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were more consonant to the Scriptures, than those on which the national establishment is founded. In the earlier part of his life he was remarkably thoughtless and vain; a ringleader among the votaries of folly and dissipation, insomuch that he was called by his schoolfellows dux omnium malorum, "a ringleader in all manner of wickedness;" we must, however, except the vice of drunkenness, of which he had so strong an abhorrence, that he used to speak of it as an unnatural vice, from which even the beasts were free, and he wondered how any rational being could possibly be addicted to a practice that was so entirely destitute at once of true pleasure, profit, and honour.
Having given up his connexion with the established church, and cast his lot among the Puritans, he began to preach among his countrymen, in the character of an itinerant evangelist, and his zeal and fortitude were soon called into exercise by the rage of bigotry, and the severe persecution to which he was exposed. He was often attacked and assaulted by violent men, and repeatedly exposed to the danger of his life by those who laid in wait, or bound themselves by oath, to kill him; or made an attempt on it. In 1640, he, and fifty or sixty of his hearers, when he was preaching in a house in Brecknockshire, were seized, about ten o'clock at night, by fifteen or sixteen men, under the pretence of a warrant from justice Williams, and secured in a church. The next morning they were conducted to the justice's house, who committed them to the hands of the constable. On the following day they were examined before that justice and two or three more, and six or seven clergymen: but, after much conference and many threats, were at that time dismissed. After this Mr. Powell, preaching at Launger in Radnorshire in the field, because the house was not large enough to hold the auditory, was seized and committed by the high sheriff, Mr. Hugh Lloyd. The constables, sixteen or seventeen, who were charged with the execution of the mittimus, except one, refused it. This man, taking Mr. Powell to his own house, and permitting him to lodge there that night, because the prison was at a great distance, was so affected with his devotions in the family, that he would proceed no farther; but absconded himself, leaving Mr. Powell in his house: who, to prevent damage to the man, bound himself with two sufficient sureties to appear at the next assizes at Radnorshire. Accordingly he delivered himself up at that season, and three bills of indictment were preferred against him. But, after the traverse, he was acquitted, and invited to dine with the judges; who desiring him to give thanks, one of them said, "It was the best grace he had ever heard in his life." But the high sheriff was so offended at the lenity shewn to him, and the impressions made by his conduct and preaching, that on the commencement of the war he persecuted him out of the county *.
Crosby, vol. 1. p. 217-219; Vavasor Powell's Life, p. 125–127.
The public have lately been favoured with a copious memoir of Vavasor Powell, in the "Welsh Nonconformists' Memorial," compiled by the late Mr. Richards of Lynn, in Norfolk, and edited by John Evans, LL.D. Mr. Richards has bestowed much industry in tracing out the history of this eminent Nonconformist, and rescuing his character from many false and malignant aspersions cast upon it by his adversaries. He seems to think that he embraced the sentiments of the Baptists, and was himself baptized towards the end of the year 1655, which must have been a dozen years after he had quitted the church of England. In proof of this he quotes a letter from Mr. Secretary Thurloe to Henry Cromwell, dated January 1, 1656, and preserved in Thurloe's State Papers, vol. 4. p. 373. "Among other things (says Thurloe) which are daily sent abroad for inflaming the people, your lordship will receive herewith a paper newly exhibited to the world, by Vavasor Powell, who is lately rebaptized, and several others of his party; whereupon I will make no observations, though many others do," &c.
