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JOHN FOX, orFOXE, was born at Boston, in Lincolnshire, A.D. 1517, the year wherein Luther began publicly to oppose the errors of popery in Germany. While Fox was very young his father died and his mother married again. He remained under the care of his father-in-law till the age of sixteen, when he was entered of Brazen-Nose college, Oxford, where Dr. Nowell, afterwards dean of St. Paul’s, was his chamber-fellow. There Fox studied with much assiduity, and showed his abilities especially in Latin poetry. In 1538 he took the degree of bachelor of arts, and of master in 1543, which year he was chosen fellow of Magdalen college. From early youth Fox had been strongly attached to popish superstitions, but was ever remarkable for a regular and moral life. He strongly opposed the doctrine of justification by faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ, thinking himself secure enough by the imaginary merits of his own self-denial, penances, aimsdeeds, and strict attention to the rites of the church.
But he was not permitted long to remain in this state, he was naturally of an inquiring disposition; by such a character the gross impositions then common in the Romish church could not long be approved. His son states he had often heard his father affirm, that the first matter which occasioned him to search respecting popish doctrine was, perceiving divers things, in their own nature most repugnant to one another, thrust upon men at one time, both to be believed — as that the same man might be superior in matters of faith, and yet his life and manners’ inferior to all the world beside. This and other inconsistencies, shook the blind obedience of Fox to the church of Rome.
He now began to study ecclesiastical history, both ancient and modern; to consider the reasons for the increase and decline of the church; what causes promoted the first, and what errors occasioned the latter; diligently examining the controversies which had sprung up in successive ages.
Fox was an indefatigable student; when his mind was bent to any subject he pursued it with uncommon ardor and patient perseverance. By the time he was thirty years of age he had read the writings of the Greek and Latin fathers, the disputations of the schoolmen, the acts of the councils and decree of the consistories. These, but especially a thorough acquaintance with the scriptures in the original tongues, led him to discern the errors of popery and to seek the only way of salvation.
This change appears to have taken place about the time when Fox removed to Magdalen college. His son relates, “By the report of some who were fellow students with him, he used, besides his day’s exercises, to bestow whole nights at his study, or not to betake himself to rest till very late.
Near the college was a grove where for the pleasantness of the place the students used to walk, and spend some hours in recreation. This place, and the dead time of night, master Fox chose, with the solemnity of darkness, and solitude, to confirm his mind, which, as a newly enlisted soldier, trembled at the guilt of a new imagination.” To forsake the errors of popery then was no light affair. It involved many dangers; the loss of friends and preferment, nay death itself, might almost be reckoned a certain consequence.
The son proceeds: — “How many nights he watched in these solitary walks, what combats and wrestlings he suffered within himself, how many heavy sighs, sobs, and tears, he poured forth with his prayers to almighty God, I had rather be spared, lest it savor of ostentation. But of necessity it was to be remembered, because from thence sprang the first suspicion of his alienated affections. For no sooner was the fame spread of his nightly retirements, but the more understanding sort out of their own wisdom, others according as they stood inclined towards him, interpreted all to the worst sense. At length some were employed, who under pretense to admonish him, might observe his walks, and pry into his words and actions.
These wanted not others to aggravate the facts. Why should he not come to church so often as he had been accustomed? Why should he shun the company of his equals, and refuse to recreate himself in his accustomed manner?”
Having thus fallen under suspicion of heresy, and his singular openness and sincerity disdaining to attempt any hypocritical concealment, Fox was removed from his fellowship, or found it advisable to resign and leave Oxford. But farther troubles awaited him. The profession of the gospel at that time, usually excited those discordant feelings in families spoken of by our Lord, Matthew 10:34-36. When the rage of bigotry was stirred up it often proceeded to the most unwarrantable lengths. It did so in this case.
The father-in-law of Fox, enraged at the change in his views, and knowing that one reputed a heretic then had no remedy against injustice, withheld his patrimony. The events recorded of the history of the next few years in the life of Fox are not very clearly arranged as to dates, but it appears that being driven from his natural home, he found a refuge in the family of sir Thomas Lucy, a respectable knight of Warwickshire, by whom he was employed as tutor. During his abode there, he married the daughter of a citizen of Coventry.
His departure from this situation was hastened by the inquisitions which the papists began to make into private families. For a time he seems to have found shelter with his wife’s father, and also with his mother’s husband; but the assistance rendered him was small. His son states that by these means he kept himself concealed, but that he always forbore to speak of this part of his story, not wishing to notice the lack of kindness from his relatives as their conduct deserved.
About the end of the reign of Henry VIII or the commencement of that of Edward VI, Fox removed to London. The rage of persecution was then abated, but having no regular employment, his scanty means were soon exhausted. His biographer relates a singular incident which befell him at this time. “As master Fox one day sat in Paul’s church, F1 spent with long fasting, his countenance thin and eyes hollow, after the ghastful manner of dying men; every one shunning a spectacle of so much horror, there came to him one whom he never remembered to have seen before; who sitting by him and saluting him with much familiarity, thrust an untold sum of money into his hand, bidding him be of good cheer; adding that he knew not how great were the misfortunes which oppressed him, but suspected it was no light calamity. He should, therefore, accept in good part from his countryman that small gift which courtesy enforced him to offer; he should go and make much of himself, and take all occasions to prolong his life; adding, that within a few days new hopes were at hand, and a more certain condition of livelihood.” Fox never could learn to whom he was indebted for this relief, though he earnestly endeavored to ascertain.
Some believed that the bearer was sent by others who were anxious for the welfare of Fox. However that might be, in a few days he was invited to reside with the duchess of Richmond, to become tutor to the grandsons of the duke of Norfolk, then a prisoner in the Tower. With this family Fox lived at Ryegate till after the death of Edward VI having under his charge Thomas, afterwards duke of Norfolk, Henry, afterwards earl of Northampton, and Jane, countess of Westmoreland; all of whom made considerable progress under his tuition. Herein was a remarkable instance of the interference of divine providence; the old duke of Norfolk was a papist, but the duchess of Richmond, the aunt to the late earl of Surrey, was favorably inclined to the truth. During his residence at Ryegate, Fox did not confine his labors to the family wherein he was tutor. On June 24, 1550, he received ordination from bishop Ridley; at that time he was living with the duchess of Suffolk. From a dedication to the translation of his Christ Triumphant, by Richard Day, afterwards himself minister of Ryegate, it also appears that Fox preached the gospel in that neighborhood, and was instrumental to the removal of popish idolatries.
Day addressing himself to the earl of Northampton, son of one of Fox’s pupils, says, “In the time of his youth, and under the wings of that great lord of Reigate, Thomas duke of Norfolk, he may be truly said to plant the gospel of Jesus Christ there; to that work he was encouraged and maintained, without fee or salary from any other than of your honorable house of Howard. To their great honor be it spoken, he was the first man that ever preached the gospel in that place, even when idolatry was yet in great strength. Exceedingly did his free and voluntary labors fructify among them, for many were there converted from darkness to the light, and from the power of Satan unto God; witness thereof, the old superstitious and idolatrous lady of Ouldsworth, an image, or idol saint, who was worshipped at Reigate, in place of God, for her miraculous power of saving health. F2 Ouldsworth was an honorable name among the old English Saxons: there are of the name in London to this hour; but this old saint lost her name, her place, her power, and friarly false miracles there, through the ministry of this good man.”
That any one instrumental to such a work should have been patronized by the ducal family of Norfolk is surprising, but we may remember that the Reformation was then countenanced by authority, and the family appear to have entertained a strong personal regard for Fox.
