It’s an accurate statement that true character is drawn out through the pressures of life. Ernie Baker, of The Master’s College, teaches that the heart of man is like a tea bag, just add hot water to find out what’s in it. The choice is fight or flight.
Surely, preachers are subject to this element. Spurgeon said, “We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the Word of God must be unto us a fire in our bones.” Agreeing with the “Prince of Preachers,” what happens when the desire to preach is forbidden and the fire choked?
Puritan pastors in seventeenth century England found themselves at this very crossroads following the Act of Uniformity of 1662. The pressure was on and the question was, to preach or not to preach? Did their allegiance rest with an earthly throne or a heavenly mandate?
Perhaps a reminder of Peter’s hopeful exhortation is suitable. He says:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13)
The Lord uses fiery trails as a method to test the genuineness of faith and this is nothing new. Both Scripture and church history attest to this reality.
The Act of Uniformity required every minister in England to affirm the revised Book of Common Prayer, something the Puritans were unwilling to do.
The result, of an estimated ten thousand churches in England, two thousand pastors were banned in what is remembered as The Great Ejection.
But what happened to those two thousand passionate Puritan preachers who were ejected on “Black Bartholomew’s Day” in 1662? Certainly, these men did not simply vanish or go away with their mouths shut.
The following is just one example of a Puritan pastor who lost his pulpit and yet remained faithful to his ministry.
Edmund Calamy, (1600–66) was the faithful shepherd of St. Mary’s, Aldermanbury. Not only was he ejected from his pulpit position, his son was as well. However, this did not keep Calamy from faithful church attendance.
As God’s sovereignty would have it, on December 28, 1662, he with the rest of the congregation waited for the preacher to arrive. When the preacher did not show, Calamy was ready “in season and out of season” to proclaim God’s Word from the pulpit that morning!
Before preaching, Calamy let out a heartwarming prayer filled with love, humility, and a desire for God’s will to be done. He also prayed for England, Scotland, Ireland, and for King Charles to do great things for God.
He then preached a sermon entitled “Trembling for the Ark of God” from 1 Samuel 4:13. Here he reminded the congregation that they should learn from Eli’s trembling before the ark. They ought to be concerned, just as the glory of Israel was the ark of the covenant so the glory of England was the true church and its gospel. He called the audience to pray that the true gospel would remain in England, and he urged them to pursue holiness.
When word got out concerning his preaching he was arrested and sent to prison. Calamy was the first nonconformist to be penalized under the Act of Uniformity.
This stirred the hearts of his loved ones so much they caused a traffic jam when visiting with him in prison. The traffic became a nuisance to none other than the king’s mistress, and upon her complaint Edmund was released!
At the end of Calamy’s life, he witnessed the devastation of the great fire of London in 1666. The tragedy destroyed over thirteen thousand homes and left eighty nine churches in ruins, with a mere eleven churches hardly standing.
As he rode through the effected region, his heart broke to an unrecoverable position and he died shortly after seeing the great devastation. His loved ones looked upon the marred location of his church, estimated where the pulpit would have been, and buried him there.
Edmund Calamy did not die in vain. His outlawed preaching encouraged many other pastors to follow his example. Other men who remained faithful to their ministries include John Bunyan and Thomas Brooks.
Bunyan wrote his famous Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison. Brooks evaded removal and continued to preach through the great ejection all the way to the great plague of 1665. While most ministers fled for fear of the plague, Brooks could be found preaching to the perishing.
Today, some believers may wonder what God is presently doing in the world. They inevitably see the growing influence of worldliness and secularism. They may even feel threatened by our society’s increasing hostility toward biblical morality and a Christian worldview.
In 17th-century England, the Puritans faced similar levels of antagonism, as evidenced by the Act of Uniformity. The result was the removal and ejection of faithful pastors from their pulpits and congregations.
What about now? Will today’s pastors continue to preach passionately in the face of persecution, just as the Puritans did? Will they preach even if it means being arrested and thrown in prison? If so praise God! If not, perhaps the weary should meditate on Peter’s continued exhortation,
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? (1 Peter 4:14–18)