ART. VI.—1. Ancient Christianity, and the Doctrines of the Oxford Tracts. By the Author of "Spiritual Despotism." Part I. London. Jackson & Walford. 1839.
2. Brief Memoirs of Nicolas Ferrar, M.A., Founder of a Protestant Religious Establishment; chiefly collected from a Narrative by the Right Rev. Dr. Turner, formerly Lord Bishop of Ely, and now edited with Additions. By the Rev. T. A. Macdonogh, Vicar of Bovingdon. Second Edition. London: Nisbet. 1837.

[?] "In Opuscula at B.O., N has note: 'only partly JHN.' N's list at the B.O. gives 'possibly R.F. Wilson, co-author.'"—Blehl.

[British Critic, vol. 26, October 1839.]

{440} WE do not intend here to make any formal examination of Mr. Taylor's work, though the first part of it figures in the heading of the article. It is not yet finished; and we are not sure where it will end, and what turns and windings it will pursue meanwhile. We see many marks of inconsistency in him already, as might be expected in one who is rather writing against something which he dislikes than possessed of any particular liking for any thing very definite instead of it. His second fasciculus has in some points contradicted his first; and his first contradicts itself. He may be considered then at present under a course of self-refutation; and perhaps like some wonderful performers in a less dignified line, he may finish his exhibition by eating up himself, and save us the trouble of undertaking him. At first we had proposed to leave him for the present to his own tender mercies, and wished him no worse enemy than himself. We consider we understand his position in the controversy perfectly well; he has come to the light of day in his own time, as leaves in the spring; and in his own time he will become sear, crumple up and drift, as other treat theologians, who for a while have been in request during the pending controversy. We had intended then to reserve him; but being not quite sure he will keep, we shall say just a very little now upon his first part, and that because it was our intention otherwise to notice a composition, the subject of which is closely connected with what he has selected for his special animadversion in the writings of the Fathers.

The life of Nicolas Ferrar attracts us, by all the eloquence of facts, to certain saintly principles and practices, from which Mr. Taylor would fain frighten us, by all the eloquence of words. The latter gentleman indeed is an alarmist of the first water; nor does he diminish his claims to be considered so, because he writes in a professedly candid tone, and with sufficient freedom from the alarm he seeks to inspire to be able to cultivate the graces of style. He does, undoubtedly, evidence considerable talent all through his work; what, indeed, but a consciousness of power, and a desire, like Milo, of showing it, could have induced him {441} to undertake any thing so difficult as the particular thesis in which he has indulged in his first number? Any candid person, on hearing what it is, will feel at once that victory, under such circumstances, is not necessary to make a great general. On such a field of battle it is a great thing to have fought; it is a great thing to have retreated safely. It is a feather in the cap even to have hit upon such a position, that is, in the case of a Protestant; for we believe it is not new ground to Romanists. This ground is no other than this, that Christianity, as exhibited in the Church of Rome during what are sometimes called the dark ages and downwards, is, in what the writer considers its essential characters, an improvement upon the Christianity of the Primitive Church; not meaning thereby the Church of the fifth or sixth centuries, but of the age of Ignatius and Cyprian. We have no wish to be thought to misrepresent, which certainly will be our lot, if we do not forthwith back up this statement with some quotations from the author; which shall now be done.

"What, then, I am peculiarly desirous to place in a conspicuous position, is the fact that, instead of a regular and slow development of error, there was a very early expansion of false and pernicious notions, in their mature proportions, and these attended by some of their worst fruits. This, then, is the very point and hinge of our argument; and in making good the weighty allegation, I shall use not only all requisite diligence of research, but, as I trust, a strict and conscientious impartiality. It may be, indeed, that later writers express themselves in more fulsome terms, or in worse taste than the earlier, and it may be that the popes and saints of the middle ages exhibit less acquaintance with the classic models of style than was the boast of the well-taught doctors of the third and fourth centuries; but in the substance of their religious system, and in extent of moral obliquity, they do not, I venture to say, a whit surpass them."—p. 66.

"This, then, is the gist of our present argument—that there is absolutely nothing in the ripe popery of the times of Saint Dominic, (certain elaborate modes of proceeding excepted,) which is not to be found in the Christianity of the times of Cyprian or of Tertullian."—p. 71.

"There is no degradation of the intellect, no bondage of the moral sentiments, no fatal substitution of forms for realities; there is no ineffable drivelling belonging to the middle age monkery, that may not be matched, to the full, in the monkery of the bright times of Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Augustine."—p. 99.

"I would be bold to express my belief that, if we exclude certain crazed fanatics of our times, the least esteemed community of orthodox Christians among us, whichever that may be, if taken in the mass, and fairly measured against the Church Catholic of the first two centuries, would outweigh it decisively in each of these qualities; I mean, in Christian wisdom, in common discretion, in purity of manners, and in purity of creed. Nay, I am strongly tempted to think that, if our Oxford divines {442} themselves ... could but be blindfolded ... and were fairly set down in the midst of the pristine Church at Carthage, or at Alexandria, at Rome, or at Antioch, they would be fain to make their escape with all possible celerity towards their own times and country."—p. 117.

