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But though large portions of time were set apart by those venerable men to study and to abstract themselves from the world, as their labours witness; and their mornings early and evenings late must have been spent in this service; yet let it not be supposed but that the walls of their closets could they have spoken would have witnessed for them also, how much their private prayers followed up and went before their public ministry: and, like their Lord, how ardently and affectionately they bore the persons, and the spiritual interests of their people before the mercy-seat. If, as hath been said by some, the people's prayers are the pastors best books, surely we may well suppose his prayers for them are his best preparations, under the Lord's grace,
for usefulness. And while we follow the good pastor into his study with the morning light, and contemplate him as there engaged in prayer and study for his ministry and people; we may well suppose that in his coming forth to his household for family worship, he will bring with him from the sanctuary a devotedness of mind, as one prepared by the Lord, for all the duties of the day.
It was the custom of the times of which we are speaking, for the master of every godly house to bless the several members of his family at their first meeting each other in the morning; and, like Boaz, when he entered the fields of his reapers, to say, " the Lord be with you!” And they in return answered, “ the Lord bless thee!” Ruth ü. 4. And it is astonishing and exceedingly to be regretted that a custom, evidently formed in gracious principles, should have been, as it now is, so generally fallen into disuse. Certain it is, that from the first ages of the world even heathens were accustomed at their first meeting and again at their separation from each other to wish health and peace. Thus the Egyptians to the brethren of Joseph, when it was said, “ Peace be to you!" Gen. xliii. 23. And in like manner the Persians in their salutations; “ Peace and at such a time!” Ezra iv. 17. The christian greeting may well be supposed to be called forth, and in an higher note, when gracious souls meet those that are gracious; for their gratulations are founded in Him, who is their peace and bond of union. He hath said, “ Peace I leave with you! my peace I give unto you! Not as the world giveth, give I unto you!" John xir. 27.
paragraph, in the letter he wrote to Cecil upon the occasion, is very affecting. 'Tam not likely,' he said, “ to live over the year, and am going to my grave. And, therefore, if now poor old Myles might be provided for, he should think this enough, and to be as good as a feast. And so, beseeching the secretary to take this boldness in good part, he committed him, and all his, to the gracious protection of the Almighty.'—Signed, Myles Coverdale, quondam Exon.
Such were the humbled circumstance in the close of life of the man to whom, aoder God, this nation owes to this hour such unspeakable obligations. For the work of God, which the Lord enabled him to accomplish, is a mercy never to be done away, while the English name and language remains. Children yet unborn will have to bless God for this work and labour of love. And the name of Myles Coverdale ought to be had in unceasing remembrance. I just stay to add, that the good old man lived about two years after he sent his letter to Cecil
, and was fourscore and one when the Lord took him home.
In my enquiry after the order of family prayer observed by the bishops of the sixteenth century, I have not been able to discover any records. No doubt it was conducted with great order by the head of the house himself: Chaplains every bishop might have, and chaplains we know they had. But these were never intended to supersede the bishop's own service in any one department of duty. And more especially in those solemn transactions, of an eternal nature, between God and man's own soul; the presentation of himself and household before the throne can never be done by deputy. Prayer and praise with supplication and thanksgiving, in making our requests known unto God, are unsuitable services for a proxy to perform. Even Solomon, in his days, considered that supplication was to be offered by every man "which knew the plague of his own heart.” 1 Kings viii. 38, 39.
