Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Okely, Francis

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OKELY, FRANCIS (1719?–1794), minister of the Unitas Fratrum, was born at Bedford about 1710. He was educated at the Charterhouse school and at St. John's College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1739. About 1740 he took part with Jacob Rogers, an Anglican clergyman, in an evangelical mission at Bedford. On the advice of Benjamin Ingham [q. v.], this movement was connected in 1742 with the Moravian mission. Okely was ordained deacon by a bishop of the Unitas Fratrum. On seeking priest's orders in the Anglican church, recognition of his deacon's order was refused; the act of parliament recognising the Unitas Fratrum as 'an ancient protestant episcopal church' was not passed till 6 June 1749. Okely adhered to the Unitas Fratrum. In March 1744he was with John Gambold [q. v.] at the of the brethren at Herrnhaag. In 1745 a regular congregation was formed at Bedford, and a chapel erected in 1751. Later another chapel was built in the neighbouring village of Riseley. Okely was the first regular minister (1755) of the Moravian chapel at Dukinfield, Cheshire, but left after two years to conduct a mission in Yorkshire. In March 1758 he accompanied John Wesley from Manchester to Bolton and Liverpool. About 1766, having again been settled at Bedford, he removed to Northampton, where a chapel was built for him. Here he ministered to a congregation of the Unitas Fratrum till his death.

Early in life Okely had been greatly influenced by Law's 'Serious Call,' 1728. He made the acquaintance of the author a few months before Law died, 9 April 1761, and this led him to study the works of Jacob Behmen (Boehme), to which he had first been introduced in his earlier acquaintance with John Byrom [q. v.] In a curious list of sympathisers with mysticism drawn up in November 1775 by Richard Mather [q. v.], it is mentioned that Okely 'professes great love to the mystics.' He devoted his later years to translating works of this type in prose and verse, with commendatory prefaces and notes of some value.

He died, while on a visit at Bedford, on 9 May 1794, leaving a high character for piety and benevolence.

He published:

  1. 'Twenty-one Discourses … upon the Augsburgh Confession … the Brethren's Confession of Faith,' &c., 1754, 8vo (translated from the German).
  2. 'Psalmorum aliquot Davidis Metaphrasis Græca Joannis Serrani,' &c., 1770, 12mo (with other Greek sacred verse, and a Latin version by Okely).
  3. 'The Nature … of the New Creature … by Johanna Eleonora de Merlau,' &c. 1772, 12mo (translated from the German).
  4. 'Dawnings of the Everlasting Gospel-Light, glimmering out of a Private Heart's Epistolary Correspondence,' &c., Northampton, 1775, 8vo.
  5. 'A Seasonable and Salutary Word,' &c. (collection of mystical pieces; not seen).
  6. 'Seasonably Alarming and … Exhilarating Truths,' &c.' 1778, 8vo (metrical version of passages from Law).
  7. 'Memoirs of … Jacob Behmen,' &c. 1780, 12mo (translated from several German writers).
  8. 'The Divine Visions of John Engelbrocht,' &c. 1781, 8vo, 2 vols.
  9. 'A Display of God's Wonders … upon … John Engelbrecht,' 1781, &c.
  10. 'A Faithful Narrative of God's … Dealings with Hiel [Henderdrik Jansen],' &c. 1781, 8vo.
  11. 'The Indispensable Necessity of Faith,' &c. 1781, 12mo (sermon at Eydon, Northamptonshire).
  12. 'The Disjointed Watch … a Similitude … in Metre,' &c. 1788, 12mo.

He prepared for publication a translation of Boehme’s ‘Way to Christ,’ which was superseded by a reprint of an older version; also translations of Pierre Poiret's ‘Mystic Library,' Gerlac Petersen's ‘Divine Soliloquies,' Joannes Theophilus's ‘Germanic Theology,' Tauler's ‘Conversion,' Hiel's ‘Letters’ and 'Treatises,' and ‘Memoirs of J. G. Gichtel.’ The ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ speaks of him as ‘a valuable correspondent.'

[Gent. Mag. 1794, i. 485, 594; Protestant Dissenter's Magazine, 1794, p. 336; Cranz's Hist. of the Brethren, 1780, pp. 229, 570; Nichols's Anecdotes of W. Bowyer, 1782; Klinesmith's Historical Records relative to the Moravian Church, 1831, p. 294; Walton's Notes and Materials for Biography of W. Law, 1854, p. 596; Tyerman's Life and Times of John Wesley, 1870, ii. 301, and Oxford Methodists, 1873, pp. 122, 130; list of writings appended to Okely's Memoirs of Behmen; information from the Rev. R. Hutton, Dukinfield.]

A. G.