Such is the wonderful language of a Protestant writer, not a Romanist, not a Unitarian. Let us hear him once more.

"I firmly believe that it were, on the whole, better for a community to submit itself, without conditions, to the well known tridentine popery, than to take up the Christianity of Ambrose, Basil, Gregory Nyssen, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine. Personally I would rather be a Christian after the fashion of Pascal and Arnold, than after that of Cyprian or Macarius; but how much rather after that of our own Protestant worthies."—p. 126.

The last clause, which we have put in italics, we consider to have been an after-thought, and doubtless in the MS. was inter- lined. Bating the salvo it contains, the idea of the whole passage seems better expressed in the following statement of one of the Tridentine Fathers themselves. "To speak candidly," says he, in a well known passage, "I had rather trust one pope in matters touching the mysteries of faith, than a thousand Augustines, Jeromes, or Gregories."

We shall not do full justice to the qualities of mind, which the foregoing extracts evidence in the author under review, if we do not advert to another and somewhat different exhibition of them, which he makes in the course of a dedication and some prefatory remarks. He there intimates as clearly as modesty will permit, his own special fitness for the task he has undertaken. He enlarges upon its difficulties, observing not only that no one has hitherto successfully opposed certain "formidable, accomplished, and flushed antagonists," but that no one is likely to be able to do so, present company of course being always excepted. He is evidently a man of extensive reading, of enlarged and liberal notions, fettered by no prejudices, intimately acquainted with the bearings of the question, and taking a deep philosophical view of the course and issue of the present controversy. It is impossible to doubt it; and, in consequence, he does not shrink from attempting what others have failed in. It might indeed be pardoned, if, in embarking in such a perilous controversy, he desired to engage on his side all the aid he could, or at any rate to sink minor differences and propitiate the sympathies of others to judge favourably of his own essay. By no means. He disdains any such pusillanimous compromise. He will do it all by himself; nor only so, but he fairly acquaints others, of whatever religious party, what poor creatures they are, and how incompetent {443} in such matters. The staunch Church of England-men, who admire the Fathers of the English Reformation, for going as far as they did, and no further, cannot, he considers, stand their ground, inasmuch as they ought in consistency to go "the whole hog" with the Oxford writers in their veneration for the Primitive Church. Much less can another division of the old high Church party, whom he at once dismisses as mere Erastian establishment men. Neither are the so-called Evangelicals in better case, of whom indeed he speaks with a kind of sly compassion. Indeed he warns them against entering into close controversy concerning externals in church authority, lest they be driven back unawares upon " the dead levels of political expediency, or the swamps of dissent;" it being only a happy delusion, which blinds them to the fact, that they hold opinions foreign to their principles and discipline of their church. Lastly, the Dissenters are in his judgment quite hors de combat, as being far too ignorant to enter upon it hopefully. What then is left for the world but the appearance of a Deus č machinā, or a Jack the Giant Killer?

That there may be no chance of his being interfered with in his great work, our author adds a word of advice to these respective parties, assuring them of their extraordinary shallowness, and of the absurd figure they will one and all present, should they venture within the lines of controversy. And thus having rid himself of rivals, he sets to work in earnest himself.

Now we suspect that Mr. Taylor has been far more careful to be rid of friends than to secure a foe, which is an indispensable requisite when a man is determined to fight. It is a question whether he is not even supporting the Oxford writers in one chief point in which he thinks he is overwhelming them. What he maintains, we conceive, is, that as the Church was after Constantine, such in substance it was from the first; that we cannot take a period in history so early, as not to find what are commonly considered the peculiarities of later times. Now this surely is just what writers of the Oxford school have distinctly asserted; the difference between them and him lying in this, not whether the early and later times have substantially agreed in doctrine, but whether that substance is good or bad; and again, whether, where earlier and later disagree, the later have or have not improved upon the earlier. Mr. Taylor considers these additions to be improvements; the Oxford writers consider them corruptions; but the substantial identity of the two systems, at least some of them, distinctly maintain. We refer chiefly to a writer in the British Magazine, undoubtedly of their way of thinking, who, in a series of papers on the Church of the Fathers, uses language which it is worth {444} while quoting: "If," he says, "the Church system be not apostolic, it must, some time or other, have been introduced; and then comes the question, when? We maintain, that the known circumstances of the previous history are such as to preclude the possibility of any time being assigned, ever so close upon the Apostles, at which it did not exist. Not only cannot a time be shown when the free-and-easy system now in fashion did generally exist, but no time can be shown in which there is not evidence of the existence of the Church system."—Brit. Mag. vol. x. p. 282. And what the writer includes in the Church system is quite plain a little further on. Speaking of Origen as persecuted in his day by his bishop, and condemned as heterodox afterwards, he says, "here is a man who was persecuted by his bishop, and driven out of his country; and whose name after his death has been dishonourably mentioned both by councils and fathers. He surely was not in the episcopal conspiracy at least; and perchance may give the Latitudinarian, the Anabaptist, the Erastian, and the Utilitarian some countenance. Far from it; he is as high and as keen, as removed from softness and mawkishness, as ascetic and as reverential, as any bishop among them. He is as superstitious, as men now talk, as fanatical, as formal, as Athanasius or Augustine." The more clearly then Mr. Taylor proves a substantial agreement in doctrine between the respective ages of Ignatius, Cyprian, Ambrose, Pope Gregory, Hildebrand, and Bernard, the better he seems likely to please such writers as this; and if he is eager for controversy with them, it is a pity he has not taken the other side. As it is, however, he comes into direct collision with Mr. Faber and other respected divines of a different school, who draw a line between the creeds of the second and fifth centuries; and doubtless he will have cause to repent his temerity.