It appears that previous to his embracing the sentiments of the Baptists Mr. Powell was in high estimation with the Presbyterian party. The situation of Wales, in regard to religion, was reported to the parliament as being most deplorable. The people were so destitute of the means of religious information, that they had neither Bibles nor catechisms. Their clergy were both ignorant and indolent, so that they had scarcely a sermon from one quarter of a year to another, nor was there any suitable provision made for the maintenance of such as were capable of instructing them. The parliament took their case into consideration and passed an act, February 22, 1649, " for the better propagating and preaching of the gospel in Wales," and commissioners were appointed for carrying it into effect. Mr. Vavasor Powell was at the head of these commissioners, and exerted himself most indefatigably in this office, the beneficial effects of which soon became apparent. Whitelocke, speaking of the year 1652, says, “By this time there were a hundred and fifty good preachers in the thirteen Welsh counties, most of whom preached three or four times a week they were placed in every market town; and in most great towns two schoolmasters, able, learned, and university men," &c. *
Soon after the passing of this act, Mr. Powell, who had for several years taken up his residence in the neighbourhood of London, returned to Wales, where he continued some years diligently exerting himself in promoting the objects of it, and especially in preaching the gospel throughout the country. There was scarcely a neighbourhood, a parish, or a village, in the country which was not visited by him, and that did not hear from his mouth the cheering invitations of the gospel. Even to this day
* Whitelocke's Memorials, p. 518.
places are pointed out, in the most obscure and unfrequented parts of the principality, where Vavasor Powell is said to have preached to numerous congregations. In these excursions he was often accompanied by other ministers of the same active turn and fervent spirit with himself: and their labours were eminently successful. Even as early as the year 1654, the Christians in Wales connected with Vavasor Powell, were calculated to amount to no less than twenty thousand *.
It is said that Mr. Powell was much in favour with the protector, Cromwell, at one period of his life: but when the latter had assumed the supreme power, he openly opposed his elevation, and thereby lost his favour. From that moment he appears to have been continually the object of mistrust, and consequently became closely watched. All his movements were scrutinised narrowly, and as every thing is yellow to the jaundiced eye, the basest motives were imputed to every part of his conduct. One while Powell was said to be preparing for war; busily engaged in enlisting troops; at another he was actually up in arms at the head of a troop of horse ready to fight it out! Even his labours in preaching the gospel, and the great concourse of people that attended him, were looked upon with an evil eye, and generally represented in a very unfavourable and suspicious light; and he often felt the effects of them in the persecutions which he was called to endure. But though these suspicions and evil surmises must have proved very painful to him, and detrimental to his labours in the propagation of the gospel, yet it does not appear that they damped his courage, or cooled his zeal, or slackened his diligence in the prosecution of his important undertaking. He steadily persevered in the work of the Lord, till the new order of things under Charles II. deprived him of his liberty, and compelled him to desist.
Vavasor Powell was among the first victims to the tyrannical measures of Charles II. No sooner was the restoration resolved on, than the busy agents of government marked him out for their prey. They had even formed their plan and executed it before the king's arrival; such was their breathless haste to ruin this worthy man. On the 28th of April 1660, he was seized in his own house by a party of soldiers, and conducted to the county jail; from thence he was removed to Shrewsbury, where he remained a prisoner nine weeks, but was then discharged. Returning into Montgomeryshire, he began to preach as usual, when the sheriff of the county lodged a complaint against him with Mr. Secretary Morrice, charging him with sedition, rebellion, and treason; and before any return could be received from the government, the sheriff issued a warrant to apprehend him, which was accordingly done, having enjoyed his liberty only twenty-four days. Soon after, he was removed, by a warrant from
• See Thurloe's State Papers, vol. 3.
the secretary of state, to London, and committed to the Fleet prison, where he lay two years, so closely confined, that he was not allowed to go out of his chamber-door, which, added to the offensive effluvia of a dung-hill that lay before his window, so much impaired his health that he never perfectly recovered it. During this period, he wrote "A brief narrative of the former propagation and late restoration of the gospel in Wales;" of which a second edition was published in 1662. In this piece he challenged his adversaries to substantiate the least of their calumnious charges against him. But in vain did he justify his character; innocence could procure him no redress. Having lain in the Fleet nearly two years, he was removed at an hour's notice, on the 30th of September 1662, to South-sea-castle, near Portsmouth, where he remained a close prisoner for five years longer. On the fall of lord Clarendon, Mr. Powell sued for a habeas corpus, and soon after, by an order from the king in council, obtained his liberty.
