Howe, John

Howe, John a Nonconformist divine, and one of the greatest of English theologians, who is often called the "Platonic Puritan," was born May 17, 1630, at Loughborough, in Leicestershire, where his father was the incumbent of the parish church; but, having become a Nonconformist, he was ejected from his living, and retired to Ireland. He soon, however, returned to England, and settled in the town of Lancaster, where John received his rudimentary instruction from his father. He was afterwards educated at Christ College, Cambridge, but removed to Brazenose College, Oxford; of which he became the bible-clerk in 1648, and where he for the second time took his degree of B.A. in 1649. He was made a demy of Magdalen College by the parliamentary visitors, and was afterwards chosen a fellow. In July, 1652, he took the degree of AM.A. After having been ordained by a Nonconformist divine, assisted by others, he became a minister at Great Torrington, in Devonshire. In 1654 Cromwell appointed him his domestic chaplain. He gave some offence to the protector by one of his sermons, in which he censured certain opinions about divine impulses and special impressions in answer to prayer, but retained his situation till Cromwell's death, and afterwards till the deposition of Richard Cromwell. He then resumed and continued his ministry at Great Torrington till the Act of Uniformity, August 1662, obliged him to restrict his preaching to private houses. He went to Ireland in 1671, where he resided as chaplain to the family of lord Massarene, enjoying there the friendship of the bishop of that diocese. Howe was granted liberty to preach in all the churches under the jurisdiction of this bishop. He wrote at this time his Vanity of Man as Mortal, and began his greatest work, The Living Temple, below referred to. In 1675 he accepted an invitation to become the minister of a congregation in London. During the year 1680 he engaged in a controversy with Drs. Stillingfleet and Tillotson on the question of nonconformity, and it is said that Dr. Stillingfleet, who had provoked the controversy by a discourse which he preached before the lord mayor and aldermen of London on "The Mischief of Separation," was subdued when he read Howe's reply, and confessed that he discoursed "more like a gentleman than a divine, without any mixture of rancor, or any sharp reflections, and sometimes with a great degree of kindness towards him, for which, and his prayers for him, he heartily thanked him" (Rogers's Life of Howe, p. 183). In August 1685, he went to the Continent with lord Wharton, and in 1686 became one of the preachers to the English church at Utrecht. When James II published his "declaration for liberty of conscience," Howe returned to London, and at the Revolution, the year following, he headed the deputation of dissenting ministers who presented their petition to the throne. In 1689 he again pleaded the cause of the Nonconformists in an anonymous pamphlet entitled The Case of the Protestant Dissenters represented and argued. In 1691 he became involved in the Antinomian controversy by a recommendation, which he gave to the works of Dr. Crisp. He soon, however, cleared his reputation by a strong recommendation of Flavel's Blow at the Root, a work against Antinomianism, then in the course of publication. In 1701 he became entangled in a controversy with the Puritan De Foe (q.v.) on account of one of Howe's members, who had been elected lord mayor, and who, in order to qualify himself for that office, had taken the Lord's Supper in an Established church. The manner in which Howe answered (Some Considerations of a Preface to an Inquiry, etc.) the objections of De Foe, who opposed communion in the Established Church by Nonconformists, is to be regretted by all who venerate the name of John Howe. He died April 2, 1705. Among the Puritans, John Howe ranks as one of the most eminent. He was also unquestionably a man of great general learning. "The originality and compass of Howe's mind, and the calmness and moderation of his temper, must ever inspire sympathy and awaken admiration in reflective readers: his Platonic and Alexandrian culture commends him to the philosophical student, and the practical tendency of his religious thinking endears him to all Christians" (Stoughton [John], Ecclesiastes Hist. of Engl. 2, 422, 423). "Perhaps it may be considered as no unfair test of intellectual and spiritual excellence that a person can relish the writings of John Howe; if he does not, he may have reason to suspect that something in his head or heart is wrong. A young minister who wishes to attain eminence in his profession, if he has not the works of John Howe, and can procure them in no other way, should sell his coat and buy them; and, if that will not suffice, let him sell his bed and lie on the floor; and' if he spends his days in reading them, he will not complain that he lies hard at night" (Bogue and Bennett, Hist. of Dissenters, 1, 437). "Howe seems to have understood the Gospel as well as any uninspired writer, and to have imbibed as much of its spirit. There is the truest sublimity to be found in his writings, and some of the strongest pathos; yet, often obscure, generally harsh, he has imitated the worst' parts of Boyle's style. He has a vast number and variety of uncommon thoughts, and is, on the whole, one of the most valuable writers in our language, or, I believe, in the world" (Dr. Doddridge). "I have learned more from John Howe than from any other author I ever read. There is an astonishing magnificence in his conceptions" (Robert Hall). "This great man was one of the few who have been venerated as much by their contemporaries as by their successors. Time, which commonly adds increased luster to the memory of the good, has not been able to magnify any of the qualities: for which Howe was so conspicuous. His strong and capacious intellect, his sublime elevation of thought, his flowing eloquence, the holiness of his life, the dignity and courtesy of his manners, the humor of, his conversation, won for him from the men of his own time the title of 'the great Howe"'(Skeats, Hist. of the Free Churches of England, p. 169). Howe's most important works are, The Living Temple (many editions; first in 1676), in which he proves the existence of God and his conversableness with men, and which occupies one of the highest places in Puritan theology — The Redeemer's Tears over lost Souls [Lu 19:41-42], with an Appendix on the Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (London 1684; often reprinted), in which Howe does not, unlike many high Calvinistic theologians, enter at all into the predestination controversy, but confines himself to a solution of the question of God's omniscience and man's responsibility: — Inquiry

concerning the Trinity, etc. — Office and Work of the Holy Spirit. These, with his Sermons and other writings, are to be found in his Collected Works, with Life by Dr. Calamy (1724, 2 vols. folio); and in The whole Works of the Rev. John Howe,. M.A., edited by Hunt (London, 1810-22, 7 vols. 8vo, with an eighth vol., containing a Memoir and additional works), and again in The Works of the Rev. John Howe, M.A., as published during his life, comprising the whole of the two folio volumes, ed. 1724, with A Life of the Author, by the Rev. J. P. Hewlett (London, 1848, 3 vols. 8vo). There is also an edition of his Works in 1 vol. imp. 8vo (London, 1838), and an American edition (Philadelphia. 2 vols. imp. 8vo). See also Wilson, Selections from Howe, with his Life (London 1827, 2 vols.12mo); Taylor, Select Treatises of John Howe (1835, 12mo);. Rogers, Life of John Howe, with an Analysis o 'his Writings (London 1836, 12mo); Dunn, Howe's Christian Theology (London 1836,12mo); English Cyclopedia; Allibone, Dict. of Authors, 1, 902; Quarterly Review (London), 36, 167; Literary and Theological Review, 4, 538; Meth. Quart. Rev. Oct. 1862, p. 676; Hook, Eccl. Biog. 6, 198 sq. (J.H.W.)

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