We will notice in passing another mistake committed, by our author, if he wanted to reach the parties at whom he aims. In order to disparage the ancient system of doctrine and ordinance, he attempts to depreciate the character of certain ancient writers. Now, if there is one thing more than another on which his opponents have insisted it is this: that they did not rest their cause on individuals, however eminent, and had no need to do so; that Catholicism was an historical fact, like any other historical fact, not a creed such as the Lutheran or Calvinistic, originating in this or that teacher, or in any conspiracy of teachers. If our author wished really to engage with them, he ought to have joined issue on this point; and before writing against the Fathers, to have shown, what many others have asserted, but {445} which he is too sharp-sighted to undertake, that the Catholic system was a gradual corruption through the Fathers.

And now as to his attack on the Fathers itself. The point he has selected is the view entertained in the early Church respecting celibacy, as being in itself, when religiously used, a higher state of life than the married state; and this as regards Christians in general, not concerning the clergy in particular. The evil of this doctrine having been made apparent, next he would maintain, that from the very earliest times, indeed from the very age of the Apostles, "The notions and practices connected with the superlative merit of religious celibacy, were at once the causes and the effects of errors in theology, of perverted moral sentiments, of superstitious usages, of hierarchical usurpations:" and that the attendant abuses of this system were nearly or quite as flagrant in early as in later times. The line of argument which he pursues is this. He quotes passages in which the honour of celibacy is glowingly declared, and rules laid down for the guidance of persons devoted to it, in their conduct in the plain practical matters of dress, conversation, places of resort, and the like. He also quotes passages reprehensive, in very strong terms, of irregularities in these particulars in the case of parties so circumstanced. It would seem too, that in some cases the most serious guilt was incurred by these persons; and therefore, as the author of Ancient Christianity appears to argue, it was quite common among them. However, not to insist upon minor defects of reasoning, an argument is raised upon the foregoing foundation, in substance something like the following. The most ancient Christian writers are clear in their praise of celibacy above the married state—persons endeavouring to keep themselves in this estate fell, nevertheless, into grievous sins contrary to their profession; therefore those sins were caused by that opinion. Let us illustrate this reasoning. The commandment says,—Thou shalt not steal: many persons, under vow too, to keep that commandment, nevertheless break it, therefore the command is to be blamed as the cause of their sin. St. Paul puts the matter in a different point of view: "Is the law sin?" he says, "Was that which is good made death unto me?—God forbid." Yet he grants, "I had not known sin, but by the law." Or to take a case exactly apposite concerning another "counsel of perfection," not binding, but yet recommended by apostolic practice. St. Barnabas and others placed the whole of their private fortunes at the disposal of the Apostles. To emulate the honour of their self-denying charity, and to gain credit for what in their hearts they did not purpose, Ananias and Sapphira made a false pretence of so devoting their property. Therefore the {446} example of St. Barnabas and others was the cause of the great sin of their brethren.

Another equally felicitous mode of drawing conclusions, on which great stress is laid by Mr. Taylor, is the following. Passages are quoted, in which persons, resolved to abide in the celibate, are cautioned about love of dress, against entering gay society, and taking part in light conversations. From these it is inferred, what bad sort of people, how inclined to break loose, must they have been who needed to be seriously and earnestly warned on such points [Note 1]. For instance, what very ill disposed people the Ephesian Christians most have been, since St. Paul warns them as he does at the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth chapters; what bad bishops must have been in St. Paul's day, considering his twice repeated injunction, that a bishop should be not "given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre!" The Apostle is actually obliged to charge Timothy not to elect a drunkard, a brawler, or covetous person to the office; which he would never have done had he not observed instances of the kind among his brethren, or at any rate a strong inclination to them.