But, scarcely had ten months elapsed, before Mr. Powell was again apprehended, as he was passing from Bristol to Monmouthshire, over the hills of Glamorgan, in his way to his own residence, and committed to prison. He had preached at different stations, as he came along, to large congregations; and the people eagerly flocked to hear him from all parts. He had preached at Newport, in Monmouthshire, and from thence proceeded to Merthyr Tidvil, in Glamorganshire, a place now become famous for its iron works, the most celebrated and extensive in Britain, as well as for the number of its inhabitants, having in a few years, from an inconsiderable village, become the most populous place in all the principality of Wales. When Mr. Powell arrived at Merthyr, he found assembled in and about the church-yard, a large congregation waiting to hear the word of God. He discoursed to them from Jer. xvii. 7, 8. For this act of mercy the clergyman of the parish deposed against him, in consequence of which he was seized and lodged in his majesty's jail of Cardiff; from thence he was, some time afterward, cited before six deputy-lieutenants at Cowbridge, where he underwent a long examination, after which he was remanded to prison and recommitted. His friends in London now interested themselves in his behalf, and procured a writ of habeas corpus to remove him to the court of common pleas, which was for some time resisted, but at length they succeeded, and on the 16th of October 1669 he arrived in London, where, after an examination, he was committed once more to the Fleet. Here he remained till discharged by death, on the 27th of October 1670, in the fifty-third year of his age, eleven years of which he had passed in prison! He was a person of the strictest integrity, the most fervent piety, and the most intrepid courage. He bore his illness with great fortitude and resignation to the will of God, and in the highest paroxysms of his disorder, could with difficulty be restrained from breaking out into acts of devotion,
and expressing his sentiments of zeal and piety. His remains were interred in Bunhill-fields, whither they were followed by an innumerable crowd of the dissenters who attended him to his grave. The inscription on his tombstone, which was drawn up by his friend Edward Bradshaw, describes him as "a successful teacher of the past, a sincere witness of the present, and a useful example of the future age; who, in the defection of many, found mercy to be faithful: for which being called to many prisons, he was tried and would not accept deliverance, expecting a better resurrection *." But to return:
In 1641 Mr. Edward Barber, minister to a small congregation of Baptists in London, was kept eleven months in prison for denying the baptism of infants, and that to pay tithes to the clergy was a divine ordinance under the gospel.
In 1643, some pious persons at Coventry, who had embraced the opinion of antipædobaptism, invited Mr. Benjamin Cox, an aged minister of good reputation, for learning and piety, the son of a bishop, and sometime minister at Bedford, to come to them and assist them in forming themselves into a distinct church. Several Presbyterian ministers, amongst whom was Mr. Baxter, had taken refuge in that city: who, being alarmed at the spread of baptistical sentiments, Mr. Baxter challenged Mr. Cox to dispute with him about the points in difference between them. This was done vivá voce and by writing; but it was broken off by the interference of the committee, who required Mr. Cox to depart from the city, and to promise not to return to it. As he refused this, he was immediately committed to prison, and remained there for some time; till, in consequence of Mr. Pinson's application to Mr. Baxter, his release was procuredt.
Another sufferer on this side was Mr. Henry Denne, who had been ordained by the bishop of St. David's, and held the living of Pyrton, in Hertfordshire, for ten years. In 1644, he was apprehended in Cambridgeshire by the committee of that county, and sent to gaol, for preaching against infant-baptism, and baptizing those who had received no other. After he had been confined some time, his case, through the intercession of some friends, was referred to a committee of parliament, and he was sent up to London, and detained in the lord Petre's house, in Aldersgatestreet, till the committee had heard his cause and released him. In June, 1646, he was apprehended a second time at Spalding, in Lincolnshire. He was seized on a Lord's day, and kept in custody, to prevent his preaching. Upon hearing the charge against him, which was for baptizing, as but one witness appeared to support it, and according to the maxim of law, Nemo tenetur
Richards' Cambro-British Biography, p. 141–186. Dr. Toulmin, in a note respecting Vavasor Powell, says, "his sentiments were those of a Sabbatarian Baptist," but Mr. Richards assures us there is no foundation for considering him a Sabbatarian.
Crosby, p. 220, 221; and Baxter's Life, p. 46.