An undeniable proof of this regard was manifested soon after the accession of queen Mary. The measures in progress for the restoration of popery and the persecution of the protestants, caused Fox to think of following his friends into exile, but the young duke was unwilling that Fox should leave him, thinking his honor was concerned to protect his tutor. Fox knew this proceeded from sincere feelings of regard, and said it was indeed for the duke’s honor so to act, but it was his duty to take care that the duke should not be involved in trouble on his account. The matter did not remain long in suspense. One so active against image worship, in the diocese of Gardiner, could not escape the notice of that bigoted papist, who was intimate with the family, and several times requested to see the tutor. His designs were suspected. The old duke died September, 1554, and had been succeeded by his grandson, the pupil of Fox, who being anxious for the safety of his preceptor, made excuses to keep him from the sight of Gardiner. But one day Fox, not knowing Gardiner was at the house, entered the room, On seeing the bishop he quickly withdrew; Gardiner inquired who that was, the duke said it was his physician, who being newly come from the university, was somewhat uncourtly. “I like his countenance and aspect well,” said the bishop, “and when occasion shall be, will make use of him.” The duke knew what that occasion would be, and concluded it was no longer safe for Fox to remain in England. He sent a servant to Ipswich to hire a bark, while a retreat was provided for Fox, accompanied by his wife, at a farmer’s house near the sea-shore, till all was ready. They had scarcely put to sea when a contrary wind arose; after beating about the next night and the following day, in the evening they regained the port they had left. As soon as Fox landed he was informed that a pursuivant from the bishop of Winchester had searched the farmer’s house for him, but after following him to the port, and finding the vessel was out of sight, he had departed. Upon this Fox took horse and left the town, but returning in the night he persuaded the pilot again to set sail, and after a rough passage of two days was landed safely at Nieuport in Flanders. “An evident argument,” as Samuel Fox observes,” of the certain course of Providence and the uncertainty of all human forecast.”
From Nieuport Fox proceeded to Antwerp, and from thence to Basle, where at that time many of the English refugees were kindly received. The city of Basle was celebrated for superiority in the art of printing. Fox, and some of his countrymen found employment in correcting the press, and other literary labors connected therewith.
Here Fox engaged with Oporinus, a celebrated printer, to whom he presented the first sketch of his history of the church. It was written in Latin, and accompanied by a letter to Oporinus, in which he desired to be received into his service, and that Oporinus would vouchsafe to be his learned patron, under whom he might pursue his studies, being one that would be content with a small salary; and if he would employ him there, or at Strasburg, or at some university, which latter he would prefer, “either,” added he,” I will be destitute of all things, or, by the help of Christ, I will cause that all men of literature shall know how much they are indebted to the name and to the press of Oporinus.”
While employed as corrector of the press, Fox continued his studies; he especially labored at his great work on ecclesiastical history, which he compiled at first in Latin. Several publications containing parts of it, were set forth by him, among them were Philpot’s examinations. He wrote an earnest address to the nobility of England, beseeching them to desist from the cruelties then practiced towards the protestants. He also translated Cranmer’s answer to Gardiner on the sacrament. The printing of this was begun in 1557, but upon consideration it was thought more advisable to stop the progress of the work on account of the bitterness with which the sacramental controversy at that time raged in Germany and Switzerland. In a letter to Peter Martyr, Fox complains much of the difficulty he experienced from the studied obscurity of Gardiner’s style. He says, “I never saw any thing more unpleasant, rough, and entangled, than Winchester’s discourse; wherein sometimes he is so full of depths that he needs some sibyl rather than an interpreter. In the third book there are one or two places where you may sooner extract water from a pumice-stone than find light from the sentence.” An instance of the craft for which Gardiner was so remarkable.
In this work, Grindal, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, gave Fox considerable assistance, also in the more important labor of his Martyrology. Grindal then resided principally at Strasburg, and was able to maintain a constant correspondence with England, by which means he obtained many accounts of the examinations and sufferings of the martyrs.
These he conveyed to Fox, to arrange and insert in his work. Many letters which passed between them are extant, they show, as Strype observes, dollars, from the monies remitted out of England to assist for supporting the martyrs. In these works Fox was also assisted and encouraged by Aylmer, tutor to lady Jane Grey, afterwards bishop of London, and by other English divines.
Fox was engaged in more painful transactions while on the continent, namely, the disputes which arose among the exiles, respecting certain matters of ecclesiastical discipline and the use of the English liturgy. The particulars of these differences need not be entered into here, they are to be found in the work entitled the Troubles of Frankfort, and in Strype.
Fox deeply regretted the lengths to which matters proceeded. In a letter to Peter Martyr, written from Frankfort, he says that these disputes had made them unfruitful nearly the whole winter; he attributes much to the youth and inexperience of some who engaged in the controversies. “I have discovered what otherwise I could not have believed, how much bitterness is to be found among those whom continual acquaintance with the sacred volume ought to render gentle, and incline to all kindness. As far as in me lies, I persuade parties to concord.” After stating the substance of the advice he had given, he adds, “Our last anchor is cast upon Christ himself, who for his mercy’s sake will deign to turn our hearts to, those things which make for peace and real tranquillity. His main endeavor was to liens peace maker, and to persuade both parties to concord: In this he appears to have partly prevailed, so far as to induce them to debate the matter more mildly by letter and conference. He also, urged Peter Martyr to settle at Frankfort, as lecturer on divinity to the English, which might induce them to collect there.
Part of a letter written by Fox about this period, to a person and his wife that left England under queen Mary, F3 is as follows: “The grace of God in Jesus Christ, which aideth, governeth, and conducteth all such in truth as put their confidence in him, be multiplied upon you and your virtuous yokefellow, that as by the holy institution of the Lord, ye are called to be one flesh, so, by faith you being one in mine, may, in the unity of Christ’s spirit, like true yokefellows, bear the cross with patience, and follow our guide and fore-leader, Christ Jesus. Amen. “When I understood, by your friendly letters sent to my brother, what our good God and most sweet Father hath done for you and other members of his mystical body, in delivering you out of that miserable land, from the danger of idolatry and fearful company of Herodions: I was compelled, with a glad heart, to render unto his Divine Majesty most humble thanks, beseeching him that as he hath delivered you from their contagious venom and deathly sting with a safe conscience, so he will vouchsafe to protect and preserve it still undefiled. To forsake your country, to despise your commodities at home, to contemn riches, and to set naught by honors which the whole world hath in great veneration, for the love of the sweet gospel of Christ, are not works of the flesh, but the most assured fruits of the Holy Ghost, and undeceivable arguments of your regeneration, or new birth, whereby God certifieth you that ye are justified in him, and sealed to eternal life. And therefore ye have great cause to be thankful; first that he hath chosen you to life, and, secondly, that he hath given you his Holy Spirit, which hath altered and changed you into a new creature, working in you through the word such a mind, that these things are not painful but pleasant unto you. Again, to be delivered from the bondage of conscience, from the — — ” The labors of Fox while in exile were very severe; his son speaks of him “as having been inured to hardness from his youth, therefore labor, and what to others seemed the greatest misery, to suffer want, to sit up late, and to keep hard diet, gave him no concern.” He adds, “This may appear strange to many who remember master Fox to have been all his life long but a slender bodied man, and in his elder years somewhat sickly. But let no man compare his old age, worn out and eaten up with cares, and even by the course of nature ruinous, with the flourishing of his youth, which by so many of his works appears to have been most healthful.” F4 The time for the deliverance of England at length came. Queen Mary died in November 1558. Of this event Fox had a remarkable preintimation. On the day previous to that of her decease he was preaching to his fellow exiles at Basle, when he told them to be of good comfort; for the time drew near when they should be restored to their own country, and said that he told them this, being warned of God to do so. Some of, the elder divines reproved Fox for speaking thus, but the event showed that he was justified.
Aylmer was among the persons present on this occasion.
Most of the exiles hastened home, but Fox remained at Basle till the following year; this delay seems to have been partly caused by the difficulty of his removing his family, a wife and two children, in his low circumstances; and having a settled employment he was unwilling to quit it until there appeared a good prospect of matters being settled at home.
Also, during a part of the time he was engaged in superintending the early Latin edition of his Acts and Monuments. Grinded and Sampson considered this his best course. The former, when setting out for England on the 19th of December, 1558, wrote to Fox that he had better, for a short time, suspend the further preparation of the great work he had in hand, as many additional materials would now come to light.