The truth is, there is an open undisguised plainness, a searching truth and severity, in the writings of the Fathers upon all points of morals, which does offend readers; and which requires some painful reflection and self-humiliation rightly to understand and apply. At first we may be inclined to think that we are more refined and pure than they were, afterwards we may come to see, that what crossed us as tokens of greater refinement and purity in our age, are in truth symptoms of the very opposite character of mind. Surely it might be well had we a Cyprian in our age to write a tract "de habitu virginum." Look into one of the modern novels which are praised for the just notion they give of fashionable society, its words and ways, and will it be affirmed that such words and ways are suitable for maidens to have part in? Or look into a modern ball room, and what candid person will say, that there is nothing in the dress of those who give it its brilliancy and life unbecoming Christian maidens, no desire of admiration in drawing the eyes of men, unbecoming in itself, more unbecoming still in the means employed? "It seems," says the excellent Hammond, "a piece of Christian chastity there is required of women in this kind, that is not generally thought of." And if this is so in general, how much more does it become a duty in those who purpose in their own minds to continue single, in the hope that they may in that state better serve God, and please him more? {447}

The author of Ancient Christianity, however, seems to think that persons can be chaste and pure without vigilance and effort; and that the primitive Christians evidently were impure, because they took precautions against impurity. Religious obedience can only be learnt by little things: practical precepts must descend to details; yet the writer in question can bear to be ironical and jocose upon the Fathers, because they used "plainness of speech," like men in earnest, and he thinks he better respects "every pure and manly feeling which shall belong to one who is himself a husband and a father," by talking in a light way both of criminality and of the measures employed for preventing and for punishing it. Unchaste women he calls "loose ladies;" a bishop's solemn trial of suspected parties, he calls "gaining warranty to religious character from the report of the obstetrix;" (p. 74.) Because Christian writers, imbued with the Scriptures, are led to inculcate purity by the example of St. Mary, he calls her "this Cybele of the Fathers," (p. 86), and describes one of them as "a most gallant admirer of the Queen of heaven;" (p. 85.) Even Gibbon, amid his sneers against the early Christians, at the lapses of some through vain confidence of their strength, allows the purity of their lives in general; but they meet with less indulgence from the hands of a professed brother. However, Mr. Taylor, as we have hinted above, is not always reconcilable with himself; and it may be as well to notice, before we turn from him, some of the inconsistencies into which his flowing pen has betrayed him. In spite of his bad opinion of the morals of the early Christians, he speaks of them in one place as follows:—

"Our brethren of the early Church may well challenge our respect as well as affection, for theirs was the fervour of a steady faith in things unseen and eternal; theirs a meek patience and humility, under the most grievous wrongs; theirs the courage to maintain a good profession before the frowning face of philosophy, of secular tyranny, and of splendid superstition; theirs was abstractedness from the world, and a painful self-denial; theirs the most arduous and costly labours of love; theirs a munificence in charity altogether without example; theirs was a reverent and scrupulous care for the sacred writings.   *   *   *   *   *   While the near coming of their Lord was firmly expected, and while nothing bad happened of which He had not given His people an intimation, then, and during that fresh morning hour of the Church, there belonged to the followers of Christ generally, a fulness of faith in the realities of the unseen world, such as, in later ages, has been reached only by a very few eminent and meditative individuals;—the thousands then felt a persuasion, which now is felt only by the two or three."

Now, who would believe that men who so lived up to the primitive truth, which they had received from Apostles and apostolic {448} men, should, nevertheless, have drifted off from that very truth without being themselves aware of it, and without any being raised up by God's providence to recall them from their error? That all at once there started up in all parts of the Church this full grown corruption, which he considers their notions to be on the subject of celibacy? Yet audi alteram partem.

"I boldly say, that Popery, foul as it is, and ever has been, in the mass, might yet fairly represent itself as a reform upon early Christianity."—p. 79.

But perhaps our author is here reprobating the primitive system, and would fairly allow the men were much better than their system, and good in spite of their evil opinions. Well, let us try again. We have quoted successively page 38 and page 79, let us see what we find in page 60, half way between the two.

"If it were allowed, which I think it must be, that some periods have very far excelled others in piety and wisdom, I should still demur to the allegation, that the era immediately following the death of the apostles can claim any such pre-eminence. Nay, I am compelled to say, that the general impression left upon my mind by the actual evidence, is altogether of a contrary kind."

One more specimen and we have done.

"I shall, as I confidently hope, succeed in affording the most convincing proof of the fact, that the Christian teachers, from the very first," (the italics are his own) "while they held the formal elements of truth, or, as it is called, orthodoxy, grossly misapprehended the genius and purport of Christianity; and as a consequence of this misapprehension, turned out of its course every Christian institute, and put on a false foundation every principle of virtue: and thus transmuted the Christian system into a scheme, which could find no other fixed form than that of a foul superstition and a lawless despotism." (p. 123.)

