Jessey’s search for truth led him to examine the Scriptures closely, and accept the doctrine of Believer’s Baptism. Here is the story of that change of mind. We may be thankful for the ‘candour’ and ‘justice’ of the editor (Palmer)!
Candour, and indeed justice, oblige the editor to insert the following extract from this good man’s life, respecting his sentiments about baptism, of which the author [NB: Calamy–JMR] had taken no notice. Some of his church becoming Baptists, left it the year after his settling among them; and soon after a greater number of persons, of considerable note, embraced this opinion. This put Mr. J. upon studying the controversy ; the result was, that he altered his sentiments, but not without great deliberation, many prayers, and frequent conferences with pious and learned men of different persuasions. His first conviction was about the mode of baptism. Though he continued 2 or 3 years to baptize children, he did it by immersion. About 1644 the controversy about the subjects of baptism was revived in his church, when several of them gave up infant baptism, as did Mr. J. himself. However, before he would absolutely determine on the point, and practice accordingly, he resolved to consult with divers learned and judicious ministers, v. g. Dr. Goodwin, Mr. Nye, Mr. Burroughs, Mr. Craddock, &c. but these giving him no satisfaction, he was in June, 1645, baptized (by immersion) by Mr. Hanserd Knollys. And it proved no small honor and advantage to the Baptists to have such a man among them. But notwithstanding his differing from his brethren in this, or any other point, he maintained the fame christian love and charity to all saints as before, not only as to friendly convention, but also in regard to church communion, and took great pains to promote the same catholic spirit among others.
He divided his labors in the ministry according to the extensiveness of his principles. Every Lord’s Day afternoon he was among his own people. In the morning he usually preached at St. George’s church, Southwark, and once in the weekday at Ely-house, and in the Savoy to the wounded soldiers.
Besides his constant labors in the ministry, he took great pains for many years in making a new translation of the Bible, in which he called in the assistance of many learned men at home and abroad. This he made the master-study of his life, and would often cry out, “Oh that I might see this done before I die!” It was almost completed, but the great turn to public affairs at the restoration caused this noble design to prove abortive.] Abp. Bancroft, who was a supervisor of this work, altered it in fourteen places to make it speak the prelatical language.
Mr. J. chose a single life, that he might be the more entirely devoted to his sacred work, and the better enabled to do good. Besides his own alms, he was a constant solicitor and agent for the poor with others whom he knew were able to supply their wants. For this end he always carried about with him a list of the names of the greatest objects of charity known to him, with their afflictions, necessities, and characters affixed. Above 30 families had all their subsistance from him. [Nor did he limit his charity to those of his own congregation or opinion; he did good to all. And where he thought it no charity to give, he would lend, without interest or security. One of the most remarkable instances of his charity, which was perhaps without precedent, was that which he shewed to the poor Jews at Jerusalem, who, by reason of a war between the Swedes and Poles, (A. D. 1657) were reduced to great extremity; their chief means of subsistence, from their rich brethren in other countries being hereby cut off. Mr. J. collected for them 300L. and with it sent letters with a view to their conversion to Christianity; the copies of which may be seen in his life.
It is easy to suppose that a man of his character must be crowded with visitors of various kinds. He resolved however to have time for his devotions and studies; and as he hated idle talk and fruitless visits, he took all possible means to avoid them. One was this: he put over his study-door, where he usually received his visitors, this writing:
Amice, Quisquis Huc Ades;
Aut Agito Faucis; Aut Abi;
Aut Me Laborante.m Adjuva.
Whatever Friend Comes Hither,
Dispatch In Brief, Or Go,
Or Help Me Busied Too. H. J.
During the time that episcopacy was laid aside in England, Mr. Jessey was in high esteem, and free from the persecutions which the Baptists too generally suffered. But before and after that period, he shared the sufferings of the nonconformists. On Feb. 21, 1637, he and a number of others being met together to worship God, the greatest part of them were seized, and carried away from Queenhithe by the Bishop’s pursuivants; and they met with the like disturbance in May following in another place. In Nov. 1639, he was sent by the congregation into Wales to assist old Mr. Wroth, Mr. Cradock, and others, in gathering a church in Llanfaches in Monmouthshire. On April 21, 1640 [369 years ago TODAY!], he with a great number of the members of several congregations, being met together upon Tower-hill, to seek God by fasting and prayer, were interrupted by the pursuivants, and imprisoned in the Tower by Sir W. Balfore, who soon released them; they being bound over by Abp. Laud to answer at the next sessions. They appeared there, but were never called, the prosecutors not thinking it adviseable to proceed. On Aug. 22, 1641, he, with five of his congregation, were seized by order of the lord mayor, and committed prisoners to Woodstreet compter, when they appealed to parliament, and were soon released. Upon the restoration he was ejected from his living at St. George’s, silenced from his ministry, and committed to prison, where (it is said in Crosby’s Hist. of the Baptists vol. i, p. 320.) he died, full of peace and joy.