Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Firmin, Giles

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FIRMIN, GILES (1614–1697), ejected minister, son of Giles Firmin, was born at Ipswich in 1614. As a schoolboy he received religious impressions from the preaching of John Rogers at Dedham, Essex. He matriculated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in December 1629, his tutor being Thomas Hill, D.D. [q. v.] At Cambridge he studied medicine. In 1632 he went with his father to New England. While at Boston, Massachusetts, he was ordained deacon of the first church, of which John Cotton was minister. At Ipswich, Massachusetts, he received in 1638 a grant of 120 acres of land. He practised medicine in New England, and had the repute of a good anatomist. About 1647 he returned to England, leaving a wife and family in America. He was shipwrecked on the coast of Spain; Calamy relates, as a 'well-attested' fact, that at the very time when he was in danger of being drowned, his little daughter of four years old roused the family in New England by continually crying out 'My father!'

In 1648 Firmin was appointed to the vicarage of Shalford, Essex, which had been vacant a year since the removal of Ralph Hilles to Pattiswick. At Shalford he was ordained a presbyter by Stephen Marshall [q. v.] and others. He is returned in 1650 as 'an able, godly preacher.' He appears to have been a royalist in principle, for he affirms that he was one of those who 'in the time of the usurpation ' prayed for 'the afflicted royal family.' Very soon he got into controversy on points of discipline. He was a strong advocate for the parochial system, insisted on imposition of hands as requisite for the validity of ordination, and denied the right of parents who would not submit to discipline to claim baptism for their children. With Baxter he opened a correspondence in 1654, complaining to him that 'these separatists have almost undone us.' The quakers also troubled his parish. In ecclesiastical politics he followed Baxter, preferring a reformed episcopacy to either the presbyterial or the congregational model, but laying most stress on the need of a well-ordered parish. He actively promoted in 1657 the 'agreement of the associated ministers of Essex' on Baxter's Worcestershire model.

After the king's return he writes to Baxter (14 Nov. 1660) that he is most troubled about forms of prayer; these, he says, 'will not downe in our parts.' He is ready to submit to bishops,' so they will not force me to owne their power as being of divine authoritie,' and adds, 'some episcopacies I owne.' In spite of the persuasion of his seven children he refused to conform. As the result of his ejection (1662), Shalford Church was closed for some months.

Firmin retired to Ridgewell, Essex, perhaps on the passing of the Five Mile Act (1665). He supported himself by medical practice, and was much in request. The neighbouring justices, who valued his professional services, took care that he should not be molested, though he regularly held conventicles, except once a month, when there was a sermon at Ridgewell Church which he attended. On 22 July 1672 Daniel Ray, who had been ejected from Ridgewell, took out licenses qualifying him to use his house as a 'presbyterian meeting-place.' Firmin on 1 Dec. took out similar licenses. Ray removed in 1673, and Firmin remained till his death in sole charge of the congregation. It still exists, and now ranks with the independents.

Firmin retained robust health as an octogenarian, and was always ready to take his part in polemics. He had broken a lance with his old friend Baxter in 1670, and in 1693 he entered the lists of the Crispian controversy, which was then breaking up the newly formed 'happy union' of the London presbyterians and independents. He was a well-read divine, if somewhat captious. Calamy reckons him at his best in an experimental treatise. He was taken ill on a Sunday night after preaching, and died on the following Saturday, in April 1697. He married, in New England, Susanna, daughter of Nathaniel Ward, pastor of the church at Ipswich, Massachusetts. Davids gives an imperfect list of seventeen of Firmin's publications.

His chief pieces are: 1. 'A Serious Question Stated,' &c., 1651, 4to (on infant baptism). 2. 'Separation Examined,' &c., 1651 [i.e. 15 March 1652], 4to. 3. 'Stablishing against Shaking,' &c., 1656, 4to (against the quakers; the running title is 'Stablishing against Quaking; ' answered by Edward Burrough [q. v.] 4.'Tythes Vindicated,' &c., 1659, 4to. 5.' Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated,' &c., 1660, 4to. 6. 'The Liturgical Considerator Considered,' &c., 1661, 4to (anon., in answer to Gauden). 7. 'The Real Christian,' &c., 1670, 4to; reprinted, Glasgow, 1744, 8vo (in this he criticises Baxter; it is his best piece according to Calamy). 8. 'The Question between the Conformist and the Nonconformist,' &c., 1681, 4to. 9. 'Πανουργία,' &c., 1693 (against Davis and Crisp). 10. 'Some Remarks upon the Anabaptist's Answer to the Athenian Mercuries,' &c. (1694), 4to (apparently his last piece). He wrote also in defence of some of the above, and in opposition to John Owen, Daniel Cawdry [q. v.], Thomas Grantham (d. 1692) [q. v.], and others.

[Calamy's Historical Account of his Life and Times, 1713, p. 295; Continuation, 1727, p. 458; Davids's Annals of Evang. Nonconf. in Essex, 1863, pp. 440, 449, 457; Dexter's Congregationalism of the last Three Hundred Years, 1880, p. 574 n.; Firmin's letters to Baxter, in the collection of Baxter MSS. at Dr. Williams's Library (extracts, occasionally needing correction, are given by Davids); Hunter's manuscripts, Addit. MSS. 24478, p. 114 b.]

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