This famous divine, though he died in the course of the good work, deserves especial mention, because it was by his means that the good work itself was undertaken. He was born in Penhoe, in Devonshire, in the year 1549. He entered the University at the age of thirteen, and spent all his days within its precincts. Though he at first entered Merton College in 1562, he was chiefly bred at Corpus Christi, which he entered the next year, and where he became a Fellow in 1566, at the early age of seventeen. Six years later he was made Greek Lecturer in his college, which was proud of the early ripeness of his powers.
About this time occurred one of the most singular events in the history of religious controversy. John Reynolds was a zealous papist. His brother William, who was his fellow-student, was equally zealous for protestantism. Each, in fraternal anxiety for the salvation of a brother’s south, labored for the conversion of the other; and each of them was successful! As the result of long conference and disputation, William became an inveterate papist, and so lived and died. While John became a decided protestant of the Puritan stamp, and continued to his death to be a vigorous champion of the Reformation. From the time of his conversion, he was a most able and successful preacher of God’s word. Having very greatly distinguished himself in the year 1578, as a debater in the theological discussions, or “divinity-acts” of the University, he was drawn into the popish controversy. Determined to explore the whole field, and make himself master of the subject, he devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures in the original tongues, and read all the Greek and Latin fathers, and all the ancient records of the Church. Nor did this flood of reading roll out of his mind as fast as it poured in. It is stated that “his memory was little less than miraculous. He could readily turn to any material passage, in every leaf, page, column and paragraph of the numerous and voluminous works he had read.” He came to be styled “the very treasury of erudition;” and was spoken of as “a living library, and a third university.”
About the year 1578, John Hart, a popish zealot, challenged all the learned men in the nation to a public debate. At the solicitation of one of Queen Elizabeth’s privy counsellors, Mr. Reynolds encountered him. After several combats, the Romish champion owned himself driven from the field. An account of the conferences, subscribed by both parties, was published, and widely circulated. This added greatly to the reputation of Mr. Reynolds, who soon after took his degrees in divinity, and was appointed by the Queen to be Royal Professor of Divinity in the University. At that time, the celebrated Cardinal Bellarmine, the Goliath of the Philistines at Rome, was professor of theology in the English Seminary at that city. As fast as he delivered his popish doctrine, it was taken down in writing, and regularly sent to Dr. Reynolds; who, from time to time, publicly confuted it at Oxford. Thus Bellarmine’s books were answered, even before thy were printed.
It is said, that Reynolds’ professorship was founded by the royal bounty for the express purpose of strengthening the Church of England against the Church of Rome, and of widening the breach between them; and that Dr. Reynolds was first placed in the chair, on that account, because of his strenuous opposition to the corruptions of Rome. “Oxford divines,” at that period, were of a very different stamp from their Puseyite successors in our day. But even at Oxford, there are faithful witnesses for the truth. Dr. Hampden, whose appointment to the bishopric of Hereford, a few years since, raised such a storm of opposition from the Romanizing prelates and clergy, was for many years a worthy successor of Dr. Reynolds, in the chair which was endowed so long ago for maintaining the Church of England against the usurpations of Rome.
Yet even so long ago, and ever since, there were persons there whose sentiments resembled what is now called by the sublime title of Puseyism. The first reformers of the English Church held, as Archbishop Whately does now, that the primitive church-government was highly popular in its character. But they held that neither this, nor any other form of discipline, was divinely ordained, for perpetual observance. They considered it to be the prerogative of the civil government, in a Christian land, to regulate these matters, and to organize the Church, as it would the army, or the judiciary and police, with a view to the greatest efficiency according to the state of circumstances. They held that all good subjects were religiously bound to conform to the arrangements thus made. These views are what is commonly called Erastianism. The claim of a “divine right” was first advanced in England in behalf of Presbyterianism. It was very strenuously asserted by the learned and long-suffering Cartwright. Some of the Episcopal divines soon took the hint, and set up the same claim in behalf of their order; though, at first, it sounded strange even to their own brethren. *
Dr. Bancroft, Archbishop Whitgift’s chaplain, and his successor in the see of Canterbury, maintained in a sermon, preached January 12th, 1588, that “bishops were a distinct order from priests; and that they had a superiority over them by divine right, and directly from God.” This startling doctrine produced a great excitement. Sir Francis Knollys, one of Queen Elizabeth’s distinguished statesmen, remonstrated warmly with Whitgift against it. In a letter to Sir Francis, who had requested his opinion, Dr. Reynolds observes, --”All who have labored in reforming the Church, for five hundred years, have taught that all pastors, whether they are entitled bishops or priests, have equal authority and power by God’s word; as the Waldenses, next Marsilius Patavinus, then Wiclif and his scholars, afterwards Huss and the Hussites; and Luther, Calvin, Brentius, Bullinger, and Musculus. Among ourselves, we have bishops, the Queen’s professors of divinity, and other learned men, as Bradford, Lambert, Jewell, Pilkington, Humphrey, Fulke, &c. But why do I speak of particular persons? It is the opinion of the Reformed Churches of Helvetia, Savoy, France, Scotland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Low Countries, and our own. I hope Dr. Bancroft will not say, that all these have approved that for sound doctrine, which was condemned by the general consent of the whole church as heresy, in the most flourishing time. I hope he will acknowledge that he was overseen, when he announced the superiority of bishops over the rest of the clergy to be God’s won ordinance.”
