Brownrig, Ralph (DNB00)

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BROWNRIG, RALPH (1592–1659), bishop of Exeter, was born at Ipswich of parents who are described as being 'of merchantly condition, of worthy reputation, and of very christian conversation.' His father died when he was only a few weeks old, but he was well brought up by a pious and judicious mother, who sent him at an early age to the excellent grammar school at Ipswich. There he remained until his fourteenth year, when he was sent to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. He was elected scholar of the 'house,' and then fellow sooner than the statutes permitted, because 'the college wanted to make sure of him.' He took his M.A. degree in 1617, B.D. in 1621, and D.D. in 1626. When James I was entertained at Cambridge with a 'Philosophy Act,' Brownrig waa chosen by the university to act the joco-serious part of 'Prævaricator,' and greatly delighted the king and the rest of the audience by 'such luxuriancy of wit consistent with innocency.' Thomas Puller, who knew him personally, tells us that 'he had wit at will, but so that he made it his page, not his privy counsellor, to obey, not direct his judgment.' In 1621 he was mode rector of Barley in Hertfordshire, and in the same year was appointed to a prebend at Ely by Dr. Felton, the bishop of that see. He ministered to his rustic parishioners at Barley for some years, 'and fitted,' says his biographer, 'his net to the fish he had to catch; but,' he adds, 'he was more fit to preside in the schools of the prophets than to rusticate among plain people that follow the plough.' And he was presently called upon to preside in a school of the prophets, being chosen master of St. Catharine's Hall, Cambridge. He appears to have been a very auccessful master, the hall improving both in the quality and quantity of the students in consequence of his care and the fame of his name. In 1629 he was made prebendary of Lichfield; in 1631 archdeacon of Coventry. He held the office of vice-chancellor of the university in 1637 and 1638. He was presented to the eleventh stall in Durham Cathedral by Bishop Morton, whose chaplain he was, in 1611; and finally, in the same year, upon the translation of Bishop Hall to Norwich, he succeeded him in the see of Exeter. He was vice-chancellor again in 1643-4, when the Earl of Mancheeter visited the university, and it is highly probable that his interposition was serviceable to the church party at Cambridge. But it is also probable that his retention of his mastership was due not only to 'the procerity of his parts and piety,' but also to the fact that his lawn sleeves did not altogether alienate his presbyterian friends, and moreover that in some points he agreed with them rather than with their adversaries. For he was a strict Calvinist, and in other respects was opposed to the Laudian type of churchmanship. He was also nominated one of the assembly of divines. Yet, in his way, he was thoroughly attached to the church of England, 'which' (he said) he liked better and better 'as he grew older.' In 1645 be was brave enough to preach a royalist sermon before the university, and was deprived of his mastership in consequence, and was obliged to quit Cambridge. He had previously been deprived of all his other preferments. He found refuge among the independent laity, who were still faithful to the church. He divided his time between London, Bury St. Edmunds, Highgale, and Sunning, a village , in Berkshire, by far the greatest part of it being spent in the last-named place at the house of his good friend Mr. Rich. At Sunning he had the moral courage to exercise his episcopal functions. He ordained there, among others, the famous Edward Stillingfleet. It is said that Oliver Cromwell asked his counsel about some public business, and that he bravely replied, 'My lord, the best counsel I can give you is, Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's,' with which reply the Protector was silenced rather than satisfied. About a year before his death Brownrig was invited by the honourable societies of both Temples to come and live among them and be their chaplain. He accepted the invitation, and 'was provided with handsome lodgings and an annual honorary recompense' (Gauden). This hardly amounted to his being appointed, as Neal says (History of the Puritans), master of the Temple. He preached in the Temple church in Easter term 1659, when there was so large a crowd that many were disappointed of hearing him. His last sermon was on 5 Nov. in the same year, and on the 7th of the following month he died. He was buried, at his own desire, in the Temple church, his funeral sermon being preached by Dr. Gauden, afterwards his successor in the see of Exeter. Dr. Gauden also published a 'Memorial of the Life and Death of Dr. Ralph Brownrig,' which is, in fact, merely an amplification of what he said in the sermon. Fuller, who was present at the funeral, says: 'I observed that the prime persons of all denominations were present, whose judgments going several ways met all in a general grief at his decease.' Echard says 'he was a great man for the anti-Arminian cause (for he was a rigid Calvinist), yet a mighty champion for the liturgy and ordination by bishops, and his death was highly lamented by all parties;' and Neal owns that 'he was an excellent man, and of a peaceable and quiet disposition' (History of the Puritans). His reputation was so great that Tillotson, when he first came to London, sought him out and made him his model, both for his preaching and for his mode of life.

Brownrig published nothing during his lifetime, but at his death he 'disposed all his senuons, notes of sermons, papers, and paperbooks,' to the Rev. W. Martyn, 'sometime preacher at the Rolls,' with liberty to print what he should think good. Mr. Martyn determined to print nothing without the sanction of Dr. Gauden, whose rather exaggerated view of Brownrig's merits he seems to have adopted, for he calls him 'one of the greatest lights the church of England ever enjoyed.' He published forty sermons of Brownrig's in 1652, which were reprinted with twenty-five others in 1665, making two volumes. They are full of matter, and, after the fashion of those times, they pick their texts to the very bone. As they are very long, full of quotations, and divided and sub-divided into innumerable heads, it is not surprising that they never reached the rank of the great classical sermons of the seventeenth century. They are not, like Bishop Andrewes's sermons (which they resemble in form), of such superlative excellence as to overcome the repugnance which set in after the Restoration against this mode of preaching.

[Bishop Gauden's Memorial of the Life and Death of Dr. Ralph Brownrig; Fuller's Worthies; Biog. Brit. (Kippis). ii. 674-6; Neal's History of the Puritans, iii. 112, iv. 242-3; Bishop Brownrig's Sermons.]

J. H. O.