But though there are no documents, as far as my researches have led me, to discover the order observed in the family worship of those holy men of God; yet from certain fragments here and there interspersed in their writings we have authority to conclude, that the reading and expounding portions of the word of God formed a part in those sacred services. And it is reasonable therefrom to believe also, that not only among the bishops but the clergy and the godly houses, the master or head of the house, according to the patriarchal custom, became the priest of the family by first calling the attention of his household to the word of God, and then presenting himself and them in prayer and praise before the throne of God. He who might best be supposed to know the spiritual state of each, and of all, was best calculated to follow up his exhortation with prayer for each and all; and, as the Lord might give him grace, to ask the suited mercies for all their circumstances. I do not presume to speak decidedly on this point; it is but conjectural. Nevertheless it seems highly probable. For I find an observation concerning one of these godly men by his historian, which saith that in prayer he was like Jacob, that could upon any emergency wrestle with God and prevail. And we know that it was a common saying, concerning Luther's prevalency in prayer, · Iste vir potuit cum Deo quicquid coluit:' i.e. That man had such power with God that he could have whatsoever he would.'
The interval of worship, in the daily services of the cathedral, it should seem, were very generally occupied by the bishops, in visiting the sick, and being visited by the people under distress of soul. Those men of God did not consider their ministry finished by preaching in public, or writing in private, on spiritual concerns. They knew the Lord's people to be a tried people, who need somewhat more personal comfort and advice. And from the great diversity of cases which mark the features of the Lord's people in exercises from without and within; they studied the blessed art of enquiring into souls, and to invite the tempted and distressed to unload their minds before them, that according to the apostle's direction, they might “ bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." This formed, therefore, a very gracious and interesting part in the bishop's ministry.
And if we may credit history, or indeed if we may judge from the savour of those men's writings, they were greatly engaged in this labour of love. The servant of the Lord, and especially in those highest departments of his church, considered it not more a duty than a delight, when opportunities of this kind favoured for administering consolation to any of the Lord's distressed ones. Hence, the bishops of those days were always, and at all times, accessible to the poorest of the people. They considered it no interruption to be broken in upon, when the afflicted members of Christ needed their counsel, or their prayers. Nay such visitors amply recompensed them for their trouble, in furnishing to them subjects from real life to form their sermons by. What one afflicted soul felt, others they knew might be supposed to be exercised with also. And hence, those men of God learnt, under God, how to speak a word in season to weary souls, and to comfort them that mourned. It brought home God's truth to their own hearts also: and furnished them with the sweetest instructions both for themselves, and for their usefulness in their ministry. So that such interruptions became a luxury of the purest kind. They were always at home to such visitors. How would it have struck a bishop of the sixteenth century with astonishment to have been told, that an access to their persons was not attainable but through a troop of servants in livery!
And it was a fashion peculiar to this age of the church, for the bishop's palace to have one day of the week set apart, to entertain the poor of Christ's house
hold. Let the imagination figure to itself a certain number of this kind refreshed with the bounties of the table in their bodies; and afterwards their souls yet more blessedly entertained with the truths of grace. Fancy a bishop sitting within such a circle, and entering upon the doctrines of the gospel, to comfort the poor of Christ's flock with the consolations of Jesus, when he had comforted their bodies with the supply of the bread that perisheth with using. What an idea doth it awaken of a true bishop of Christ? Will it be said, that such a character is outré? Will the reader say, that my portrait is a fiction, and hath never been realized? Be it so. The question is, whether the thing itself be, or be not suited to the character? Ask him, who in the moment that he washed the feet of poor fishermen, and had all things put into his hands, and was Lord of heaven and earth, whether the act would be too condescending? Let that Lord determine the propriety or impropriety of the measure, whose direction to his apostles is: “ Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant?” Matt. xx. 26, 27.
Whether the preceding observation be correct, in respect to all the bishops in the realm of the sixteenth century, I will not contend. But I shall take the freedom to speak with more confidence in relation to another feature in the character, when I say, that the clergy of each diocese were in the general habit of visiting their respective diocesan, on subjects of theology; and both their palaces and their tables were open to welcome them with fatherly affection and esteem. If a doubt could arise, concerning the veracity of this assertion, the history of the times would bear me out in the plain statement of the matter of fact.* Indeed, there can
Strype, in his life of Whitgist, relates the apology of Wolton, bishop of Eseter, on certain points complained of, and very modestly speaks of his courtously entertaining a godly man, on account of his great learning and sanctity.