Good Dr. Reynold’s charitable hopes, though backed by such an overwhelming array of authorities, were doomed to be disappointed. Bancroft’s novel doctrine has been in fashion ever since. Still there are not wanting many who soundly hold, in the words of Reynolds, that “unto us Christians, no land is strange, no ground unholy; every coast is Jewry, every town Jerusalem, every house Sion; and every faithful company, yea, every faithful body, a temple to serve God in. The presence of Christ among two or three, gathered together in his name, maketh any place a church, even as the presence of a king with his attendants maketh any place a court.”
Notwithstanding that Elizabeth was no lover of men puritanically inclined, she felt constrained to notice the eminent gifts and services of Dr. Reynolds. In 1598, she made him Dean of Lincoln, and offered him a bishopric. The latter dignity he meekly refused, preferring his studious academical life to the wealth and honors of any such ecclesiastical station. It is supposed, however, that conscientious scruples had much to do with his declining the prelatic office.
He resigned his deanery in less than a year, and also the Mastership of Queen’s College, which latter post he had for some time occupied. He was then chosen President of Corpus Christi College, in which office he was exceedingly active and useful till his death. This College had long been badly infested with papistry. The presidency being vacant in 1568, the Queen sent letters to the Fellows, calling upon them to make choice of Dr. William Cole, who had been one of the exiles in the time of Queen Mary. The Fellows, however, made choice of Robert Harrison, formerly one of their number, but an open Romanist. The Queen pronounced this election void, and commanded them to elect Cole. On their refusal, Dr. Horn, Bishop of Winchester, the Visitor of the College, was sent to induct Cole; which he did, but not till he had forced the College-gates. A commission, appointed by the Queen, expelled three of the most notorious papists. As might have been expected, there was but little harmony in that society. In 1579, Dr. Reynolds was expelled from his College, together with his pupil, the renowned Richard Hooker, author of the “Ecclesiastical Polity,” and three others. On what ground this was done is not known. It was the act of Dr. John Barfoote, then Vice-President of the College, and Chaplain to the potent Earl of Warwick. In less than a month, the expelled members were fully restored by the agency of Secretary Walsingham. In 1586, this Sir Francis Walsingham offered a stipend for a lectureship on controversial divinity, for the purpose, as Heylin, that rabid Laudian, says, of making “the religion of the Church of Rome more odious.” Dr. Reynolds accepted this lectureship, and for that purposed resigned his fellowship in the College; “dissentions and factions there,” as he says, “having made him weary of the place.” He retired to Queen’s College, and was Master there, till, as has been stated, he became President of Corpus Christi in 1598, on the resignation of Dr. Cole. Dr. Barfoote struggled hard to secure the post; but by the firm procedure of that “so noble and worthy knight Sir Francis Walsingham,” Dr. Reynolds carried the day.
King James appointed him, in 1603, to be one of the four divines who should represent the Puritan interest at the Hampton Court Conference. Here he was almost the only speaker on his side of the question; and confronted the King and Primate, with eight bishops, and as many deans. The records of what took place are wholly from the pens of his adversaries, who are careful that he should not appear to any great advantage. It is manifest from their own account, that, in this “mock conference,” as Rapin calls it, the Puritans were so overborne with kingly insolence and prelatic pride, that, finding it of no use to attempt any replies, they held their peace. In fact, the whole affair was merely got up to give the King, who had newly come to the throne of England, an opportunity to declare himself as to the line of ecclesiastical policy he meant to pursue.
