Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Erbury, William

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ERBURY, WILLIAM (1604–1654), independent divine, was born at or near Roath Dagfield, Glamorganshire, in 1604, and after receiving some education at a local school matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1619, taking the degree of B.A. in October 1623, when he returned to Wales, and taking orders was presented to the living of St. Mary's, Cardiff. Wood states (Athenæ Oxon. ed. 1815, ii. 100–1) that he was always schismatically affected, preached in conventicles, and refused to read the declaration regarding sabbath sports, for which he was several times cited before the court of high commission at Lambeth, and was punished for his obstinacy. At his visitation in 1634 the Bishop of Llandaff (Murray) pronounced Erbury a schismatical and dangerous preacher, and, after a judicial admonition, warned him that he should proceed further if he did not submit. On Erbury declining to submit the bishop preferred articles against him in the court of high commission. The case made slow progress, as Laud complains in 1636 (Wharton, Troubles of Laud, i. 538), and encouraged Erbury to persist in his contumacy and his followers to consider him faultless. The prosecution culminated in 1638, when Erbury was forced to resign his living and leave the diocese. In 1640 he commenced to preach against episcopacy and ecclesiastical ceremonies, and having declared for independency and the parliament, Christopher Love (Love, Vindication, ed. 1651) obtained for him the chaplaincy of Major Skippon's regiment, with the pay of eight shillings per day. While in the army he is said to have occasionally taken part in military affairs, and to have corrupted the soldiers with strange opinions and antinomian doctrines. Edwards (Gangræna, p. 78, ed. 1646) says he became a seeker and taught universal redemption, and in 1645 went to London to propagate his views. In July the same year, in a sermon at Bury St. Edmunds, he affirmed that Adam's sin could only be imputed to Adam, and denied the divinity of Christ. He now went to reside in the Isle of Ely, travelling through the surrounding district and preaching in private houses. He did not, however, sever his connection with the army, for in 1646, after the surrender of Oxford, he was a regimental chaplain and preacher to a congregation which met in a house opposite Merton College Chapel. He opposed in every way the parliamentary visitors, with whom in several public disputations he appears to have had the better of the argument: an account of one is given in ‘A Relation of a Disputation in St. Mary's Church in Oxon between Mr. Cheynel and Mr. Erbury,’ 1646–7. Although very popular with the soldiers, he was about this time, on account of his Socinian opinions, directed to leave Oxford, when he went to London, and for some time preached at Christ Church, Newgate Street, until his tenets caused him to be summoned before the committee for plundered ministers at Westminster in 1652, when he made an orthodox profession of faith. The committee refused to accept this as genuine, and are believed to have committed him to prison. In the following year he and John Webster had a disputation with two ministers in a church in Lombard Street, when Erbury declared that the wisest ministers and the purest churches were then ‘befooled and confounded by reason of learning,’ that ‘Babylon is the church in her ministers and the Great Whore the church in her worshippers,’ and made a number of other equally absurd statements, which caused the meeting to end in a riot. After his deprivation of his chaplaincy in 1645 he is supposed to have lived on the contributions of his admirers; his own property he alleges to have been plundered in Wales in 1642. He died at the beginning of 1654, and was buried either in Christ Church, Newgate Street, or in the burial-ground adjoining the old Bethlehem Hospital. His widow, Dorcas, became a quakeress, and in 1656 was apprehended for paying divine honours at Bristol to James Nayler, when she alleged that Nayler was the son of God and had raised her to life after she had been dead two days. She was liberated after a few days' confinement; when she died is uncertain. Erbury, although according to his lights both pious and conscientious, was a mystic and a fanatic with some little learning, good parts, and a violent temper. His leading tenets were that about the end of the apostolic times the Holy Spirit withdrew itself and men substituted an external and carnal worship in its stead; that when apostasy was removed the new Jerusalem would descend so that certain men could already see it; that baptism consisted in going ankle deep only into the water, and that none had a right to administer that ordinance without a fresh commission from heaven. Baxter considered him one of the chiefs of the anabaptists, but Neal describes him as a turbulent antinomian. His chief writings are: 1. ‘The Great Mysterie of Godliness: Jesus Christ our Lord God and Man, and Man with God, one in Jesus Christ our Lord,’ 1640. 2. ‘Ministers for Tythes, proving they are no Ministers of the Gospel,’ 1653. 3. Sermons of different dates, one of which is entitled ‘The Lord of Hosts’ (1648), collected in 1653. 4. ‘An Olive Leaf, or some Peaceable Considerations to the Christian Meeting at Christ's Church in London. … The Reign of Christ and the Saints with Him on Earth a Thousand Years, one Day, and the Day at Hand,’ 1654. 5. ‘Jack Pudding, or a Minister made a Black Pudding. Presented to Mr. R. Farmer, parson of Nicholas Church at Bristol,’ 1654. 6. ‘The Testimony of William Erbury,’ 1658, twenty-three tracts collected together, with a preface.

[Brook's Lives of the Puritans, iii. 185; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. iii. 360 (ed. 1815); Wharton's Troubles, &c., of Laud, i. 533, 555; Edwards's Gangræna, pts. i. and ii. (2nd edit.); Walker's Attempt, &c., pt. i. 125–6; Erbury's Testimony; Neal's Hist. Puritans, iii. 397 (1793–7); Biog. Brit. v. 3199 (ed. 1747); Antitrinitarian Biog. i. 87, iii. 167–8; Love's Vindication, p. 36 (ed. 1651).]

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