Are we not justified in the anticipation which we have already expressed, that this writer may in due time finish his performance by the brilliant feat, sometimes advertised on the bills of less intellectual artists, of swallowing himself; and so ridding us of the trouble and disgust of closing with him in so odious a controversy?

It is indeed pleasant to turn from him to a work of a very different description, and which affords a practical answer to his loose and vulgar merriment on the subject of virginity, better than any of those which logic or learning can supply. This writer will find he has arrayed against him not only the whole ancient Church, but he must also number among his opponents some of the best and most revered names in our own: nay, that among moderns too he must make account to find opponents {449} besides the Oxford writers, whom he singles out—men, like the editor of the excellent piece of biography to which we are about to call attention, whom independent thought and reading will not suffer to acquiesce in the shallow views of these nineteenth-century men.

Nicholas Ferrar, the subject of this little memoir, was one of the most remarkable men of his age. He was the son of a wealthy London merchant, and born in 1592. At as early an age as six, not only his great talents, but his deep religious feelings became very observable. Blessed with excellent parents, particularly a mother of rare understanding and piety, none of these beginnings were let fall to the ground, or wanted careful attention. They were also eminently successful in their choice of a school for him; and in his thirteenth year his master, declaring him "more than ripe for the University," accompanied him to Cambridge and settled him at Clare Hall. In 1610 he was unanimously chosen fellow. So well known were his attainments and character by that time, that Dr. Lindsell, his tutor, afterwards Bishop of Peterborough, was wont to exclaim "May God keep him in his right mind! for if he should turn schismatic or heretic, he would make work for all the world. Such a head! such power of argument! such a tongue! such a pen! such a memory withal he hath, with indefatigable pains, that all these joined together, I know not who would be able to contend with him!" His health at this time was so delicate, that, by advice of physicians, he was recommended to travel abroad, as the only means of preserving his life. He travelled in Holland, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Wherever he went his active mind found subjects of interest and inquiry. Not only such general subjects as language, government, manners, and the state of religion, but the strength of fortresses, magnitude of arsenals and magazines, trade, commerce, revenues, expense of garrisons and navies, system of ship-building, on all these he was curious in collecting information. Painters, weavers, dyers, smiths, and other mechanics were much at his lodgings, and he entered eagerly into details of their craft, so completely did he throw himself into all practical matters of real life. How thorough a man of business he was is shown in the following particulars of his life. His travels were suddenly cut short by news which reached him in Spain of great pecuniary embarrassments in which his father was involved. He hastened home, and by his able management the affairs of the house were honourably and successfully arranged. At this time also, through his father, he became interested in the affairs of a company formed for the colonization of Virginia and conversion of the natives. Many of the nobility and leading merchants were {450} promoters of this scheme, but the conduct of the whole details of the company's business gradually came under Ferrar's management. He drew up the letters of instruction for the government and trade of the colony, which having been examined by the Privy Council, before which certain accusations were laid against the company by the Lord Treasurer Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, and other powerful persons, received the commendation of many there "for their soundness of matter with respect both to religion and policy, and for their uncommon elegance of language." Even down to the victualling and equipment of the company's ships he was manager. In the year 1624, he was elected member of the House of Commons. And when, in that session, the Earl of Middlesex was impeached, Ferrar, with Lord Cavendish and Sir Edwin Sandys, were ordered by the House to draw up the charge, and Mr. Ferrar was deputed to bring it in. He used to reproach himself afterwards much for his active part in this transaction, as it was known to be against the wishes of the king, and because also of some free speeches, made, as it would seem, by him against the will of his prince; so much so, that he was heard to say, stretching out his right hand, "I would I were assured of the pardon of that sin, though on the condition that this hand were cut off." Perhaps this regret hastened a resolution he had made some time before. This he executed in the following year, retiring with his mother and her children, grand-children, and other near relations, to an estate which he had purchased at Little Gidding, near Huntingdon, and passing the remainder of his life in a monastic seclusion, and almost exclusively given to devotional exercises. He began at once with a regular course, at Church and in the house, dividing the family into parties for the performance of the domestic services. They were in all about forty persons, "of whom above twenty where so descended from Mrs. Ferrar, that they kneeled to her morning and evening for her blessing."

Mr. Ferrar obtained leave of the bishop of the diocese, in consideration of the plague still raging, to use the Litany every day in the Church; and having once introduced it he had licence to retain it after the plague. They had three distinct daily services. Besides this, each hour of the day had a certain proportion of Psalms allotted to be said in it, by some part or division in the family: so that the whole Psalter was duly and devoutly said over by them, verse by verse, interchangeably, within the compass of the twenty-four hours. These household services for the different hours were so framed that the collect, the Psalm, the Gospel and all, lasted but a quarter of an hour. This system was commenced in the summer of 1625. {451}

A little before Whitsuntide in the following year, Mr. Ferrar went to London with his mother for some settlement of their affairs, and on Trinity Sunday he was ordained deacon by Bishop Laud, being presented by his former college tutor, Dr. Lindsell, "by whom the bishop was prepared to receive him with tokens of particular esteem, and with a great deal of joy that he was to lay hands on so extraordinary a person:" his purpose being, as he told his mother when he returned home to her in the evening, to separate himself to serve God in this holy calling, namely, to be the Levite himself in his own house, and to make his own relations, who were many, his cure of souls."

