Sherwood’s Remarkable Courage

The punishments placed on the ejected Puritan ministers were often severe. Often dependent on the whims of the local magistrates, their courage was tried and tested. Here is an example of bravery, from a mild-mannered man, for Christ’s sake.

Mr. Joseph Sherwood. After his ejectment by the Bartholomew act he resided at St. Ives to the day of his death, which was about 1705. He was a constant faithful preacher at that place, and at Penzance, (7 miles distant) alternately every Lord’s-day, besides lectures on the week days. He was of a sweet engaging temper; and though for a long time under very great indisposition of body and constant pains, yet unwearied in his work, both in his study and in the pulpit. Soon after his ejection he was cited to the spiritual court for not going to church. He appeared, and gave for a reason, that there was no preaching, and that he could not, with any satisfaction, attend there only to hear the clerk read the prayers; but promised to go the next Lord’s-day if there was a sermon. Finding upon enquiry that there was no minister then, any more than before, he went not, and so was cited again, and gave the same answer. The Lord’s-day following great multitudes came to church out of novelty to see Mr. Sherwood; who, being informed by the churchwarden, who was his friend, that there would be no sermon, went into the church, and seated himself in the clerk’s desk all the time of prayers, and then went up into the pulpit, and prayed, and preached from those words, ‘I will avenge the quarrel of my covenant.’ The rumor of this action was soon spread abroad, but such was the people’s affection to Mr. S. that though there was a crowded congregation in a great church, his enemies could not get any one to give information against him, till, by art, they got an acknowledgment from his friend the churchwarden; and then by threats frightened him into a formal information. He was then carried to a petty session of justices, where one Mr. Robinson sat as chairman, who greatly reviled Mr. S. and called him rebel, &c. which he bore patiently, with this reply, “That as he was a minister of the gospel, and at the church where there was so great an assembly, he could not but ‘have compassion on the multitude,’ and give them a word of exhortation.” Mr. Robinson said, “But did ever man preach from such a rebellious text?” “Sir, (replied Mr. S.) I know man is a rebel against his Creator, but I never knew that the Creator could be a rebel against his creature.” Mr. R. cried out, “Write his mittimus for Launceston jail.” And then turning to Mr. S. said, “I say, Sir, it was a rebellious text.” Mr. S. looked him full in the face, and addressed him in these words: “Sir, if you die the common death of all men, God never spake by me.” He was sent to prison, where he found favour with the keeper, and had liberty to walk about the castle and town. Mr. R. returned home; and a few days after, walking in the fields, a bull that had been very tame came up to a gate where he stood, and his maid before him, who had been milking, and turning her aside with his horns, ran directly upon Mr. R. and tore out his bowels. This strange providence brought to mind what had passed at the sessions. And in a little time Mr. S. getting leave to return home, he was sent for to Penzance, where some justices met. He immediately went, though he expected no other than to be sent back to jail. But when he came there, Mr. Godolphin came out, and took him into another room, and said, “Sir, I sent for you to know how you came to express yourself in such a manner, when we committed you; you know, Sir, what has since befallen Mr. R.” &c. Mr. S. replied, “Sir, I was far from bearing any malice against Mr. R. and can give no other answer than that when we are called before rulers for his name’s sake, whom we serve, it shall be given us in that very hour what we shall say.” To which Mr. G. replied, “Well, Sir, for your sake, I will never more have a hand in prosecuting Dissenters.” And he was as good as his word.