot a minister shall be taken from him, who, once lawfully admitted, hath ever since diligently preached, because he now refuseth prescription of men in apparel; and the name, living, and office of a minister of God's word, allowed to him who neither can nor will preach, except as a mere form.—Now there is notable papistry in England and Scotland proved and proclaimed by the preaching of the gospel, to be idolatry and treason, and bow much idolatry and treason is yet nourished in the hearts of many, God knoweth; and how the old stumbling-blocks are set up in many things and many places, especially the crucifix in England, and the mass in Scotland, before the faces of the highest, is daily seen by idolaters and traitors with rejoicing and hope; and by christian and obedient subjects with sorrow of heart and fear of the state.

" If, in the ministry and ministers of God's word, the sharpness of salt by doctrine to mortify affections, be rejected, and ceremonial service, with flattery to feed affections, be retained, then doth Christ threaten such treading under foot, as no power nor policy can withstand.

" Now, therefore, my prayer unto God, and writing to your honours, is, that authority in England, and especially you may for sincere religion refuse worldly pleasure and gains. You ought not to allow any such corruptions among protestants, being God's servants, as to make papists to rejoice and hope for a day, being God's enemies: but rather cause such abolishing of inward papistry, and outward monuments of the same, as should cause idolatrous traitors to grieve, and faithful subjects to be glad: such casting forth of the unsavoury ministry and ministers, as might make only such as have the savouryness of doctrine and edification to be allowed to that office, seeing such ministry only may preserve princes, and priests, and people from casting and treading under foot: and so not deceiving and leaving the godly in distress, to perish with the ungodly; but ever travelling to deliver, defend and help the godly, till by God's providence and promise they be delivered and preserved from all danger, and in continuance and increase of

• Baker's MS. Collec. vol. xxi. p. 559—661.—Strype's Parker, Appen.77.

godly honour; which God for his mercy in Christ grant unto the queen's majesty, unto you and all other of her" honourable council, amen. By yours at commandment, faithfully in Christ,

Mr. Lever was a person greatly beloved, especially by persons of learning and real worth; but the above letter was most probably without its desired effect. He was a most

was a decided nonconformist, he obtained a connivance for some time. In the year 1566, when many excellent minsters were silenced for refusing the habits and ceremonies, he is said to have been still allowed to preach but the year following, he was deprived of his prebend in the church of Durham. +

There were at this period numerous puritans confined in the various prisons about London, for refusing conformity to the established church; when Mr. Lever wrote a letter, dated December 5, 1568, to those who were confined in Bridewell. In this excellent letter, he first endeavours to comfort the prisoners under their manifold afflictions; then declares that though the popish garments were not in themselves unclean, he was resolved, by the grace of God, never to wear the square cap and surplice; " because," says he, " they tend neither to decency nor edification, but to offence, dissention, and division in the church of Christ." He would, therefore, use his utmost endeavours to get them abolished; and adds, " that he would not kneel at the communion, because it would be symbolizing with popery, and would look too much like the adoration of the host."$ Though he was a fixed nonconformist, he was a man of a peaceable spirit, and of great moderation, and constantly opposed to a total separation from the church.

These excellent qualifications could not screen him from the persecutions of the times: for he was not only deprived of his prebend, as observed above, but, in June 1571, he was convened before Archbishop Parker and others of the high commission at Lambeth. What prosecution he underwent on this occasion, we are unable fully to ascertain, only our historian by mistake observes, that he resigned, or was deprived of, his, prebend.,

" Thomas Lever."


• Strype's Parker, p. 883. ♦ Baker's MS. Collec. vol. i. p. 161.

} MS. Register, p. 18,19.

\ Strype's Parker, p. 325.—Grindal, p. 170.

Mr. Lever was a person of great usefulness. He spent great pains in promoting the welfare of his hospital, not only by preaching and other religious exercises, but by recovering its temporal privileges. On account of the corrupt management of its estates, which were rented by several persons one of another, its pecuniary income was very much reduced, and even almost lost: but by his zealous and vigorous efforts, it was effectually recovered. His endeavours in this business reflect much honour on his character.* In this situation be spent the latter part of life in great reputation and usefulness, and died in the month of July, 1577. His remains were interred in the chapel belonging to the hospital, and over his grave was the following plain monumental inscription erected to his memory:t

Thomas Lever,
- preacher to King Edward Vi.
He died in July,

A few weeks previous to his death, Mr. Lever received a letter from the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, dated June 18, 1577, requiring him, in her majesty's name, to put down the prophesyings within his archdeaconry.} Had he lived a little longer, he would in all probability have felt the severities of persecution from the new Bishop of Durham, as was the case with his brother Whittingham; but God took him away from the evil to come. Fuller says, that whatever preferment in the church he pleased, Courted his acceptance ; but is greatly mistaken concerning the time and place of his death. ^ Mr. Strype denominates him a man of distinguished eminence for piety, learning, and preaching the gospel.|| Mr. Gilpin says, he was a man of excellent parts, considerable learning, and very exemplary piety ; that, in the days of King Edward, he was esteemed an excellent and bold preacher; and that he was the intimate friend of the celebrated Bernard Gilpin.i Mr. Baker has favoured us with the following account of him: " Preaching," says this writer, " was mdeed his talent, which, as it was thought fit to be made the only ingredient in his character, so he continued in it to the last, even after

• Strype's Annals, vol. li. p. 513,514.

+ Ibid.—Baker's MS. Collec. vol. i. p. 151.

$ MS. Register, p. 284. - ^ J Fuller's Worthies, part U. p. 284. K Strype's Parker, p. 211.

J Giipin's Life of Bernard Gilpin, p: 249. Edit 1780.

he was deprived. Thus much may be gathered from the printed Register, that will give a very authentic character of the man. From the passage, it appears, that he was a useful preacher, and permitted to preach after his deprivation ; that he was inoffensive in his temper; and that-no sufferings could provoke him. In the days of King Edward, when others were striving for preferment, no man was more vehement, or more galling in his sermons, against the waste of church revenues, and other prevailing corruptions of the court; which occasioned Bishop Ridley to rank him with Latimer and Knox. He was a man of as much natural probity and blunt native honesty as his college ever bred : a man without guile and artifice; who never made suit to any patron, or for any preferment; one that had the spirit of Hugh Latimer. No one can read his sermons without imagining he has something before him of Latimer or Luther. Though his sermons are bold and daring, and full of rebuke, it was his preaching that got him his preferment. His rebuking the courtiers made them afraid of him, and procured him reverence from the king. He was one of the best masters of his college, as well as one of the best of men the college ever bred."* He was succeeded in the mastership of his hospital by his brother, Mr. Ralph Lever, another

Imritan divine. Mr. Henry Lever, his grandson, and Mr. tobert Lever, his great-grandson, were both ejected by the act of uniformity in 1662. t

His Works.—1. Sermon on Rom. xiii. 1—7., 1550.—2. A Sermon preached the thyrd Sondaye in Lente before the Kynges Majestic, on John vi. 5—14., 1550 —3. A Sermon preached at Paul's Cross, the 14th day of December, on 1 Cor. iv. 1., 1550.—4. The right Way from the Danger of Sin and Vengeance in this wicked World, unto godly Wealth and Salvation in Christ, 1575.—5. A Commentary on the Lord's Pray er.—6. The Path-way to Christ.

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