Fox rejoiced at the important change. He was the author of an elegant Latin address to queen. Elizabeth, printed at Basle by Oporinus, in 1559, where, in the name of the German nation, the queen is congratulated on her accession to the throne; and after speaking of the refuge afforded to the English exiles on the continent, good counsel is given to her majesty and her court, with good advice to the preachers. Another tract, an expression of thanksgiving on the part of the English exiles, was printed about the same time. Fox also wrote and printed a letter to the duke of Norfolk, his former pupil, full of excellent counsel relative to the hopeful prospect of religion, and congratulated him on his own good fortune in the recovery of his title and estates. We find, ‘however, that Fox had returned to London in October, 1559; and from a Latin letter he then wrote to the duke of Norfolk, printed by Strype, the copy of which is still extant among the Foxian manuscripts in the British Museran, he evidently was in the same distressed state with many of his brethren. From this letter it would appear that it was as yet hardly safe for men of rank to notice the poor exiles. The letter is as follows: “I have so often written to your highness, that I am ashamed to trouble you with more letters. Yet I so well know the ingenuous kindness of your disposition, that I am persuaded there would be no necessity for my petition, if will only was needful. But perhaps these times present impediments, hindering you from sending to us, and me from venturing to urge my requests to you. I cannot think that it is from forgetfulness of us, or from any undue feelings of your own importance, that for so long a period you have not sent assistance to us. But whatever may be the cause why your liberality has thus ceased, this I know, my beloved Thomas, that it is most easy for you, possessing such abundance of all things, to impart some small pension to us from your large expenditure. More earnest intreaties would be needful where there was less disposition to confer benefits, but you always appeared more ready to bestow of your own accord, than on account of the prayers of others. And I think that my disposition is well known to you, as so averse to importunate craving, that I would sooner perish with hunger. “Concerning religion, I need not admonish you where the truth stands; God grant that you may stand manfully with the truth. Have respect thereunto in the first place, and if at this juncture you cannot help Christ, let no mortal ever prevail on you to be an adversary against him in any thing, for at length he will prevail, though all should oppose. You will do wisely if you employ that time in the reading of the scriptures, which hers bestow on pomps and pastimes of the court.”
The duke’s reply, dated 30th October, 1559, also written in Latin, was as follows: “I have received your letters, my excellent preceptor, from whence I learn your affection towards me, and prize it highly. If the return of my servants had not preceded my letters, you should have been with me long since. For I wrote to them that they should so provide you with all things, that you might speedily come to me, and this would have been done had they not returned sooner than I expected. Now, since I shall myself soon be in London, I would that you should await me there, when, as I desire and as I ought, I shall look to you. In the mean time farewell. “To my right loving schoolmaster, John Fox.”
The duke appears to have fulfilled his promises; he took Fox into his house in London, where the martyrologist resided for some time; probably till the duke was involved in troubles from those secret negotiations with Mary queen of Scots, which brought him to the scaffold in 1572. Fox and Nowell attended him at the place of execution, where he confessed that he had acted contrary to his duty and allegiance. The duke had been suspected of an inclination to popery, this he disavowed, and at the solemn hour of his departure he expressly declared, “As touching my religion I have been suspected to be a papist. I must confess that divers of my familiar friends, and divers of my servants and officers under me, were papists. But what meaning I had in it, God, who seeth above, knoweth it. For myself, God is my witness, I have always been a protestant, and never did allow of their blind and fond ceremonies. And now, before God and you all, I utterly renounce the pope and his popedom, which I have always done, and will do to my life’s end. And as to that which is the chiefest point of our belief — I believe and trust to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ only, and by none other means. For if I did, I should be greatly deceived at this instant.”
There appears every reason to believe that the duke was opposed to popery; even so far as to be inclined to favor the puritans. He cared anxiously for the religious education of his children, as appears from an epistle of Dering and Hansby, two of his chaplains, prefixed to a book of prayers composed for their use, by his command. He was at that time one of the most powerful noblemen in England, and in high favor with queen Elizabeth. These things render his attachment to Mary queen of Scots the more extraordinary, but the influence of many of his near kinsmen, who were bigoted papists, probably assisted this infatuation towards that accomplished but infamous woman. F5 Queen Elizabeth was very unwilling that the duke should suffer; she caused him to be respited for several months, but the state of political affairs, and the designs of the papists against her, caused her counselors to be urgent in pressing his execution. Fox had faithfully warned the duke of the dangers which were likely to result from this correspondence, as appears, by a letter from him to his former pupil, F6 extant in the British Museum. The duke left Fox a small pension. Richard Day, son of the printer, speaks thus of the shelter afforded to Fox by the duke: “When he returned he found succor from his most bounteous, most charitable, and most princely lord, who gave him free and present entertainment and dwelling for him and his, at his manor-place of Christ’s Church, by Aldgate. From that his house, he traveled weekly every Monday, to the printing house of John Day. In that, my father’s house; many days and years, and infinite sums of money, were spent to accomplish and consummate his English Monuments, and other many excellent works in English and Latin.”
These writings will be noticed on a future page, but the important results to Fox himself, from his intimate connection with John Day, and the still more important influence on the cause of truth and the gospel, requires a distinct notice of that extraordinary printer, whose proceedings were exceedingly beneficial in forwarding the English Reformation.
John Day was a native of Suffolk, and commenced business as a printer in London, probably in 1547. About 1549, he removed to Aldersgate, where, as Stow relates, he built much upon the wall of the city towards St. Ann’s church. He had also shops for the sale of his books in other parts of the town, particularly at the little conduit, which was in Cheapside, just at the end of Paternoster-row. During the reign of Edward VI, his press was actively employed in printing the scriptures, and many writings of the British reformers. Herein he showed his zeal against popery, even then at considerable hazard to himself. F7 When queen Mary came to the throne, Day’s labors of course were suspended. He appears to have spent this reign partly as a prisoner in Newgate, F8 partly as an exile, and partly in retirement, employing himself in bringing his art to greater perfection. He was the first printer in the Saxon character, and much improved English typography. F9 His books in particular display a great variety of devices of wood and metal. After the accession of queen Elizabeth, Day resumed his operations with increased activity. The catalogue of books printed by him include the most extensive and valuable publications of that period in general literature and science, as well as history and theology. Many of them were costly and splendid specimens of typography. The unceasing kindness and attention Day received from archbishop Parker, is decisive evidence to his character and abilities.
For the valuable history of Hollinshed, the Acts and Monuments, the collected editions of Becon, the writings of Tindal, and many others, we are indebted to this printer, whose enterprising spirit was united with earnest desire to diffuse gospel light and truth.
The list of books printed by Day, as given by Ames and Herbert, contains almost all the valuable literature of that age. Day possessed in Fox an invaluable assistant to edit the principal works he published, while Fox had in Day a printer anxious to encourage his exertions to the utmost.
Strype relates that Day found himself the object of envy to his fraternity, who hindered what they could the sale of his books. In 1572 he had a considerable quantity on hand, whereupon his friends procured for him the lease of a small shop to be set up near the west end of St. Paul’s cathedral.
But, as Strype proceeds,” his brethren the booksellers envied him, and by their interest got the mayor and aldermen to forbid him from setting it up, though they had nothing to do there but by power.”
Upon this the archbishop interceded with the lord treasurer for the queen’s letters, that Day might go forward with his building, whereby, he said, his honor would deserve well of Christ’s church, and of the prince and state.
The archbishop also urged that the privy council had lately written to him and the other ecclesiastical commissioners, to help Day, perhaps in vending his books, and encouraging the clergy to buy them. After this, Day seems to have continued his exertions with success till his death in 1584. If much of the progress of the Reformation is to be attributed, as means, to the art of printing, assuredly Day must not be forgotten as one to whom we are deeply indebted for the right application of that invaluable discovery in our own land. F10 To return to our immediate subject: Part of the early period after Fox’s return to England seems to have been passed at Norwich, where his son Samuel was born in 1560. The friendship of Parkhurst, then bishop of that see, doubtless occasioned his residence there. It is, however, but too evident, that for some time after his return Fox remained in a very destitute condition. When Humphrey, his fellow collegian, was appointed president of Magdalen college, Fox began a congratulatory letter to him, which, however, he cancelled, probably from unwillingness to describe his own wants, or to address any one in a tone of levity on such a subject. He there called Humphrey to account for leaving “their mendicant order.” He says, “Are you not ashamed of being such a fugitive? You ought to have taken example of greater constancy byrne, who still wear the same clothes, and remain in the same sordid condition as when I first returned to England from Germany;” about two years before.
From the time of his return to England, Fox requires our attention in various characters. The first and principal is, as the hard student — the author, translator, and editor of numerous works printed by Day; which will be noticed as we proceed. To this, he gave himself up in a manner which with most men would have absorbed all their time and attention.
After he left the duke of Norfolk’s house he resided nearer to his printer, as appears from many letters yet extant, addressed to “Master John Fox, at his house in Grubbe Street,” or as “dwelling with master Daye, the printer, at Aldersgate.” The extent of his studies is shown by the number of his works, their effects are well described by his son, and should serve as a warning to those who are tempted to overstrain their mental powers by studious application: “In a student, the mind, when it is overstrained, stoppeth not at weariness or pain, but rather proceedeth to the ruin of that whereon even the life of men dependeth. For in the evils of the mind, he who is once tired, cannot by giving over his work for a while, or abating some part of his diligence in labor, recover again his former strength, nor overcome the discommodities he shall thereby endure, though with ever so great abundance of other contentments. The truth of this was by M. Foxe’s example confirmed, who, when he had for many years, left no time free from thought of his study, either not at all, or not seasonably affording himself what nature required, was at length brought to that pass, that his natural liveliness and rigor being spent, neither friends nor kindred could by sight remember him. By this means he first fell into that withered leanness of body in which many afterwards saw him; never again returning to that pleasing and cheerful countenance which he had before; but when he would by no means be persuaded to lessen his accustomed labors, or to lay aside his study to recreate himself, the signs thereof did likewise remain.” F11 The studies to which Fox thus earnestly applied, did not, however, prevent him from fulfilling the public duties of the ministry. The regard and esteem felt for him by many persons then in power, would have been exerted to procure him preferment in the church, but he accepted none, saving a prebend at Salisbury, to which he was appointed in 1564, after some endeavors had been made to obtain him one at Norwich with his fellow exile, bishop Parkhurst, He objected to some of the canons and ceremonies retained by the settlement of ecclesiastical affairs under queen Elizabeth, as savoring too much of popery, and this disqualified him from accepting any parochial charge. F12 We are told that archbishop Parker summoned Fox to subscribe, “hoping that the general reputation of his piety might give the. greater countenance to conformity.” Fox as a reply, took from his pocket the New Testament in Greek, and holding it up said, “To this I will subscribe.” He said, that he had nothing in the church but a prebend at Salisbury, adding, “and if you take it away from me, much good may it do you.” But he was permitted to retain it. His fellow sufferers, however different their opinions on those subjects might be, did not desire to deprive such a character of his humble preferment. F13 Neither was he silenced; we find him continuing to preach, and that on public occasions.
This led to his powerful discourse on Christ crucified, preached at Paul’s cross in 1570, and afterwards enlarged for the press. It will be found in the present volume. Two Latin letters addressed to bishop Grindal, among the Foxian papers in the British Museum, appear to relate to this discourse.
In the first letter he inquires “who could have instigated Grindal thus to think of crucifying him at Paul’s cross?” After urging his own incapacity, and many like excuses, he adds, “Also in fairness consider how unequally this will press upon me, when, as I believe, there never yet was ass or mule who was so weighed down, and overdone by carrying burdens, as I have long been by literary labors, every day employed investigating and drawing forth the contents of writers, reading copies, and reading them again, and putting together materials which may be of public benefit to the church. By these labors I am almost worn out, not to speak of ill health and want of books. Yet amidst all these labors and defects which I have narrated, I am summoned in addition, to St. Paul’s cross, that celebrated spot, where, like an ape among cardinals, I shall be received with derision or driven away by the hisses of the auditory!”
The second letter is as follows: “Yesterday, when too late, I heard that your servant had been with Day, the printer. Had I seen him, perhaps I might have sent a different answer from the present. But although I saw him not, I now see there are friends who by no means will suffer me to refuse, what by all means I had determined to deny. I find that they will not rest till they have thrust me forward, most unwillingly, at Paul’s cross. By every means, by intreaties, threats, upbraidings, they urge, press, and solicit me. What is more painful, they pretend that you are displeased with my last letter. In addition, they solemnly adjure me in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ — this indeed, more than all besides, induces me not to refuse. Pray for me again and again. I intreat you, beloved prelate, who have laid this burden upon me, help me to sustain it. And I cannot but express a pleasing surprise that in your letters, where by virtue of your authority this burden is laid upon me, your piety has kindly suggested a subject — that I preach Christ Jesus, and him crucified. May the Lord Jesus, crucified for us, keep your mind in perfect humility amidst the honors of your calling, and with that humility of mind may he also preserve you in your present dignity, for the lasting welfare of his church.”
The views of Fox relative to the differences just noticed, may be stated from his “Letter to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners concerning the present controversies.” He says, “the more earnestly I desire the peace and tranquillity of the church, the more am I tortured by these internal differences of opinions and controversies, arisen I know not whence. Yet had they sprung from unavoidable causes they would have troubled me less. But while from light matters occasions are drawn for grievous contentions, and we agitate unnecessary questions, not only is the fruit of brotherly communion lost, but the forces of our enemies are strengthened against us, to whom this our quarrel exhibits a joyful spectacle. “How much preferable would it be, that, uniting our strength, we should do the work of Christ, and diffuse his faith, as widely as possible, in the minds of the faithful, contending with the sworn enemies of our salvation rather than with the friends of the faith. I know that much remains to be done among us if we seek for a perfect church. But herein we should imitate prudent physicians, whose first care is, that the body live, then that it should flourish as well as possible. But we, by a misplaced anxiety, while we strive so earnestly to bring the church to a most perfect rule of reformation, do indeed, by our contentions, cause that it is scarcely to be perceived, or at best very deformed. For what church can be discerned when we have peace neither with friends nor enemies? What peace with God we can have, things plainly enough declare. Atheism prevails, lust is unpunished, avarice overcomes, benefices are bought and sold, priests are cold — would that they were cold indeed! The pulpits are silenced.
Christ’s sheep are fleeced, not fed, his harvest is despised. That it is so may be learned from the laborers themselves, who are either few in number, or for the most part are those who sedulously care for the things which are their own, while scarcely any one thinks seriously respecting Christ.” ‘Fox then urges the importance of attending to the more important points of religion, and when these are settled, to build thereon, if it is desirable, those things which pertain to outward reformation, but if this might not be, still not to excite any schism.
It had been well for the church, had all parties been as thoroughly imbrued with the spirit of peace as Jewell and Fox. F14 The situation of Fox with regard to these differences, appears to have been peculiarly unpleasant. While he felt it necessary, even with personal sacrifices, to testify against the requisitions then made as to ecclesiastical affairs, he also objected to many proceedings of those who openly opposed the ceremonies and canons then adopted. His views were not those of either party to their full extent. Fox, though most zealous where he considered essentials to be involved, would not be induced by any personal regard to become a partisan.
The kindness and moderation of Fox’s disposition further appears from his letter to the queen in behalf of two Hollanders, who were condemned in 1575, to be burned for doctrines held to be contrary to the christian faith.
This was a painful instance that the persecuting spirit of popery was not yet eradicated from the minds of those who had shaken off the papal yoke, and that the right principles of religious toleration were not correctly understood. Fox does not appear to have had clear views on this subject, but like Luther, he could not approve the putting men to death for matters of opinion, lie was very unwilling that the fires of Smithfield should be rekindled; he pleaded earnestly with the queen, that the cruel practices introduced by the popes might be laid aside, and that if punishment must be inflicted, it should not affect life.
But his supplications were of no avail; though the queen continually termed him “her father Fox,” yet she refused his request: The painful subject need not be here pursued, excepting to lay this cruelty to its right cause — to popery. Strange to say, this proceeding arose mainly from mistaken anxiety to vindicate the protestant churches in the eyes of papists, ‘from the imputation of fostering principles alleged to be heretical! So liable are we to be deceived into the practice of those things which we have seen to be wrong. Political reasons, and the dangers by which the government was then surrounded, also doubtless had their share in this matter, which however can neither be excused nor palliated. But the advocates of popery never can point to this painful event as a blemish in the history of the protestant churches, while history exposes their own conduct.
In reference to the public life of Fox, it should be mentioned that his intimacy with the highest and most respected characters of the day appears from his correspondence. Among these may be enumerated Cecil lord Burleigh, sir Francis Walsingham, secretary of state, the duke of Bedford, sir Francis Drake, many of the nobility and gentry, archbishops Grindal and Parker, Aylmer, bishop of London, Dr. Nowell, dean of St. Paul’s, Pilkington, Lever, and all the leading ecclesiastics of that day. Nor was he less esteemed by sir Thomas Gresham, and the citizens of London. We find him also in correspondence with, Bullinger, Martyr, and other foreign Reformers. By the influence Of these friends, as already remarked, he might easily have attained to considerable preferment.
We have to notice Fox in another point of view. His son states that he was, “one, for his friendliness useful, by a natural inclination to be useful to others. — By good advice, comfortable persuasions, or a charitable hand, he relieved the wants, or satisfied the desires of innumerable persons, whereupon no man’s house was in those times thronged with more clients than his. There repaired to him both citizens and strangers, noblemen and common persons of all degrees, and almost all for the same cause — to seek some salve for a wounded conscience.”
Herein the labors of Fox were abundant and exceedingly blessed. Some interesting proofs are yet extant among his papers in the British Museum, where we find a letter to him “from one under temptations to blaspheme, requesting counsel,” with other remains, either of letters addressed to him, or rough drafts of his replies to those who, weary and heavy laden, sought advice from him, and whom he pointed to that rest which is in Christ Jesus.
Nor were his efforts wanting in behalf of others — there is the draft of a letter to a noble person, exhorting him to forgive his wife; with others which show how ready he was on all occasions to promote peace and good will. It is indeed interesting to see the grave historian, the undaunted champion of the protestant faith, one who was engaged in severe studies to an extent whereby most would have been overwhelmed, ever prompt to discharge all the private offices of kindness which came before him, yet with the strictest secrecy, so as to avoid all unnecessary exposure of private affairs. A few specimens may be given; the first of the following letters is so characteristic of this feature in Fox, and so valuable for the counsel it gives upon a most important subject, that its insertion will not be considered unsuitable to the present work.
TO A GENTLEWOMAN, RECOMMENDING A FRIEND OF HIS. “As your discreet circumspection is not unprovided of sufficient counsel what you have best to do in your own affairs, to yourself best known, to me nothing appertaining; so neither do I enterprise so boldly to write to you, as having any need to be advertised by others. Yet, notwithstanding, forsomuch as we are so willed by the apostle to exhort one another, I trust you will not be offended, if I shall write unto you by way of persuasion, in the behalf of a certain godly gentleman, and dear friend of mine. The same gentleman, I mean, whom you did see not long ago with me at the Moultons, whose sincere integrity, virtuous life, mild and soft conditions, stayed and settled discretion, his amiable lovingness, loved of all men that know him, with no less singular affection working in his heart, especially toward you, if they were so well known to you as they are to me, and, others which have experience of him, I should not need to bestow this labor herein, either in exhorting of you, or commending of him; you would soon understand yourself what ye had to do best for yourself. “But because the party as yet as unacquainted, is not so well known unto you, to the intent, therefore, by report of others ye should not want some intelligence hereof, I thought thus much to write in his behalf, who neither writeth for himself, neither is privy, I assure you, of my writing for him; testifying to you simply what I do think, and not only what I think myself, bat hear also testified by some others, which know you both better than I do, that if the favor of your mind could be no less inclined to him, than the Lord hath wrought in his heart toward you, verily it is supposed a meeter match could not be formed for you, nor wished unto you, all things on both parts considered, both that I know of you, and know by him. Thus much have I signified to you what I thought, and know of him to be true. You, for your part, do what you think, good; better, in my mind ye cannot do, than to counsel in this matter with the Lord, who, as he hath ordained marriage between man and wife, so giveth husbands as he pleaseth. Neither am I ignorant, but there may be that come to you with greater offers, which indeed might be something for you to hearken to, if your case stood in any such need of worldly goods; but now you having enough, and, blessed be God, abundance, what can you desire more now, than a quiet life with that which God hath sent you? And let the offers be ever so great, ye shall find at length, true godliness, joined with stayed temperance, more fitter for your condition, as it standeth, than greater superfluity of worldly substance. And furthermore, when all your counters shall be cast, ye shall prove it true, and so count with yourself, that an hundred pounds by year, with thrifty and prudent guiding, will go further at the year’s and, than five or six hundreds with wasteful spending. I say: no more, but as I said, I repeat again, you are wise enough, ye know herein what ye have to do. The Lord almighty, Disposer of all things, direct your ways and counsels to that which best shall be to your quietness and commodity, for Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. “JOHN FOX.” THE FOLLOWING IS A LETTER IN BEHALF OF A POOR MAN WRONGED. “Blessed are the peace makers. Grace in Christ. Master Boyne, Peter Woodgate, and Thomas Petter; if it shall please you concerning the case of this poor man, as I understand it, the matter is plain, his vexation great, his injury intolerable, and such as none of you would ever suffer to be done to yourselves. If the world be so, that evil persons, by fraud and injury, may oppress and circumvent the simple, and no redress in such wrongful sufferings, then the Lord give us patience, and be merciful to this realm. But if it be the part of godly and christian men to help in such wrongs and injuries, and to set peace where disquietness is, and ‘to do for others as they would to be done to themselves; then I pray you aforenamed, joining also Edward Barcock with you, in the zeal of the Lord, to work in this matter what ye can, to talk earnestly with Stephen Beching, and to require him in the name of the Lord Jesus, to defraud this poor man no longer from his right, to the great disquieting of his mind, and undoing of his wife and her children. If he do, let him understand, blessed be the Lord, there are laws in the realm, justice is not all asleep, there is also a court of conscience, and a godly overseer of the same, the lord-keeper, who both by his wisdom will soon find out the matter, and upon his lawful authority will see the wrong to be redressed. And if there were no right at all here to be had in earth, yet let the said Stephen Beching this understand, that the Lord Jesus is alive in heaven, whose hand he cannot escape, nor yet is able to abide if it fall. But best is that your wisdoms gently and quietly compose the matter at home; wherein I beseech you, as a peacemaker, to do in the matter what ye can. The zeal of the Lord Jesus dwell in you. Amen.”
The following letter written by Fox to the magistrates of the city of London during a time of pestilence, shows the christian courage with which he continued to assist the needy, when others had forsaken their duties; also the influence which he possessed, and the laudable manner wherein he exercised it; while it illustrates his desire to alleviate the sufferings of the poor. “Grace and joy in the Holy Ghost, with increase of all felicity, through Christ our only Savior. To the dispersed company of Londoners, as well aldermen, merchants, and other rich and wealthy members of the same city, with all other well-disposed persons wheresoever, hearty greeting in the Lord.
If we, the poor servants of Christ, and ministers of his word, within the city of London, now here remaining and sustaining the affliction of this dangerous and infectious time, F15 shall seem in this our writing to you, something more plain or bold than we should, humbly we crave of your wisdom wisely to construe cause thereof, imputing it not to any inconsiderate, suggestion, or pretended device conceived of our parts; but rather to the serious and earnest necessity of this present calamitous time; thus much signifying to you before, that if the cause were ours only, privately to us belonging, who write to you, we would never so far embolden ourselves. For as we, for our parts, have learned not to shrink away from our charge committed to us of the Lord; for we have learned also to stand content, whatsoever it is we have of him — but now, hearing as we hear, and seeing as we see, the piteous cry of the poor and desolate flock of Christ, some in lanes, some in houses, some in ditches, some harborless, some clotheless, some meatless, some friendless, all succorless; being their pastors, and the mouth of the flock, we cannot but both tender their pitiful lamentation, and also certify the same to you; desiring you in the Lord, to extend your tender and christian compassion upon them, in helping them in this infectious air, with some good odor of sweet savor from you.
So that though your bodily comfort be absent from them, yet your charitable sustentation may be present with them. As members together of one mystical body, so we beseech you, utterly forsake not your fellow members. And though God hath set you in a more safe state of life, yet neglect not them who bear the cross, that God might, or yet may lay upon yourselves “It is the point of an honest mind, and a christian heart, that though he be in ease that he need not for himself fear, yet to lament and sorrow with them that lie in misery. Wherefore, being thereunto necessarily constrained by the pitiful cry and exclamation of the poor people of Christ, here left in London, we are forced to write to you, speaking for them that cannot help themselves, that you, of your clemency, and christian duty, (whereby you are borne not only yourselves, but also to your country and neighbors,) will bestow some comfort upon your fellow members and poor brethren, miserably here oppressed and consumed, as well with penury as with pestilence; of which two, the one is the hand of God only to stop, the other partly under God lieth in your hands to relieve.
