Search This Blog

Sunday, May 27, 2012

London Plagued (3 of 6 or 7)

Among the few shops that we might still have found open were bookshops and stationers, not because people were interested in literature but because some of these shops had taken on the trade of selling the quack medicines and remedies that had been offered to the public in ever-increasing numbers. On May 18th, 1665, Roger L'Estrange, the Censor of the Press who was also Editor of the weekly Newes had carried an advert in his paper announcing 'An excellent preservative against the Plague Pestilence' to be obtained, price two shillings and sixpence, from R. T. Rooks at the Lamb and Ink bottle in St. Paul's Churchyard. In the weeks that followed the adverts multiplied, some more expensive, like Avrum Velans offered at £5 per ounce, and, it was also said, more certain to cure. The Editor himself was not convinced; the daily sight and smell of the churchyard beneath his windows at last broke his nerve and he fled to Canterbury. If L'Estrange thought that his duties as Censor of the Press were no longer necessary in London we know of at least one proof that he was mistaken. That same 24th day of August, Matthew Mead was nearing the conclusion of a lengthy remedy against the Plague of a very different nature to L'Estrange's advertisements - Solomon's Prescription for the Removal of the Pestilence, being an exposition of 1 Kings 8. 37, 39, with a solemn text on the tide page, 'Thus they provoked him to anger with their inventions, and the plague brake in upon them' Psa. 106 : 29. The publication was, of course, illegal and simply bore the initials 'M.M.' and in place of the publisher's name, 'London, printed in the Year MDCLXVL.'

Mead's book contained a moving appeal to the bishops to allow the 2,000 ministers, ejected or silenced by the Act of Uniformity of 1662, liberty to resume their preaching :

'Oh, why will you restrain them from speaking .... when the faces of so many thousands gather blackness and they starve and swoon and fall in the streets; why do you bind the hands of those who would so fain reach them forth the bread of life ... Oh, how confident should I be of obtaining that liberty I am begging of you was Christ Himself alive amongst us, or any of his Apostles, our governors. Had I the happiness to have lived in St. Paul's days and addressed myself to him with all humility and earnestness, imploring a leave to preach the Gospel, professing I had no carnal aim in it, but that my soul longed to be disclosing those mysteries and treasures of Love to poor senseless creatures, that were passing on to damnation, as not knowing, or considering what Christ had done to keep them thence, and that I would endeavour faithfully to declare the whole counsel of the Lord, without adding to, or diminishing ought from it; had I made such an address, do you think in your own consciences. He would have turned me away without any errand?'

It was God Himself, continued Mead, in his appeal to the bishops. who was now calling by His judgments, 'Let my faithful ministers have liberty to advance my Gospel', and to God he prayed, 'that this Supplication, which I am writing August 24, may through His good Providence, and the favour of Authority, do something to the reversing of the Act, whose being in force, took date from This day (three years since). This fatal Day that deserves to be wrote in Black Letters in England's Calendar.'

But having thus pleaded for a reversal of the decision of 1662, Mead finally reminded his Puritan brethren that their course of duty in the present crisis was not to be determined simply by the granting or withholding of the permission of the authorities. They lay, he declared, under a necessity to preach the Gospel and under a 'Woe' should they be negligent:

'You may reply, You have not leave given you, nor yet any maintainance allowed. But pray you, Who gave the Apostles and Primitive Christians leave for three hundred years after Christ and who maintained them? Where was such a clause inserted in your commission. Always provided that the Rulers of the World give you leave to perform your duties? If our ancestors had gone by this rule where had the Gospel been? .... If I have been solemnly consecrated to this work no command of the highest Emperor in the world can disoblige me from it: God must be honoured, the Gospel proclaimed, souls saved, my vows performed, storm and rage, forbid and hinder it, who will or can. Yea, though I die for it, I must tell those within my reach, who gave us our being, and keeps us alive, and to what end; who shed His blood for us, and why; and what we must do to be made partakers of the benefits He hath purchased: I must tell them of the evil and danger of sin, whither it leads, and what an Heaven holiness will end in. These are matters that the world must know, though a thousand deaths attend upon the publishers: And I would no longer care for a tongue or hand, than whilst I might speak or write of them.'

Yet despite such entreaties as Mead's, despite the many empty pulpits and deserted parishes, and despite the multitudes thronging daily into eternity, the bishops made no move to lift the persecution of the ejected ministers. Among the many examples which history affords of criminal episcopal inaction this record stands as one of the worst! Wonderful! that in the very time while the Plague was devouring,' wrote Richard Baxter to these 'Right Reverend Lords', 'and souls crowding out of time into eternity, and each man a terror to another, and about a hundred thousand dead in one City, you should be a terror to your surviving brethren, and study how to stop the mouths ofthose that would but help to prepare souls for so great a change! ... Yet nothing moveth you to see so great and grievous sins as the silencing of so many hundred ministers, and the starving of so many hundred thousand souls that never deserved evil at your hands! I must profess, if it were the last word that I should speak in the world, that I had rather be the basest scavinger, yea, and suffer many deaths, than be found at the Judgment-seat of Christ, in the place, and under the guilt of those of you who have done what is done against the Gospel and Church of Christ among us in this Land.

All original spelling used. More soon.

Sam Drucker


1. An Apology for the Nonconformists' Ministry, 1681, pp. 234-5

No comments: