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JOHN HOWE, A. M. VERY few men have been more justly esteemed, and more respectfully spoken of, by persons of all persuasions in religion, than the learned, amiable, faithful, and evangelic pastor, Mr. John Howe.
We shall take the summary of his life, for the most part, as it has been already extracted by the laborious compiler of the memoirs of nonconformist ministers, Mr. S. Palmer, though, at the same time, we would refer those, who wish for a more enlarged account, to the original memoir which Dr. Edmund Calamy, jun. has laid before the world. We regret, that our compass will not allow us to say more, where so much might be said, for the pious reader's delight and advantage.
Mr. Howe was born on the 17th of May 1630, at Loughborough, in Leicestershire, where his father was settled by Archbishop Laud, but afterwards turned out by him for not giving into that nice and punctilious conformity, upon which that warm and ill-judging prelate laid an unaccountable stress, and driven into Ireland; whither he took his son, then very young, and where their lives were remarkably preserved during the execrable rebellion and massacre. In the time of the war the father returned and settled in Lancashire, where his son had his grammar learning. He was sent early to Christ Church College in Cambridge, where his great attainments in learning, joined with his exemplary piety, so recommended him, that he was elected fellow of Magdalen College in Oxford, after he had been made demy by the parliament-visitors. At this time Dr. Thomas Goodwin was president of that college, and had gathered a church among the scholars; of which Mr. Howe had for some time hesitated to become a member, owing to some peculiarities among them, for which (says Dr. Calamy) he had no fondness; but at length, being admitted upon catholic terms, he complied with Dr. Goodwin's request, and joined himself to this religious society. So early was he averse to all bigotry! He was ordained at Winwick in Lancashire, by Mr. C. Herle, the pastor of that church, and the ministers who officiatcd in
the several chapels in this parish ; on which account he would sometimes say, that he thought few in modern times had so truly primitive an ordination, as he considered Mr. Herle as a primitive Bislop. By an unexpected providence he was called to Torrington in Devon; where, though young, he abundantly fulfilled his ministry, which was blessed with great success. He had a numerous auditory and a flourishing church, to which many of the inhabitants joined themselves who belonged to an independent church at Biddeford, having had a dismission from thence. The manner in which he was used to carry on the service here, on fast days (which then were very frequent) was very extraordinary. He began at nine with a prayer of a quarter of an hour-read and expounded Scripture for about three quarters-prayed an hour-preached another-then prayed half an hour. The people then sung about a quarter of an hour, during which he retired and took a little refreshment. He then came into the pulpit again, prayed an hour more-preached another hour-and then with a prayer of half an hour concluded the service. And ' a sort of service (says Dr. Calamy very truly) that few could have gone through without inexpressible weariness both to themselves and their auditories !'—He was upon good terms with the neighbouring ministers, particularly Mr. G. Hughes of Plymouth, whose daughter he married. With him he carried on a weekly correspondence in Latin letters. The following circumstance in one of them is remarkable : Mr. Howe's house being on fire, was extinguished by a seasonable shower. On that very day he received a letter from his father Hughes, which concluded with this prayer: . Sit Ros cæli super habitaculum vestrum; i.e. Let the dew of heaven be upon your dwelling.' Mr. Howe became chaplain to Cromwell, by the protector's own over-bearing importunity, which never endured a refusal.
He entered upon this office with great reluctance, and never abused the influence it gave him to injure others or to enrich himself; but used it to serve the interest of religion and learning among persons of very different sentiments. His conduct in respect to Dr. Seth Ward, afterwards successively Bishop of Exeter and Sarum, deserves particular notice.
The Doctor applied, by means of Mr. Howe, for the principalship of Jesus College in 1657; but it had been promised to another. However, Mr. Howe so strongly recommended him to the Protector, that he gave him an annual allowance equivalent to it; and the Doctor retainer! a grateful sense of the favour, when, upon the change of times, he became a greater man. Mr. Howe always appeared so disinterested, that the protector once said to him, “You have obtained many favours for others, I wonder when the time is to come that you will move for something for yourself and family. This principle made him faithful in the discharge of his duty. The following is a remarkable instance of it: The notion of a particular faith in prayer, with respect to the obtaining of particular blessings, had prevailed much at Cromwell's court; and Mr. Howe once heard a sermon there from a person of note designed to defend it. Being fully convinced of the ill tendency of such an opinion, he thought himself bound in conscience, when it came to his turn to preach, to oppose it ; which accordingly he did with great plainness. Cromwell heard with great attention, but sometimes frowned and discovered great uneasiness, insomuch that a person who was present told Mr. Howe, it would be difficult ever to make his peace with him again. Mr. Howe replied, “ I have discharged my conscience, and leave the event with God." Nothing, however, passed between them on the subject, though Cromwell seemed cooler towards him than before. After Richard Cromwell was set aside, Mr. Howe returned to his people at Torrington. At the restoration he met with some trouble, being informed against as delivering something treasonable in the pulpit, but was very honourably acquitted. When the act of uniformity took place, he quitted his public station in the church, and became a silenced nonconformist, after having preached two affecting sermons to his people on Bartholomew-Day, in which he gave them some reasons why he could not comply with the act. Doctor (afterwards Bishop) Wilkins, (with whom he had maintained a long intimacy) on seeing him soon after this, expressed his surprize that a man of Mr. Howe's latitude should have stood out. He told him, that he would gladly have been under the establishment, if he could have compassed it with satisfaction to his conscience; but that, having weighed the matter with all possible impartiality, he could not do it; and that his latitude was the very thing that made him a nonconformist. But his principal reason was, the little vital religion that appeared in the establishment, which, he thought, would eventually sap its foundations. Some rulers in the church at that time (to use a simile of the excellent Bishop Wilkins upon the occasion) were for setting the top on the picked end downwards, and so could not keep it up;