Extend therefore, we beseech you, your helping hand, and in case you will not or dare not visit them with your presence, yet visit them with your purses, that the Lord, who peradventure doth this to try you, what you will do, may say to you, I was sick, and you visited me, I was hungry, and you, etc. For else, how this flying and departing from your needy neighbors, which neither with your visitation nor provision you will help, will be allowed before God, we cannot see; especially such of you as by charge of office are obliged to your companies. For why is not the alderman, being magistrate of his ward, as well bound in conscience to them as the minister to his parish? Or what mean their robes of scarlet, but to declare themselves ready with their blood to defend the safeguard of their people? And how are they ready to the shedding of their blood to defend, who with every slight occasion do shrink away, leaving them in danger whom they should succor with their provision? And what is then to be said, whereas neither with their blood, nor yet with their goods, will minister any supportation?” — (Some part appears to be wanting.) Nor was Fox unmindful, that when in exile he had received much kindness from the followers of Christ in foreign parts. Accordingly, after his return, he was ever ready to assist those who took refuge in England from persecutions at home. By his request the duke of Norfolk wrote to Peter Martyr, urging him again to shelter himself in England. Other instances might be mentioned, but the following letter written by him to some person in authority, “in behalf of two learned and godly strangers,” must suffice. “Health and grace in Christ. By the occasion of these two learned and godly strangers resorting to your country, I am willed, and also willing myself, to write unto you, that you will extend your favorable protection not only to them, but also to the rest of the same country of Flanders, now miserably afflicted; who, in so doing, in my mind, shall do a gracious good deed, and a sacrifice very acceptable unto the Lord. Knowing your godly disposition, I shall not need to spend many persuasions to exhort you, only it shall suffice to recite the example of Job, of whom it is thus written, chapter 29. The poor man crying unto me, I delivered, and the fatherless which had no helper. I helped the man which was ready to perish, and he blessed me, the heart of the widow I comforted. I was an eye to the blind, and a foot to the lame; I was a father to the poor, and the cause which I understood not, diligently I inquired out,” etc.
Fox appears to have entered into cases of deep distress with the same ardent faith and spirit of prayer as Elijah and Elisha of old, when pleading for the bereaved parents who had ministered unto them. He was not, like those prophets, made the means of working miraculous cures, but he was enabled to show that the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and the gracious purposes of the Lord seem to have been revealed unto him in an unusual manner.
We may here refer to the account of his life by his son, who describing the manner in which he sat loose to the world, says, “that he ever showed a deliberate and resolved, contempt of all things which are in greatest esteem among men, and especially of pleasures; which gave him great ability to perform with commendation whatsoever he took in hand. For that things which were in themselves innocent, grow hurtful when they are overvalued, and pursued with avaricious desire. He never declined the friendship of illustrious personages; not to gain honor to himself, but because his commendation would thereby be more acceptable when used on behalf of others. The money which rich men sometimes offered him, he accepted, returning it back to the poor.” After other remarks, the biographer proceeds, “The cause, wherefore he thought all other things so contemptible, especially as it arose not from disdain nor from sluggishness of mind, was only the love of God; wherewith his mind was so filled, and so much delighted, that he left no room, nor any affection free for other pleasures, of his own accord separating himself from the fashions of the world, and devoting himself only to this care. Like one who had found an invaluable treasure, he bent his eyes and mind upon this only, neither hoping nor expecting anything besides, but resolved to make this the scope of all his wishes and desires. They who observed him, saw his mind steadfastly fixed upon God, and that he spoke and did many things beyond the opinion of ordinary good men, both in comforting the afflicted, and in terrifying those ‘who were stubborn.”
His son then relates two instances, one in reference to lady Anne Heneage, who being sick of a violent fever, when the disease had so far increased that the physicians pronounced it deadly, master Fox was called to be present at her ending, whose counsel and fidelity she had often made use of in relation to her soul’s health. After Fox had performed what he came for, he added, “Well have you done, and according to your duty to prepare yourself for all events, but know this from me, that of this sickness you shall not die.” Sir Moyle Finch, her son-in-law, called Fox aside, and said, he could not but wonder that he should thus presume to determine the end of the disease, contrary to the opinion of the physicians, and by so doing he would bring the sick woman, hitherto undismayed, to an impatience of dying. That he should indeed rejoice if his mother-in-law were likely to live, but if her death were near, it befitted not Fox to dissemble it, who especially ought to provide for the good of her soul, and that he feared his untimely words might destroy men’s opinion of his truth and modesty. Fox replied, that he desired not to hinder others from thinking of him as they pleased, but that, concerning the lady, his full belief was, it seemed good to God that she should recover of the disease, and that he said no more than was commanded of him. The lady recovered.
The other was the case of mistress Honiwood, an honorable matron, who had long followed the truth, and who, in the days of queen Mary, used to visit the prisons, and comfort, and relieve the distressed confessors. F16 Afterwards she was under most distressing fears and doubts respecting the salvation of her soul: her sorrow was such that she sunk in despair. Her health became affected; she appeared to be in a deep consumption; even on the brink of the grave. In this state she had been for twenty years, and neither physicians nor divines were able to benefit her, either as to her body or her soul. At length she sent for Fox. They who went with him, said that they never entered a more sorrowful or afflicted house. Several friends, relatives, and servants sat by the sick woman, some on seats, some on the chamber floor, not weeping as in a common case of sorrow, but absolutely silent, as though their tears were all spent, scarcely noticing any that entered. The sick woman lay upon her bed, apparently near her end, faintly breathing forth a few words, which were in effect a desire to end her days.
Fox did not attempt the ordinary methods of consolation, but prayed earnestly, pleading the faithfulness of God’s promises, and Christ’s sufferings. This course he pursued for some days, though with but little effect. At length he told her, that she should not only recover from that disease, but also live to a great age, and what was far better, that she had an interest in Christ, and should go to heaven. She, moved at his words, and earnestly beholding him, exclaimed that she should surely be damned, adding, “As well might you say, that if I should throw this glass against the wall, I might expect that it should not be broken in pieces.” And immediately dashed down a Venice glass F17 she had in her hand. It struck a chest, from whence it fell to the ground, without receiving the smallest injury! The event proved according to the words of Fox. Mrs. Honiwood, who was then sixty years of age, recovered and lived till she was ninety, in peace and comfort, being able to reckon up three hundred and sixty-seven descendants.
Samuel Fox refers to a person alive when he wrote this in 1641, who had been present at the above conversation, and says he could relate other similar accounts, but declined doing so, as those who could have witnessed their truth were dead.
In reference to these and some similar circumstances, he observes that he does not presume to attempt any explanation, “whether it was that the mind, by how much the purer, and more sublime it is, seeth so much the farther; or whether there is some hidden cause, why God may be pleased sometimes to declare his purposes by men, not speaking out of their own knowledge but as they are moved.”
A few anecdotes of Fox may be given, illustrative of his character. One day he met a woman he knew, who showing him a book she carried, said, “See you not that I am going to a sermon?’ He answered, “If you will be ruled by me, go home, for you will do little good today at church.” Whereupon she asked, when he would counsel her to go? “Then,” replied, he, “when you tell no one beforehand.”
A gentleman, dining with Fox, spoke very freely against the earl of Leicester, whose conduct was much canvassed. Fox commanded a certain cup to be filled with wine, and brought to him. “This cup,” said he, “was given me by the earl of Leicester.” The gentleman immediately ceased. This is characteristic of Fox’s quiet, but effectual method of repressing what was wrong, without exciting needless debate.
A young man, inclined to be too forward in company, said, that while studying the old authors, he saw no reason why men should so greatly admire them. Fox observed, “No marvel indeed, for if you could conceive the reason, you would admire them yourself.”
One having inquired whether he recollected a certain poor man whom he used to relieve. “Yes,” answered Fox, “I remember him well. And I willingly forget lords and ladies, to remember such as he.”
At another time, when leaving the palace of Aylmer, bishop of London, a company of poor people begged of him importunately. Fox, having no money, returned to the bishop, and asked the loan of five pounds, which was readily granted; then going forth, he distributed it among that retinue, by which, as Fuller observes, he ever might be traced. Some months after, Aylmer asked Fox for the money he had borrowed. “I have laid it out for you,” was the answer, “and paid it where you owed it, to the poor people who laid at your gate.” Far from being offended, Aylmer thanked Fox for thus being his steward.
His course of life during his later years is thus described by his son. “Spending the day at home in conference with those who resorted to him, frequently preaching abroad, and going to visit those who were not able themselves to come to him, he both fulfilled that, which by the courtesy of his own disposition was enjoined him, and neglected not the performance of that duty which the office of his ministry imposed on him. The little time which was left free to his own disposal, he bestowed not in sleeping or taking pleasure, but in prayer or study; in both which he always retired to some private place, or made use of the silence, of night for secrecy, unless sometimes the vehement groans, mingled with his prayers, being heard by some near the place, gave notice how earnest he was in his devotions. For at no time of the night could any man come to find his labors ended, but often hath the next morning’s light seen the last of his night’s care dispatched.”