The only good that resulted from this oppressive and insulting conference was our present admirable translation of the Bible. The King scornfully rejected nearly every other request of the Puritans; ** but, at the entreaty of Dr. Reynolds, consented that there should be a new and more accurate translation, prepared under the royal sanction. The next year Dr. Reynolds was put upon the list of Translators, on account of his well known kill in the Hebrew and Greek. He labored in the work with zeal, bringing all his vast acquisitions to aid in accomplishing the task, though he did not live to see it completed. In the progress of it, he was seized with consumption, yet he continued his assistance to the last. During his decline, the company to which he belonged met regularly every week in his chamber, to compare and perfect what he had done in their private studies. Thus he ended his days like Venerable Bede; and “was employed in translating the Word of Life, even till he himself was translated to life everlasting.” His days were thought to be shortened by too intense application to study. But when urged by friends to desist, he would reply,--”Non propter vitam, vivendi perdere causas,”--for the sake of life, he would not lose the very end of living! During his sickness, his time was wholly taken up in prayer, and in hearing and translating the Scriptures.
The papists started a report, that their famous opposer had recanted his protestant sentiments. He was much grieved at hearing the rumor; but being too feeble to speak, set his name to the following declaration,--”These are to testify to all the world, that I die in the possession of that faith which I have taught all my life, both in my preachings and in my writings, with an assured hope of my salvation, only by the merits of Christ my Saviour.” The next day, May 21st, 1607, he expired in the sixty-eighth year of his age. He was buried in the chapel of his College, with great solemnity and academic pomp, and the general lamentation of good men.
His industry and piety are largely attested by his numerous writings, which long continued in high esteem. Old Anthony Wood, though so cynical toward all Puritans, says of him, that he was “most prodigiously seen in all kinds of learning; most excellent in all tongues.” “He was a prodigy in reading,” adds Anthony, “famous in doctrine, and the very treasury of erudition; and in a word, nothing can be spoken against him, only that he was the pillar of Puritanism, and the grand favorer of non-conformity.” Dr. Crackenthorpe, his intimate acquaintance, though a zealous churchman, gives this account of him,--”He turned over all writers, profane, ecclesiastical, and divine; and all the councils, fathers, and histories of the Church. He was more excellent in all tongues useful or ornamental to a divine. He had a sharp and ready wit, a grave and mature judgment, and was indefatigably industrious. He was so well skilled in all arts and sciences, as if he had spent his whole life in each of them. And as to virtue, integrity, piety, and sanctity of life, he was so eminent and conspicuous, that to name Reynolds is to commend virtue itself.” From other testimonies of a like character, let the following be given, from the celebrated Bishop Hall of Norwich,--”He alone was a well-furnished library, full of all faculties, all studies, and all learning. The memory and reading of that man were near to a miracle.”
Such was one of the worthies in that noble company of Translators. Nothing can tend more to inspire confidence in their version than the knowledge of their immense acquirements, almost incredible to the superficial scholars in this age of smatterers, sciolists, and pretenders. How much more to be coveted is the accumulation of knowledge, and the dispensing of its riches to numerous generations, than the amassing of money, and the bequeathing of hoarded wealth. Who would not choose the Christian erudition of an Andrews or a Reynolds, rather than the millions of Astor or Girard?
* “Dr. Peter Heylin, preaching at Westminster Abbey, before Bishop Williams, accused the non-conformists of ‘putting all into open tumult, rather than conform to the lawful government derived from Christ and his apostles.’ At this, the Bishop, sitting in the great pew, knocked aloud with his staff on the pulpit, saying, --’No more of that point! no more of that point, Peter!’ To whom Heylin answered, --’I have a little more to say, my lord, and then I have done:’--and so finished his subject.” --BIOG. BRIT. IV. 2597. Ed. 1747.
** Their requests were very reasonable, viz.: 1. “That the doctrine of the Church might be preserved pure, according to God’s word. 2. That good pastors might be planted in all churches, to preach the same. 3. That church government might be sincerely ministered, according to God’s word. 4. That the book of Common Prayer might be fitted to more increase of piety.”