Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Humfrey, John
HUMFREY, JOHN (1621–1719), ejected minister, was born at St. Albans, Hertfordshire, in January 1621 (see title-page of his Free Thoughts, 1710). In Lent term 1638 he entered Pembroke College, Oxford, and graduated B.A. on 18 Nov. 1641. He had left Oxford and was ‘in the parliament quarters,’ but returned to it when occupied by the king (1642); he again left it on its surrender to Fairfax (20 June 1646), and obtained employment (probably a chaplaincy) in Devonshire. On 13 July 1647 he graduated M.A. He was ‘ordain'd by a classis of presbyters in 1649;’ he gives as his reason that he was ‘in the country, and not acquainted with any bishop;’ he never took the covenant, nor joined any presbyterial association. He obtained the vicarage of Frome Selwood, Somersetshire. It was his practice to admit to the Lord's Supper without examination; this he defended in his first publication. Of his adhesion to the monarchy he made no secret. Shortly before the Restoration, a warrant was out against him for preaching in favour of the king's return.
Soon after the Restoration, William Pierce, bishop of Bath and Wells, invited Humfrey, in accordance with Charles II's declaration, to assist at an ordination. Humfrey told his bishop ‘he had only been ordain'd by presbyters’ and thought it sufficient. Pierce urged him to be reordained. He had two days to consider, and complied, stipulating for ‘some little variation in the words used,’ and for exemption from subscription. Becoming uneasy, he prepared a publication to show ‘how a minister ordain'd by the presbytery may take ordination also by the bishop.’ Wilkins, afterwards bishop of Chester, saw the work in manuscript and approved it. Edward Worth, afterwards bishop of Killaloe, told Humfrey that its publication (1661) had ‘converted all Ireland (excepting two Scotts)’; a groundless statement, unless the reference be to the two counties of Down and Antrim. Humfrey himself was not satisfied with what he had done. He went to the bishop's registrar, read a renunciation, and tore up and burned his letters of deacon's orders. This was shortly before the Uniformity Act, which ejected him (August 1662) from his living. He was succeeded by Joseph Glanvill [q. v.] He still retained his testimonials of priest's order, ‘not knowing but they might be of use to him.’ But some time later he tore up these also, burned a part, and enclosed the remainder in a letter to Pierce.
Humfrey came to London, where he gathered a congregational church, which met in Duke's Place, afterwards in Rosemary Lane, finally in Boar's Head Yard, Petticoat Lane, Whitechapel. His views on church matters were extremely moderate, and he spent much ink in futile recommendations of a union of all protestants. In the theological disputes of the time he was a man of no side. He was certainly not an antinomian, as Wilson supposes, though he criticised the critics of Tobias Crisp [q. v.] He always had a way of his own, but men of all parties respected him. One of his many treatises on justification (1697) is prefaced by the commendations of three bishops, Patrick of Ely, Stillingfleet of Worcester, and Strafford of Chester. After the revolution he became an inveterate writer of advices to parliament, seldom letting a session pass without some appeal in favour of liberal measures. On one occasion he was committed to the Gatehouse. In 1709 his pamphlet on the sacramental test was burned by the hangman, but on admitting the authorship at the bar of the House of Commons he was dismissed without further censure. His accounts (1708) of the ‘French prophets’ are interesting and instructive. The persistence of his bodily and mental vigour was remarkable; in his ninety-second year he brought out a new book and projected another; he continued his ministry to his ninety-ninth year. At the time of the Salters' Hall dispute (February–March 1719) he was still living, but took no part in it. He died in 1719, probably towards the end of the year, his successor, Joseph Hussey, being appointed in December. Humfrey survived all the ejected except Nathan Denton [q. v.], who was buried 13 Oct. 1720.
