Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simpson, Sidrach

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SIMPSON, SIDRACH (1600?–1655), independent divine, was born about 1600, and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was admitted sizar in 1616 or beginning of 1617; Brook makes him B.D., apparently in error. Christopher Atkinson, the quaker, spells his name Sydrach Sympson (1654), so does Baxter, occasionally. Neal, followed by others, adopts this spelling, but it appears in none of Simpson's own writings. He held a curacy and lectureship at St. Margaret's, Fish Street, London, where his preaching became popular, but for breach of the canons he was convened by Laud at his metropolitical visitation in 1635. He made his submission, but, finding his position as a puritan intolerable, he migrated to Holland, probably in 1638, being the last of the five, afterwards known as ‘apologists,’ to take this step. In Rotterdam he joined the independent church, under John Ward as pastor, and William Bridge [q. v.] as teacher. In consequence of a difference with Bridge he took his leave in 1639, without letters dimissory, and with four outsiders ‘erected’ a new church, ‘near the Exchange,’ of which he was pastor. Ward, who sympathised with Simpson, was deposed, and left Rotterdam before 10 Jan. 1640. Simpson's church increased (it contained a troublesome element of seekers and anabaptists) while Bridge's declined. With Simpson was associated Joseph Symonds, who had been curate to Thomas Gataker [q. v.] The bitterness of the rivalry between Bridge and Simpson led both to leave Holland, whereupon the civil authorities insisted on the amalgamation of the two congregations, which was effected under Robert Parke (1600–1668) [q. v.]

Apparently Simpson left Holland for London in 1641, earlier than Bridge. He resumed his lecture at St. Margaret's, Fish Street, and lectured also at Blackfriars. He was made a member of the Westminster assembly of divines by the ordinance of 12 June 1643, being then ‘of London.’ He attended regularly and was one of the five divines responsible for the ‘Apologeticall Narration’ (1643) of the ‘dissenting brethren’ [see Nye, Philip]. Simpson was an extreme advocate for liberty of conscience, even in regard to opinions ‘contrary to the light of nature.’ His objection to the presbyterian system of appeals from court to court was grounded on rejection of the finality of such reference, ‘the law of nature teacheth to go to any that can relieve,’ and he contemplated the possibility of ‘an appeal from king and parliament to a national assembly.’ On 13 Jan. 1647 the assembly appointed a committee to consider an order of the committee for plundered ministers designating Simpson as afternoon preacher in the chapel at Somerset House. The appointment was under debate till 2 March, when the matter was deferred, owing to Simpson's illness; no finding is recorded. In 1650 the parliamentary visitors of Cambridge University appointed Simpson master of Pembroke Hall, in the room of Richard Vines (1600–1655) [q. v.], who had refused the engagement. About the same time he obtained the sequestered rectory of St. Mary Abchurch, London, succeeding John Rawlinson, who had obtained the rectory of Lambeth. Here he set up a congregational church, from which, in May 1651, Captain Robert Norwood [see Tany, Thomas] was excommunicated for ‘blasphemous errors’ of a pantheistic stamp. In 1653 he was appointed rector of St. Bartholomew, Exchange, by the commissioners of the great seal. He preached at the Cambridge commencement, 1653; was one of the parliamentary committee of fourteen, appointed in the same year, to draw up ‘fundamentals;’ and on 20 March 1654 was made one of the ‘triers.’ For preaching against Cromwell he was imprisoned for a short time in Windsor Castle, and prohibited from preaching within ten miles of London. Ill-health seems latterly to have affected Simpson's spirits. Neal places his death in 1658, but he died on 18 April 1655, and was buried in St. Bartholomew's, Exchange. His portrait has been engraved. His will (made 2 April, proved 15 April 1655, and signed ‘Sidrach Simpson’) disposes of considerable property, and mentions his wife Isabella. His son, Sidrach Simpson, D.D. (d. 1704), was educated at Oxford after his father's death, and was for forty years rector of Stoke Newington (from 3 Jan. 1664–5), a high churchman, and somewhat severe with dissenters; though, says Luke Milbourne (1649–1720) [q. v.], ‘he did not go farther than the Assembly did with the Five Brethren.’

Besides a fast sermon before the House of Commons, 1643, 4to (preached 1642), another same date (preached 26 July 1643), and the publications issued jointly by the five ‘apologists,’ Simpson published: 1. ‘The Anatomist Anatomis'd … Answer to … An Anatomy of Independencie,’ 1644, 4to (in reply to Alexander Forbes). 2. ‘Diatribē … the Iudgement of the Reformed Churches … concerning … Preaching by those who are not Ordained,’ 1647 [5 Feb. 1646] 4to (anon.; identified as Simpson's by Nye and Loder in preface to No. 4); answered by Lazarus Seaman [q. v.] 3. ‘A Plain and Necessary Confutation of Antichristian Errors,’ 1654, 4to. Posthumous were: 4. ‘Two Books … I. Of Unbelief. … II. Not going to Christ … is pardonable,’ [14 Dec.] 1658, 4to (ed. by Philip Nye and John Loder). 5. ‘Two Books … I. Of Faith. … II. Of Covetousness,’ [15 Dec.] 1658, 4to (from notes by Captain Mark Coe, Simpson's constant hearer for twelve years, and one of his executors). He prefaced Jeremiah Burroughs's ‘Exposition of First Peter,’ 1650, fol., and was joint editor of several of Burroughs's works.

[Simpson's publications; his will, at Somerset House; Edwards's Antapologia, 1644, pp. 142 sq., 215 sq. (has particulars from Bridge, and from Simpson's Letters); Baillie's Dissuasive, 1645–6; Edwards's Gangræna, 1646, ii. 16; The Form of an Excommunication made by Mr. S. Sympson, 1651; Norwood's Declaration after Excommunication, 1651; Dell's Tryal of the Spirits, 1653; Reliquiæ Baxterianiæ, 1696, i. 64, ii. 197; Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, 1714, ii. 53; Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, 1779, ii. 494; Granger's Biographical Hist. of England, 1779, iii. 33; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London 1808, i. 470 sq.; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, iii. 39 sq., 231, 311 sq.; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans (Toulmin), 1822, ii. 288, iv. 189; Hanbury's Historical Memorials, 1841, ii. 1844, iii.; Fletcher's Hist. of Independency, 1849, iv. 23 sq.; Mitchell and Struthers's Minutes of Westminster Assembly, 1874, pp. 293, 321; Barclay's Inner Life of Religious Societies of the Commonwealth, 1876, p. 104; Browne's Hist. Congr. Norf. and Suff., 1877, p. 69; Freshfield's Unpublished Records of London, 1887, pp. 22 sq.; Freshfield's Vestry Minute Books of St. Bartholomew, Exchange, 1890, xxxi–ii; Cole's manuscript Athenæ Cantabr.; Milbourne's Funeral Sermon for Sidrach Symson, D.D., 9 Nov. 1704.]

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