Edwards, Thomas (1599-1647) (DNB00)
|←Edwards, Thomas (fl.1595)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17
Edwards, Thomas (1599-1647)
|Edwards, Thomas (1652-1721)→|
EDWARDS, THOMAS (1599-1647), puritan divine and author of 'Gangraena,' born in 1599, was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, and in due course proceeded to the two degrees in arts. On 14 July 1623 he was incorporated at Oxford University, but he continued to reside at Cambridge, where, after taking orders, he was appointed a university preacher, and earned the name of 'Young Luther.' In February 1627 he preached a sermon in which he counselled his hearers not to seek carnal advice when in doubt; declared he would testify and teach no other doctrine though the day of judgment were at hand, and was committed to prison until he could find bonds for his appearance before the ecclesiastical courts. After being frequently summoned before the courts, he on 31 March 1628 received an order to make a public recantation of his teaching in St. Andrew's Church, with which he complied on 6 April, a document to that effect being drawn up and signed by the curate of the parish. Edwards did not remain much longer at Cambridge, and in the following year one of his name, who was in all probability the same, was licensed to preach in St. Botolph's, Aldgate, London (Newcourt, Repert. Eccl. i. 916). His nonconformist tendencies very soon excited attention, and it must have been shortly after his appointment that he found himself among those 'suppressed or suspended' by Laud (Prynne, Cant. Doome, ed. 1646, p. 573). On regaining his liberty to preach, he recommenced his campaign against 'popish innovations and Arminian tenets' at various city churches, at Aldermanbury, and in Coleman Street. In July 1640, on the delivery at Mercers' Chapel of a sermon which he himself describes (Gangr. i. 75) as 'such a poor sermon as never a sectary in England durst have preached in such a place and at such a time,' an attachment was issued against him, and he was prosecuted in the high commission court, but with what result is not known. In alluding to this incident Edwards summarises his controversial attitude at this time in the following words: 'I never had a canonicall coat, never gave a peny to the building of Paul's, took not the canonicall oath, declined subscription for many years before the parliament (though I practised the old conformity), would not give ne obolum quidem to the contributions against the Scots, but dissuaded other ministers; much lesse did I yeeld to bow at the altar, and at the name of Jesus, or administer the Lord's Supper at a table turned altarwise, or bring the people up to rails, or read the Book of Sports, or highly flatter the archbishop in an epistle dedicatory to him, or put articles into the high commission court against any.' When the parliament took the government into their own hands, and the presbyterian party was in the ascendant, Edwards came forward as one of their most zealous supporters, not only preaching, praying, and stirring up the people to stand by them, but even advancing money (ib. pt. i. p. 2). He refused, he tells us (ib. pt. iii. pref.), many great livings, preferring to preach in various localities where he considered his services were most needed. Christchurch, London, Hertford, Dunmow, and Godalming were among the places which he more frequently visited, and at one time he was in the habit of making three or four journeys a week between the last-named town and London. As a rule he refused to be paid for his sermons, and he boasted that, notwithstanding his constant preaching, he had for the two years 1645-6 received no more than 40l. per annum. He could, however, afford to be indifferent in the matter of payment, since he had married a lady who brought with her a considerable fortune. As soon as the independents began to come prominently forward Edwards attacked them with unexampled fury from the pulpit, and in 1644 published 'Antapologia, or a full Answer to the Apologeticall Narration of Mr. Goodwin, Mr. Nye, Mr. Sympson, Mr. Burroughes, Mr. Bridge, Members of the Assembly of Divines,' wherein are handled many of the controversies of these times, containing a violent indictment of the divines named on the title-page, but mild and reasonable by comparison with his next work. This was 'Gangraena; or a Catalogue and Discovery of many Errours, Heresies, Blasphemies, and pernicious Practices of the Sectaries of this Time, vented and acted in England in these four last Years,' which appeared on 10 Feb. 1646. Sixteen sorts of sectaries were enumerated, 180 errors or heresies, and twenty-eight alleged malpractices, the book concluding with an outcry against toleration, which wellnigh exhausted the language of abuse. The sensation produced by 'Gangraena' was immense. A second edition was called for immediately, and answers to it were published in great numbers. The most important of these were from the pens of Lilburne, Saltmarsh, Walwyn, and John Goodwin (whose 'Cretensis; or a briefe Answer to an Ulcerous Treatise . . . intituled "Gangraena," 'was published anonymously), and to these Edwards replied the same year with 'The Second Part of Gangraena; or a fresh and further Discovery of the Errours, Heresies, Blasphemies, and dangerous Proceedings of the Sectaries of this Time.' In this work there is a catalogue of thirty-four errors not previously mentioned, and a number of letters from ministers throughout the country giving evidence in support of Edwards's charges against the independents. The publication was followed by a fresh crop of pamphlets, and again Edwards retaliated with 'The Third Part of Gangraena; or a new and higher Discovery of Errours,' &c. The resentment created by these successive attacks on the dominant party was so great that Edwards in 1647 judged it wise to retire to Holland, where, almost immediately on his arrival, he was seized with an ague, from which he died on 24 Aug. He left a daughter and four sons, the second of whom was John Edwards, 1637-1716 [q. v.].
Any controversial value which Edwards's work might possess is almost entirely set at nought by the unrestrained virulence of his language, and the intemperate fury with which he attacked all whose theological opinions differed, however slightly, from his own. He did not hesitate to make outrageous charges on the personal character of his opponents, and throughout his manner is far more maledictory than argumentative. Fuller (Appeal of Injured Innocence, pt. vii. p. 602, ed. 1659) remarks: 'I knew Mr. Edwards very well, my contemporary in Queens' Colledge, who often was transported beyond due bounds with the keenness and eagerness of his spirit, and therefore I have just cause in some things to suspect him.' Milton, whose doctrine of divorce was error No. 154 in the first part of 'Gangraena,' refers to him in his lines 'On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament:' —
Men whose life, learning, faith, and pure intent
Would have been held in high esteem by Paul,
Must now be named and printed heretics
By shallow Edwards.
Jeremiah Burroughes (Vindication, p. 2, ed. 1646) writes of him: 'I doubt whether there ever was a man who was looked upon as a man professing godliness that ever manifested so much boldness and malice against others whom he acknowledged to be religious persons. That fiery rage, that implacable, irrational violence of his against godly persons, makes me stand and wonder.'
Minor works written by Edwards were: 1. 'Reasons against the Independent Government of particular Congregations,' 1641, answered by Katherine Chidley . 2. 'A Treatise of the Civil Power of Ecclesiasticals, and of Suspension from the Lord's Supper,' 1642. 3. 'The Casting down of the last Stronghold of Satan, or a Treatise against Toleration and pretended Liberty of Conscience' (the first part), 1647. 4. 'The Particular Visibility of the Church,' 1647. Of these Nos. 2 and 4 are not in the library of the British Museum, but are assigned to Edwards by Wood (Fasti Oxon, i. 413).[Brook's Lives of the Puritans, ed. 1813, iii. 82; Hook's Eccl. Biog. ed. 1847, iii. 557; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans, iii. 120, 310; Wood's Fasti Oxon. (Bliss), i. 413; Biog. Brit. (Kippis), sub voc. and sub 'Edwards, John; ' Gangraena, passim.]