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II. of righteous and merciful memory,
During the troubles of the next reign, we find Mr. John Biddle in custody for his opinions; and his writings against the deity of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, were ordered to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman. Some zealots of the assembly of (Presbyterian) divines, moved that he might be put to death: for he was so bold in propagating his opinion, that he gave great offence by it.
It was happy for him, these Presbyterian dia vines had not power equal to their good-will, or he might have been bumt in the same fire with his writings. The parliament understood better the rights of nature and of mankind, although they gave way to his being imprisoned, perhaps to screen him from his enemies. And, with the same humane view afterwards, when the council had sent him to Newgate for giving fresh disturbance by his boldness, the Protector thought it best to send him out of the way, and accordingly
* Life of Doddridge, by Orton, pp. 251, 252.
transported him to Scilly, and allowed him one hundred crowns a year for his maintenance. The usurper Cromwell, with all his sins against the liberties of his country, “ always professed* it to be his belief, that men had a right to think and act for themselves in matters of religion, and that 80 long as they behaved peaceably, they were free to dissent from the magistrate and the priest.” This is highly to his honour: and his practice was conformable to his principles.
“ Biddle remained in the isle of Scilly till the year 1658, when the noise being over, he was set at liberty. After the Protector's death he set up a private conventicle in London, which continued till the restoration, when the church being restored to its coercive power, he was apprehended while preaching, and committed to prison, where he died in September, 1662. He had such a prodigious memory, that he could repeat all St. Paul's epistles in Greek, and was reckoned by those of his persuasion a sober man, and so devout, that he seldom prayed without lying prostrate on the ground.'t “ It was one of Mr. Biddle's lessons, that it is a duty, not only to relieve, but to visit the sick and poor; because they are hereby encouraged and comforted, and we come to know of what nature and degree their
* Harris's Life of Oliver Cromwell, pp. 40, 43.
+ Neal's History of the Puritans, Vol. IV. pp. 136, 137, 138:
straits are, and that some are more worthy of as. sistance than others; and their condition being known, sometimes we are able to assist them by our counsel or our interést, much more effectually than by the charity we do or can bestow upon them.”—Life of Mr. Thomas Firmin, pp. 10, 11.
It would be inexcusable to pass over, iņ silence, a disciple of Mr. Biddle's, an Unitarian, and great support of their cause; one, though not distinguished by nobility, or birth, or titles, or deep learning, yet in real usefulness to mankind the first citizen of the first city in the world, and likely to keep his pre-eminence in the heavenly Jerusalem, if being indefatigably active and eminent in doing good, in assisting and relieving the poor, -beyond all other men; if integrity, piety, humil. ity, and active endeavours in the cause of truth and virtue, can entitle, and nothing else can entitle, the faithful Christian to that high distinction and honour.
This was Mr. Thomas Firmin, merchant and citizen of London ; a name now, it may be, unknown to many, yet the friend of Whichcot, Worthington, Wilkins, Fowler, Tillotson; with all whom he lived in friendship, and in the greatest intimacy with some of them, notwithstanding their wide difference in opinion, which he never dissembled, nor, to their honour be it recorded, did it cause any coolness in their regards towards him.
Mr. Biddle first persuaded him,* that the Unity of God is an Unity of person as well as of nature; that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person, but not God. He had a great and just esteem for Mr. Biddle's piety, examplariness and learning; and is that friend, mentioned in Mr. Biddle's life, who gave him his bed and board, till he was sent prisoner by Protector Cromwell to the isle of Scilly; and when there, Mr. Firmin, with another friend, procured him a yearly pension of a hundred crowns from the Protector, besides what he obtained from other friends, or gave himself.”+
Archbishop Tillotson, in his sermon at the
* “ Mr.- Firmin's zeal for his instructor was so great, that he ventured, while he was only an apprentice, to deliver a petition for his release out of Newgate to Oliver Cromwell, who gave him this short answer : • You curl-pate boy you, do you think I'll shew any favour to a man who denies his Saviour, and disturbs the government?'”—Birch's Life of Tillotson, p. 293.
This does not contradict what was above remarked of Cromwell's tolerating principles. It might be necessary for the chief governor of the nation to say this in public in those times, especially to so young a petitioner. And there is a pleasantry and good nature in his manner, of which the gloomy bigot is utterly incapable. This is farther confirmed by his allowing Biddle 25l. a-year to support him in his exile: no inconsiderable sum in those days.
+ Life of Mr. Thomas Firmin, p. 10.
See also a fine letter of Cromwell's to the governor of Edinburgh Castle, in Whitelocke's Memorials, p. 459.
funeral of the Rev. Mr. Thomas Gouge, says, * This was, I think, that which gave the first hint to that worthy and useful citizen, Mr. Thomas Firmin, of a much larger design, which hath been prosecuted by him for some years, with that vigour and great success in this city, that many hundreds of poor children and others, who lived idle before, unprofitable both to themselves and the public, are continually maintained in work, and taught to earn their own livelihood; he being, by the generous assistance and charity of many well-disposed persons of all ranks, enabled to bear the unavoidable loss and charge of so vast an undertaking; and by his own forward inclination to charity, and his unwearied diligence and activity, extraordinarily. fitted to sustain and go through the incredible pains of it."
“ During his last sickness, which was very short, he was visited by his most dear friend (Dr. Fowler) the bishop of Gloucester. What · passed between them, his Lordship hath made me to know, under his own hand, in these words: Mr. Firmin told, me, he was now going : and I trust, said he, God will not condemn me to worse company than I have loved and used in the present life. I replied, that he had been an extraordinary example of charity: the poor had a wonderful blessing in you: I doubt not, these works will follow you, if you have no expectation from the merit of them, but rely on the