Yet Fox was no ascetic; his voluntary abstinence from the en-snaring pleasures of life has been mentioned, but as he knew that this victory was not obtained in his own strength, so he desired that the fruits thereof might appear to the glory of his master, We learn, “that he frequented the tables of his friends, not for his pleasure sake, being of a spare diet, but both in courtesy to keep them company, and lest any should think that he was not defended against the pleasures of the table by his own moderation. So did he behave himself in those things that are followed by delights, that none of those who were commonly in showed desire of them.” Although his presence might tend to prevent improper excesses, we have no reason to suppose him averse to proper and christian cheerfulness. Many passages in his writings show that he was naturally of a cheerful turn of mind, and pleased with lively sayings, although far from unchristian levity. He desired by experience in christian warfare to increase his own strength, and to give to others an example of fortitude.
The correspondence of Fox in the latter part of his life, shows that his circumstances remained very limited. In a letter written to his son Samuel, he says that the letters which his son had addressed to a bishop, had been sent, but without effect, adding, “The twenty shillings you received by Gellebrand were from your mother, not from the bishop. This she is willing that you should know, lest you should rely upon human help, which is of small avail. It is best to seek for aid from Him who feedeth the young sparrows, and imparts food unto all flesh. Call upon him in truth, and fix all your hopes upon him.”
The occasion of this letter seems to have been as follows. His son, Samuel, who was fellow of Magdalen college, had traveled beyond, seas without permission from his father or the college on his return, he was charged with an inclination to popery, which, though without foundation, induced the members of his college, then inclining to strict discipline, to expel him.
Fox addressed a bishop in behalf of his son, whom he did not defend as faultless, but urged that he was dismissed without pre-virtus admonition, or any cause being assigned, and the harshness of this proceeding, rather arose from internal dissentions in the college, and opposition to their president, than to freedom from faults greater than those they censured in his son. The letter is penned in a very able manner; he speaks in moving terms of his own age and poverty. We find that Samuel Fox was afterwards restored to his office by the queen’s mandate. F18 We may here again notice, that Fox always from his deep poverty was abundant in liberality to the poor. His son says, “So far was he from thirsting after honor riches, applause, or any outward good; that he would at no time suffer the care of his private estate to enter into his mind, much less that it should, by taking thought for his household affairs, be overcome or drawn aside. — Being often asked why he had no more regard to the straitness of his own estate, it being the first precept of Charity to begin at home; his answer was, That God, by his covenant lind the charge of his affairs, who well knew both what was fit for him, and when to bestow it; and since God had never yet failed him, when could he begin to doubt of him, without manifest ingratitude?” His son testifies that he showed pity to all sorts of men in distress, though he does not confirm what was reported, that Fox often gave away his clothes and household stuff. He considered that it was not likely his father should proceed so far; as by the liberality of others, who made him their almoner, he wanted not means to relieve those in necessity. The sums thus intrusted to him appear to have been considerable, and were applied most faithfully to the purposes intended. It was well that he had this assistance, for his love to his Savior was such, that he never could refuse giving to any who asked him for relief in the name of Jesus, or for Christ’s sake.
One of the latest circumstances recorded of Fox is, that he declared his conviction, as being taught of God, that the Spanish Armada would be unsuccessful. The mind of the martyrologist must have been deeply anxious respecting the event of an expedition, which, if it had succeeded, would have renewed the scenes exhibited during the reign of queen Mary, in a more dreadful degree.
The particulars of his departure, which took place April 18th, 1587, are thus recorded by his son Samuel, “Ere he had quite passed through his seventieth year, he died, not through any known disease, but through much age. Yet did he foresee the time of his departure; nor would suffer his sons, notwithstanding he entirely loved them, to be present at his death, but forbad the one to be sent for, and despatched the other on a journey three days before he died. Only sending for them when he well knew that whatever haste they made, they would be too late. Perhaps he thought them unable to bear so heavy a spectacle, or would not have his own mind troubled at that time with any thing that might move him to desire life.
Which to me and my brother was most grievous, that thereby we could neither come to close his eyes, nor to receive his last blessing and exhortations, nor to satisfy our minds with that last sight of him. We could with more patience have endured to see the approaches of his death drawing on, than have lost so good an example how to die.
Upon the report of his death the whole city lamented, honoring the small funeral that was made for him, with the concourse of as great a multitude of people, and in the same fashion of mourning, as if each had buried his own father or brother.”
His son Samuel observes, “All his virtues were fenced about as with a bulwark, by a singular modesty and integrity of life, which suffered not any thing to enter into his manners, or to break forth into his actions, without first diligently examining whether it might beseem him or not. Having this always before him, if at any time, by human frailty, aught within began to be shaken, he quickly forsook it, before the matter proceeded.” He says, “I write of a life bearing continually true and solid fruits; — a life passed over without noise, of modesty at home and abroad, of continual charity, contempt of the world, and thirst after heavenly things; of unwearied labors, and all actions so performed as might be exemplary or beneficial to others.”
The chief debt of gratitude to Fox, both from his contemporaries and from posterity, was for his writings — among these, “The Acts and Monuments of the Church” is the most important, both as to the extent of labor bestowed on the work, and the unspeakable usefulness which has resulted from it. This work, as already noticed, Fox commenced when at Basle; the first sketch was printed in octavo, in 1554. An enlarged compilation in Latin, in a folio volume, was printed also at Basle in 1559 and in 1563.
This contained but a small part of his full design, which was to show the whole history of the church of Christ, especially the rise and progress of the English reformation, as well as to record therein the persecutions and sufferings of the English church in his own day. Many supplied him with materials, and on his return home he devoted himself principally to this great work, continuing to prepare it in English, by the advice of bishop Grindall, who took much interest in promoting it. The facts which Fox chiefly wished to note were recent, the examinations and letters of the martyrs were furnished to him from authentic sources; and the bishops’ records, which contained many documents of the greatest importance, were open to him. All these he examined personally, transcribing them himself. In 1563, eleven years from the commencement of his labors, he had proceeded with his work sufficiently to publish it under the title of “Acts and Monuments of these latter and perilous days, touching matters of the church, wherein are comprehended and described the great persecutions and horrible troubles that have been wrought and practiced by the romish prelates, especially in this realm of England and Scotland, from the year of our Lord one thousand unto the time now present. Gathered and collected according to the true copies and writings certificatory, as well of the parties themselves that suffered, as also out of the bishops’ registers, which were the doers thereof.” Strype, in simple yet strong terms, sets forth its value. He says, “Herein Fox hath done exquisite service to the protestant Cause, in showing from abundance of ancient books, records, registers, and choice manuscripts, the encroachments of popes and papalins, and the stout oppositions made by learned and good men, in all ages, and in all countries, against them; and especially under king Henry and queen Mary, here in England; preserving to us the memories of those holy men and women, those bishops and divines, together with their histories, acts, sufferings, and their constant deaths, willingly undergone for the sake of Christ and his gospel, and for refusing to comply with popish doctrines and superstitions.” Strype bears testimony to the “infinite pains” Fox took in compiling this work, and in searching of registers, and in the enlargement of the several editions in his lifetime. So full and perfect an exposure of the persecutions of popery never was made, as of those in the reign of queen Mary. The church of Rome has usually been able to conceal its deeds of darkness in some degree, or for some time. But in this instance, the broad light of day broke in at once upon the recesses of its dungeons, and the archives of its tribunals. Strype says, “Great was the expectation of the book in England before it came abroad. The papists then scurrilously styled it, ‘Fox’s Golden Legend.’ When it first appeared, there was extraordinary fretting and fuming at it through all quarters of England, and even to Louvain. The papists charged it with lies, and said, there was much falsehood in it; but indeed they said this, because they were afraid it should betray their cruelty and their lies.” This ever has been the practice of that corrupt church, and the unblushing effrontery with which its advocates impute the charge of falsehood, has too often been successful with those who are ignorant of the depths of iniquity it has manifested.