Here then we have a person from his earliest years distinguished for remarkable piety—no fanatic—not disorderly in his zeal, for his biographer records of him, that while at Cambridge (under 20 years of age be it remembered), judgment and discretion were qualities he possessed in a more transcendent degree, his age considered, than any one of his other eminent virtues—with a most powerful mind and prodigious industry—born to a plentiful fortune—one, who had seen the world far more than most of his day—keen in his desire for knowledge upon the most various subjects—moving in good society—a member of parliament, with considerable reputation in the political world—a person in no way disposed to be eccentric, but conforming, in things indifferent, to the ways of those among whom he lived, and, which is also to be observed, a person of very rare modesty and humility, and devotedly attached to the Church of England; we see such a person deliberately resolving in the prime of life to continue in celibacy, and retire from the world as a higher line than that from which he withdrew. Nor was this resolution hastily adopted or formed upon some sudden impulse. There is proof that he had determined upon it some years before. A rich merchant, one of his brother directors in the Virginian Company, who had an only daughter (who is described by the Bishop of Ely, his biographer, as "a very agreeable person, and a great fortune withal"), became so attached to Ferrar that he quite courted him for her, and when he still pressed him, after Ferrar had endeavoured playfully to turn off the subject, he at last told him, that his resolution was not to marry at all." His intention to form his family into a kind of monastic society appears also in this, which the bishop, his biographer, has recorded, that "the habit of the young women was a black stuff, all of one grave fashion, and always the same." Thus we have Ferrar's own view pretty clearly marked as to the celibate, and the accordance of societies of a monastic character with the genius of our Church.

But we may next look to the opinion of churchmen of his day {452} concerning this experiment, for that it would be much canvassed and discussed may be conceived, were it only from Ferrar's extensive acquaintance, and his intimacy with some of the leading men of the day. For, conceive in our time, if a young man well known for his great abilities, and industry, and success, of high character during his university career, of independent fortune, a member parliament, to whom many looked as likely to hold a distinguished place in the councils of the state, in case of a change in the government,—conceive if he were to put in execution such a sign as Ferrar's; would it not be the talk of the day, a subject for articles in newspapers? Would not all sorts of reports, always exaggerated, be spread about his proceedings? Would not clergy, and thoughtful laymen who attend the London Religious Societies be quite alive and aghast at the news? Yet about nine months after Ferrar had followed this system—quite time enough for news of all to travel to London, without losing any thing on the road—he was ordained by Bishop Laud, who expressed singular satisfaction thereat, and Ferrar was introduced by Lindsell, afterwards Bishop of Peterborough. Here then is the testimony of two bishops. We may add Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, his diocesan and visitor of the little academy, who gave him his company at Gidding several times, and highly approved their order and manner of living. And, on one occasion, at his departure gave them all his paternal benediction, and affectionately embracing Mr. Ferrar, took his leave of him with this hearty prayer: "Deus tibi animum istum, et animo isti tempus longissimum concedat." Cosin also, then Master of Peterhouse, afterwards Bishop of Durham, with Archbishop Laud, presented to the King a work of the religious society's execution, and communicated with them about the execution of another piece; from which we imagine thus much may be fairly inferred, that he did not think Ferrar held views of dangerous tendency, or not allowable in a minister of the English Church. Turner, Bishop of Ely, was his biographer, and calls his life "not only admirable, but imitable—by the gentry especially, or by his fellow-citizens, who gain plentiful estates, and then retire into the country:" and he says, one design of writing his life was, "as an illustrious example of a more illuminate man in the Church of England, than any, I believe, they can show us in the Church of Rome, if they will tell us nothing but the honest truth; or any other sect whatever." To descend to others of lower note, the clergyman of the neighbouring parish of Steeple Gidding was on most cordial terms with him, coming over always on Sunday morning, bringing his own flock with him, to preach at Little Gidding Church. Their country neighbours, of the better sort, {453} were not afraid of the Ferrar family, nor were they, on their part, forgetful of due civilities to them.—

"Whenever they were pleased to afford their company at Gidding, (which for the novelty of the thing many frequently did) they were received with all the obligingness, and treated with all the respect to which, according to the rules of Christian politeness and courtesy, they were entitled. The more substantial marks of hospitality also were not wanting; the refreshments of wine or a tankard of ale, with a piece of cake, were offered to all comers of any note; but though many of high quality lingered there, as if desirous to stay their meals, or take up their lodging with them, yet they took it not amiss at their departure, that no invitation was given them, finding that it was not their custom to entertain strangers in that indiscriminate manner, except in cases of manifest necessity or charity ... Hardly one day passed in which some distinguished person, either friend or stranger, did not come to pay him reverence ... He always gave orders, that if any one came to speak with him, though he were at his studies, he should be informed of it."