He published: 1. ‘A Humble Vindication of a Free Admission unto the Lord's Supper,’ &c., 1651, 8vo; 3rd edit. 1653, 12mo. 2. ‘A Rejoinder to Dr. Drake,’ &c., 1654, 8vo. 3. ‘A Second Vindication,’ &c., 1656, 12mo. 4. ‘A Brief Receipt … against … Enemies,’ &c., 1658, 12mo. 5. ‘The Question of Reordination,’ &c., 1661, 8vo. 6. ‘A Second Discourse about Reordination,’ &c., 1662, 4to. 7. ‘The Obligation of Human Laws,’ &c., 1671, 8vo. 8. ‘The Authority of the Magistrate,’ &c., 1672, 8vo. 9. ‘The Middle Way,’ &c., 1672–4, 4to, 4 parts. 10. ‘The Peaceable Design,’ &c., 1675, 8vo. 11. ‘Peaceable Disquisitions,’ &c., 1678, 4to. 12. ‘The Healing Paper,’ &c., 1678, 4to. 13. ‘Animadversions and Considerations,’ &c., 1679, 12mo. 14. ‘A Peaceable Resolution,’ &c., 1680, 8vo. 15. ‘Paulus Redivivus,’ &c., 1680, 8vo. 16. ‘Σνμβολή, sive conflictus cum Antichristo,’ &c., 1681, fol. 17. ‘An Answer to Dr. Stillingfleet,’ &c. 1681, 4to, 2 parts. 18. ‘A Reply to the Defence of Dr. Stillingfleet,’ &c., 1681, 4to (this and the foregoing written in conjunction with Stephen Lobb [q.v.] ). 19. ‘Materials for Union,’ &c., 1681, 4to. 20. ‘A Private Psalter,’ &c., 1683, 12mo. 21. ‘Two Steps of a Nonconformist,’ &c., 1684, 4to. 22. ‘The Third Step of a Nonconformist,’ &c., 1684, 4to. 23. ‘Advice before it be too late,’ &c. , 4to. 24. ‘Union Pursued,’ &c., 1691, 4to. 25. ‘Mediocria,’ &c., 1695, 4to. 26. ‘The Righteousness of God … of Justification,’ &c., 1697, 4to. 27. ‘The Friendly Interposer,’ &c., 1698, 4to. 28. ‘Mediocria … a Collection,’ &c., 1698, 4to. 29. ‘A Letter to George Keith,’ &c., 1700, 4to. 30. ‘A Paper to William Penn,’ &c., 1700, 4to. 31. ‘Letters to Parliament Men,’ &c., 1701, 4to. 32. ‘The Free State of the People of England,’ &c., 1702, 4to. 33. ‘After-Considerations for some Members of Parliament,’ &c., 1704, 4to. 34. ‘Lord's Day Entertainment,’ &c., 1704, 8vo. 35. ‘A Draught for a National Church,’ &c., 1705, 4to; 1709, 4to. 36. ‘Veritas in Semente … concerning the Quakers,’ &c., 1705, 8vo; 1707, 8vo. 37. ‘De Justificatione,’ &c., 1706, 4to. 38. ‘An Account of the French Prophets,’ &c., 1708, 8vo. 39. ‘A Farther Account of our late Prophets,’ &c., 1708, 12mo. 40. ‘A Sermon … for the Morning Lecture,’ &c., 1709, 8vo. 41. ‘Free Thoughts on … Predestination,’ &c., 1710, 4to. 42. ‘Wisdom to the Wicked,’ &c., 1710, 8vo. 43. ‘Free Thoughts,’ &c., 1711, 4to (continuation of No. 40; a further issue was projected). 44. ‘A Daily Morning Prayer,’ &c., 1712 (Calamy). Some other pamphlets and single sermons are referred to by Calamy. Many of his publications bear only his initials. He seems always to spell his name Humfrey; by others it is given as Humphrey or Humphries. He was confused with John Humphreys, an astrologer, born in 1638 at Shrewsbury, and educated at Cambridge; also with John Humphryes, a quaker, author of Bίος Πάντων, &c., 1657, 4to.
[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iv. 743 sq.; Wood's Fasti, ii. 3, 103; Calamy's Account, 1713, p. 615 sq.; Calamy's Own Life, 1830, i. 371 sq., ii. 143 sq.; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1814, iv. 408 sq.; James's Hist. Litig. Presb. Chapels. 1867, p. 691.]