Parsons, a romanist, who wrote shortly after, plainly charged Fox with spoiling the bishops’ registers and ancient records, declaring that he would have undertaken to find abundant matter to confute Fox out of the records of the bishoprics, but which, he added, were now destroyed by him, “as we do presume.” Here was a papist measuring others by the conduct usual in his own church, which ever has been remarkable for altering, forging, and destroying of documents! F19 But truth has not recourse to any such measures. Strype adds, “Fox was an indefatigable searcher into old registers, and left them as he found them, after he had made his collections and transcriptions out of them, many whereof I have seen and do possess.
And it was his interest that they should remain to be seen by posterity, therefore we frequently find references to them in the margins of his book.
Many have diligently compared his books with registers and council books, and have always found him faithful.” “As he hath been found most diligent, so most strictly true and faithful in his transcriptions. And this I myself in part have found.”
But a considerable portion of Fox’s work necessarily rested upon the relation of living witnesses. These he has generally mentioned by name, and a great part are men whose character is so well established, as to place them above any imputations. Many of course were persons of inferior rank, but surely we are not to consider that as any ground for a charge of want of veracity. Some errors and mistakes there doubtless were, but far less than could be expected in a work of such magnitude. These Fox took every pains to correct, travelling to considerable distances to ascertain the real facts where doubts were alleged, and without hesitation inserting in his subsequent editions any corrections which appeared needful. As most of the persons alluded to were living when his work appeared, unusual advantages were afforded in this respect, and several letters still extant in the British Museum, prove his own anxiety, and that of his friends, to correct any errors.
To pursue this subject at length cannot be necessary. Strype has given particulars, which show how unfounded several of the charges of the papists were, and when the reader examines those upon which romish writers, as well ancient as modern, have laid the most stress, he will be surprised to find they are only matters of small importance, and still more at the unblushing effrontery with which oft refuted charges are still repeated. F20 We may here dismiss the subject with a quotation from Dr.
Wordsworth, who himself examined many of the ancient records used by Fox. He says in the preface to his ecclesiastical biography, “These writings (of the papists) have not proved, and it never will be proved, that John Fox is not one of the most faithful and authentic of all historians. We know too much of the strength of Fox’s book, and of the weakness of those of his adversaries, to be further moved by such censures than to charge them with falsehood. All the many researches and discoveries of later times, in regard to historical documents, have only contributed to place the general fidelity and truth of Fox’s melancholy narrative, on a rock which cannot be shaken.”
The testimony of Neal, from his History of the Puritans, may also be given.
He says, “No book ever gave such a mortal wound to popery as this. It was dedicated to the queen, and was in such high reputation, that it was ordered to be set up in churches; where it raised in the people an invincible horror and detestation of that religion which had shed so much innocent blood.” Brook observes in his Lives of the Puritans, that the weight of all the objections offered in contempt of the Foxian martyrs, are as nothing to overthrow so solid and immoveable a fabric. “The Acts and Monuments of the martyrs have long been, they still remain, and will always continue substantial pillars of the protestant church; of more force than many volumes of bare arguments, to withstand the tide of popery, and like a Pharos, should be lighted up in every age, as a warning to all posterity.”
No history ever has been so strictly and severely tried as the Acts and Monuments of John Fox, and no work of human composition ever stood the test of severe scrutiny with equal credit and advantage. Every pains was taken to make it public, a copy was ordered to be set up in every parish church throughout England, with Jewell’s Defense of the Apology, and the large English Bible, for the use of all people, excepting in times of divine service, till Laud ordered the writings of these reformers to be taken away, as they did not countenance some of his views! But even now the well worn remains of these volumes are sometimes to be found in a village church, an undeniable proof that the history of those times was subjected in the fullest manner, to the examination of the very people among whom the circumstances related had occurred only a few years before. F21 This work was reprinted in 1570, with several corrections and numerous additions, also commencing from “the primitive time.” Other additions and corrections were made in subsequent editions printed in 1576 and 1583, during the lifetime of Fox, and subsequent to his decease in 1596, 1610, 1632, 1641, and 1684. No complete edition has been printed since that period, though often called for, but innumerable compilations from its pages have appeared. F22 The other writings of Fox, not already mentioned, may be more briefly enumerated. The principal are those which relate to the controversies with Osorio, a romish prelate of considerable ability, who wrote against the English Reformation, and in defense of the romish doctrines of justification. A work written by him, soon after the accession of queen Elizabeth, had been ably answered by Dr. Haddon, master of requests to the queen, and at her desire. Osorio replied at great length, with many personal invectives upon the English protestants, urging the usual objections against the doctrines of the Reformation. Haddon commenced a further answer, but died before it was finished. As this controversy was considered a matter of importance to the state, Fox was selected to continue Haddon’s work, which he did in a very satisfactory manner.
Strype gives a very full account of this controversy; he characterizes the work of Haddon and Fox, as “a very learned vindication of protestants, and a confutation of the doctrines and practices of the church of Rome.”
Fox also engaged in a still more important controversy with Osorio, who wrote a Latin treatise concerning justification; to this Fox replied in a work printed in 1583, entitled “Concerning Free Justification through Christ.”
He wrote this and most of his other works in Latin, as that was a universal language among all persons of any pretensions to education. We accordingly find him apologizing to Dr. Humphrey, the president of Magdalen College, Oxford, when he sent him a copy of the first edition of his Acts and Monuments, that it “was not written in Latin,” which, he said, grieved him, as the fruits of it then might spread further, and it might be more pleasant to read. An English translation of Fox on Justification was afterwards published, the greater part of which will be found in the present volume; an abridgement appeared desirable both on account of the limits of this work, and as it was unnecessary to follow Fox through all the logical forms then used in such arguments, or to traverse the mazes of the controversy. The reader will find this one of the most important writings of the British reformers; the great doctrine of justification by faith is treated without the introduction of those less important topics, by which romanists usually endeavor to confuse and obscure their controversies with protestants. It was in truth a strenuous contest. Osorio put forth all the sophistries and perversions of his party. Fox grappled manfully with them and overcame. We may consider Fox as standing unrivalled among the British reformers on this subject, as well as in matters of history. This piece is the more important, as its arguments are particularly opposed to the doctrine of the jesuits, which then had been recently advanced, and were beginning to exercise a mischievous influence. It also deserves serious perusal at the present day, for it answers many of the erroneous opinions on that all important subject, which have been introduced into protestant churches during the two last centuries.
Another work of Fox included in the present volume, is a sermon preached by him on the occasion of the baptism of a Jew. The subject is, the gospel olive tree, spoken of by St. Paul, Romans 11. It notices the principal prophecies relative to the Messiah, a statement of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, and strong arguments against Jewish errors.
It is the only piece relative to the Jews among the British reformers.
Fox also wrote a work upon the Eucharist — Concerning the doctrine of election — An exhortation to be read in the time of pestilence — A new year’s gift concerning the deliverance of certain Christians from the Turkish gullies — Concerning the receiving into the church those who have fallen, but have returned by repentance — and Meditations upon the Apocalypse.
He edited several works. Among them were the writings of Tindal, Frith, and Barnes. He translated some pieces of the German reformers, and set forth a collection of christian prayers from ancient writers. We also find many prefaces and epistles from his pen. Day, as we have seen, was rightly called the printer of the Reformation, Fox was his editor, ready at all times to direct the talents, and to apply the time he possessed, to such objects as seemed consonant to the work of his Lord and Master. Among other works he was employed by archbishop Parker to edit the Saxon gospels.
His researches into Saxon antiquities enabled him to combat many of the romish usurpations. Strype obtained many of the papers of Fox, and has made considerable use of them in his Mentorisis and Annals. F23 A considerable quantity passed into the Harleian collection, and are now in the British Museum, an inspection will do much to satisfy of the industry and fidelity of the martyrologist. Amongst them is an interesting selection from the correspondence of Fox, apparently copied under his own direction from such letters as he thought most important to preserve.
Strype has published several, some others are inserted in this biographical sketch, but the whole collection should be printed. F24 To conclude — Fox was a most valuable artificer in the great work of the English Reformation. He may be considered as the last of the venerable body of British reformers, and also as connecting them with their immediate successors, the puritans and other valuable divines of the latter part of the sixteenth and the commencement of the seventeenth centuries.
He was not only a principal stone in the edifice, but also the cement whereby the other stones have become firmly united together; it is impossible to have examined the various documents requisite for the present work, without being impressed with enlarged views of the excellencies of his character, and deeply feeling THE INESTIMABLE VALUE OF JOHN FOX.