Sir Edwin Sandys, son of the Archbishop of York, a pupil of Hooker, was one of his intimate friends. Kennet, in his Book on Impropriations, bestows praise on their society. King Charles I., no mean judge of what the spirit of that Church allowed, for which he was a martyr, on an occasion, after much discourse about an harmony of the Books of Kings and Chronicles, which by his request they had executed for him, and regarding their manner of living, concluded thus: "How happy a prince were I, if there were many such families in my kingdom, who would employ themselves as these do at Gidding." His funeral sermon was preached by the Dean of Ely. And lastly, we have reserved to say, that George Herbert, the model of a Church of England country parson, had a warm regard and very great respect for him, and such opinion of his judgment, that he sent " the Temple," to him before publication, desiring him to read it, "and then, if he think it may turn to the advantage of any poor dejected soul, let it be made public: if not let him burn it;" and Mr. Ferrar contributed a preface to it.

It will not be supposed, that a family like that of the Ferrars could hold on their way in such a course as they followed, without being censured and condemned by many. They had their share of such critics of their system. They were vilified as papists and puritans, their establishment was denounced, even to parliament, as an "Arminian Nunnery," in an inflammatory pamphlet full of invective, malignity, and falsehood. The humility of his whole life would be sufficient answer to the imputation, that he placed any reliance on the merit of his works. Two little incidents in his last illness, which remind us of the last days {454} of the excellent Hammond, shall be mentioned. A visitor suggesting that he must have great joy at the many alms-deeds he had done, was hastily interrupted: "What speak you of such things? It had been but a suitable return for me to have given all I had, instead of scattering a few crumbs here and there: God forgive me!" Another time, one reading from the Visitation Service by his bed side, "For what cause soever this sickness is sent unto you, whether it be to try your patience for the example of others," went on, "or for our punishment." At the unauthorised addition of these words he was much displeased, beseeching him to speak at that rate no more, for he was "a most miserable sinner." That his views were clear and well defined, and in no way approximated to the peculiarities of Rome, is shown in the following anecdotes. Three learned priests of that Church visited him once at Gidding, and they bad a conference, in which (it is said) "they traversed every essential point of difference between Protestant and Papist;" and one of them was heard to say afterwards, that "if he (Mr. Ferrar) lived to make himself known to the world, he would give their Church her hands full to answer him, and trouble them in another manner than Luther had done." Another time, being asked what he would do, if mass were celebrated in his house without his leave or knowledge? he said, "he would pull down that room, though he built another." We doubt whether the zeal of many of our modern Protestants would carry them so far. As in other respects they might say he showed narrow-minded bigotry in approaching too near to Romanism, so in this in being over-fearful and abhorrent of it. Such acts as these are more than enough to answer the vague charges brought against him; and while the latter have fallen to the ground, Ferrar's example remains. His life has been written and rewritten; and the little volume from which we have made our extracts is the second edition in this modernized form. It is a good sign of a love for what is good and holy, and above our age, that there should be a demand for such a work; and let it never be forgotten, that, notwithstanding the objections raised to him in his day, he had, upon the whole, the approbation of the rulers of the Church, and of the wise and good, not simply as if his life were allowable, but praise-worthy for those who could receive it; though it intimated on the face of it the persuasion that the single state given to devotion was the higher line to choose. For it is evident that every one would have understood this to have been the view of a family so living together and so ordered.

Nicolas Ferrar is the picture of no ordinary Christian—one, who in all times of the Church, and in all countries, would be {455} at once recognizable by his life and manners—his faith and word. Whether brought up at the feet of an Apostle, or, like St. Antony, settled in the solitudes of Egypt, or with Basil, in the more monastic retirement in Pontus—with Chrysostom, in Constantinople—or with Augustine in Africa, or with Ambrose in Italy; whether in the first, or third, or sixth century, or in the "dark ages"—or at the Reformation—or in our own bright days of Hooker, Herbert and Laud—a Christian every where, and in every age, and in all his life: a Christian, such as the author of Ancient Christianity cannot tolerate, and who was guilty of holding most of those views, which Mr. Taylor asserts tend to all sorts of immorality, to narrow formalism, to a reliance on externals, to a neglect of inward purity of heart, to pride and presumption. Certainly, he and his seem to have been singularly preserved from their imminent danger.

