Billingsley, John (1625-1684) (DNB00)

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BILLINGSLEY, JOHN, the elder (1626–1684), divine, was born at Chatham, Kent, on 14 Sept. 1626. Wood says 'he was educated mostly in St. John's College, Cambridge, but, coming with the rout to Oxon to obtain preferment on the visitation made by the parliament in 1648, he was fortunate to be supplied with a Kentish fellowship of Corpus Christi College, Oxford (as having been born in that county).' In 1649 he was 'incorporate' B. A., and ordained on 26 Sept. of that year in the church of St. Andrew Undershaft, London.

While in residence at Oxford he used to act as an evangelist in the neighbourhood, preaching with uncommon force. 'At length (Calamy and Palmer tell us) 'he had a call into one of the remote and dark corners of the kingdom to preach the gospel.' This he did 'very assiduously, viz. at Addingham in Cumberland.' He instituted catechising, and joined a county association for revival of the 'scriptural discipline of particular churches.' Thence he removed to Chesterfield in Derbyshire, which Anthony à Wood thought to be his first charge. He had many disputations with the disciples of George Fox. He published 'Strong Comforts for Weak Christians, with due Cautions against Presumption. Being the substance of several lectures lately preached at Chesterfield in Derbyshire, 1656;' 'The grand Quaker proved a gross Liar; or a Short Reply to a little Pamphlet entitled A Dispute between James Naylor and the Parish Teacher of Chesterfield by a Challenge against him,' &c., printed with 'Strong Comforts.' George Fox himself replied to Billingsley in 'The great Mystery of the great Whore unfolded, and Anti-Christ's Kingdom revealed with Destruction,' 1659.

As his reputation grew, he 'had great temptations from (increased) secular advantages and the importunity of friends to have quitted' Chesterfield; but 'he wonld not yield to a thought of leaving that people, who were dear to him as his own soul, and it was in his heart to live and die with them.' He was one of the two thousand deprived in 1662. He continued to labour among his parishioners in private, as he found opportunity. He was silenced by the act of 1664 against conventicles. He retired to Mansfield, which 'was to him and several others a little Zoar.' He went once a fortnight to Chesterfield, preached twice on each visit, 'and often expounded and catechised,' and visited the sick. Having to travel frequently at night, his health was greatly weakened. Though he was an avowed nonconformist, he lived 'in hearty love and concord with the worthy minister of the parish' at Mansfield, who, with reference to Billingsley, said that he 'counted it no schism to endeavour to help his people in their way to heaven.'

At the Restoration he was a zealous royalist. Bishop Hacket earnestly entreated him to conform, but in vain. 'He knew not,' were his words, 'how to mollify oaths by forced interpretations, or stretch his conscience to comply with human will, in cases wherein if he should happen to be in the wrong as he strongly suspected he should be in this) he knew human power could not defend him,' He died 30 May 1684. 'Out of his great modesty' (Palmer's Nonconf. Mem. i. 401) 'he left an express order in his will that there was to be no sermon preached at his funeral; but a suitable consolatory discourse was addressed to the family on the Lord's day following by [Matthew] Sylvester' on Romans xii. 12. Posthumously appeared 'The Believer's Daily Exercise, or the Scripture Precept of being in the Fear of the Lord examined and urged in Four Sermons,' 1690. He had two sons who became well known as nonconformist ministers at Hull and London [see Billingsley, John, jun.]

[Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iv. 61 1-2; Palmer's Nonconf. Mem. i. 400-2; Calamy's Account; Billingsley's own writings.]

A. B. G.