Since we are upon the subject, it may be satisfactory to add the testimony of two of our principal devotional writers, of very different schools of divinity, and in estimation among very distinct sections of the church, who appear to hold the doctrine which Ferrar practised. It was, in the judgment of Leighton, "the great and fatal error of the Reformation, that more of those (religious) houses, and of that course of life, free from the entanglement of vows, and other mixtures, was not preserved. So that the Protestant Churches had neither places of education nor retreat for men of mortified tempers." [Note 2] Thus Leighton thought the great and fatal error of the Reformation to be the doing away those very institutions which we are now told are so very corrupt in all their forms. Jeremy Taylor, in the most popular of his works, distinctly recognizes it, and used terms to designate that state, and lays down rules precisely of a kind which move the scorn and indignation of our modern writers against the Fathers. The following will be enough: "Natural virginity, of itself, is not a state more acceptable to God; but that which is chosen and voluntary, in order to the conveniences of religion, and separated from worldly incumbrances, is therefore better than the married life,—not that it is more holy, but that it is a freedom from cares, an opportunity to spend more time in spiritual employments; it is not alloyed with businesses and attendance upon lower affairs: and if it be a chosen condition to these ends, it containeth in it a victory over lusts, and greater desires of religion and self-denial, and therefore is more excellent than the married life, in that degree in which it hath greater religion and a greater mortification, a less satisfaction of natural desires, and a greater fulness of the {456} spiritual: and just so is to expect that little coronet or special reward, which God hath prepared (extraordinary, and besides the great crown of all faithful souls) for those 'who have not defiled themselves with women, but follow the Virgin Lamb for ever.'"

Such is the judgment of the seventeenth century; but strange things are circulated in the nineteenth. We hear, for instance, a wish has been expressed, that bishops should not prefer any one in their respective dioceses who should ever speak ministerially in favor of celibacy. The next step, we suppose, would be that a matrimonial engagement should be a necessary title for orders; or an extract from the marriage register might be one of the ordinary papers sent in together with the Si quis, or College testimonial. Expectations, we hear, have been entertained of the effect of the first open avowal of opinion on the subject of celibacy on the part of those who are said to be favourable to it. It is hoped that whenever broached by them, it will be protested against and put down by the "good sense" of the people of England with indignation and abhorrence. It may be so. Meanwhile we would observe that that same English "good sense" is not infallible, particularly in church matters. At least we suspect that the "good sense" of the majority of intelligent men who had never thought on the subject, would at first sight decide that 2000l. is ample provision for a bishop, or that it would be an improvement to admit Dissenters to power and station in our Universities. On the other hand, sorry as we are to disturb the peace of mind of many comfortable family men, we are not over-sure that the "common sense" of the nation would be altogether opposed to the course under consideration. We are not so sure, that the notion of persons abstaining from marriage in order to give themselves more to God, and not to be entangled with the affairs of this life, or from fear of becoming indolent amid domestic comforts, or covetous from anxieties about a family; or in order to devote themselves to works of charity and self-denial; nay, as a kind of severity towards themselves for trifling and thoughtlessness in times past, would offend people's common sense, at least if they were people who knew what the Bible said on the subject, and especially when they were informed, that persons did not bind this in themselves by a vow, but only purposed in themselves so to abide, if God give them grace to do so.

It is well that this subject should be brought before the public mind. We do not know whither the necessities of our times are tending. There is a strong and awakened sense of the appalling spiritual destitution of our great towns. The public mind is more and more drawn to it. Facts and figures are coming out; and men are beginning to realize this oppressing subject with {457} definite statistical notions of its enormous magnitude, and the difficulty, and yet the absolute necessity for a remedy. Men of all ranks and professions are making sacrifices of money: other personal sacrifices will follow. The more the subject is brought out, the more will it be forced upon the public mind, that our existing parochial system (humanly speaking) is utterly powerless for making head against the tide of irreligion that sets in. But lately, there was a meeting for providing schools and churches for a single district in one corner of London, at which this fearful fact is stated, that there are 700,000 souls, and church accommodation for but 5000. The Bishop of London, as everywhere, was forward with his munificent contribution. But what a time it must be before money can be raised, and churches built, and clergymen settled to begin labour among these Christian souls. Specially then, we envy the lot of him who may have boldness to make trial of associating a number of young men as a collegiate body, for the cheaper supply of an efficient ministry to operate on these dense and dark masses of sin and ignorance, to live with him, not tied by vows, but purposing in their hearts, by God's grace, not to entangle themselves in the affairs of this life, that they may the more devote themselves to this great work. One word from that active prelate, and we doubt not some one would be found, under his sanction and encouragement, to make the attempt, some one perhaps with chance advantages of local connections, which would prevent the experiment being scorned as not respectable, but might from such chance influence, as it were, command a fair trial. It would be a noble addition to the praise of his lordship's munificent charity, to have brought into practice a plan, by which, under God's providence, so much might be done, and which, if judiciously managed under his advice and patronage, would soon be adopted elsewhere, so that his name might go down to posterity as the Christianizer of the great Towns of our Land.

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1. Vide p. 76, 80.
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2. Burnet's Lives, Ed. Bishop Jebb, p. 288.
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