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of a calm, peaceable temper, thought not fit to contend any more, but contented himself to preach in Deritend chapel, at one end of the town. Some time after a process was instituted against him at Lichfield court, and he was cited thither for not reading the Common Prayer, though it was not yet enjoined. To avoid the
persecution he removed a little way into the Worcester diocese. He afterwards had many remo
movals, particularly by the Corporation Act. For some time he was in Coventry, where he was chosen by the people who belonged to Dr. Bryan, and preached there till some unquiet people drove him away. His last remove was to his son's house in Shropshire, a pious worthy conformist. He died May 14, 1684, aged 73. He was a sedate, quiet, peaceable, able divine."
Whether during the ministry of Mr. Wills there were any bodies of professing Christians who held separate worship in this town, is not certain, though by no means improbable. The sects and parties into which the religious community, during the Commonwealth, was divided, were so numerous and so widely diffused over the country, that it is likely some of them were to be found in Birmingham. Mr. Baxter continually refers to the “ Separatists, Sectaries, and Anabaptists,” as he calls them, and speaks of them with considerable acrimony. By these he meant such persons as were not satisfied with the order and discipline set up by the Parliament after the abolition of episcopacy, and as there were many of them, according to his account, at Stourbridge, Sedgley, Dudley, and other places round Birmingham, it may be well supposed there were some of them here also.
* To him Mr. Baxter presented his first folio volume, which was in Mr. Orton's possession, in which there was written, in his own hand, “ As an expression of my love to his worthy father, and to the place of my father's burial, I crave the acceptance of this book, of the Rev. Mr. Wills, Vicar of Leighton, R. Baxter,”
The ministry of such a man as Mr. Wills, however, would tend much to keep down this sectarian spirit, and if there were any in the town who were under its influence, they were in all probability at length absorbed into his congregation. This holy man and his flock were Nonconformists only so far as relates to episcopacy and the Book of Common Prayer, for as he was invested with his living and retained in it by the power and authrity of the state, he was a Conformist to a church sustained by a secular arm. The twenty years' scriptural and faithful ministrations of such a man must have prepared his flock not only to feel his expulsion as a bitter calamity, but to follow him in his views of religion and in his principles of ecclesiastical polity.
As Birmingham was neither a borough nor corporate town, it did not come within the provisions and prohibitions of “The Five Mile Act," and was therefore the resort of many of the ministers who were ejected from the neighbouring places. These were Mr. Bladon, vicar of Alrewas; Mr. Wilsby, rector of Womborn; Mr. Baldwin, vicar of Clent; Mr. Fincher, of Wednesbury; Mr. Brookes, of Hints; Dr. Long, of Newcastle-underLyme; and Mr. Turton, of Rowley Regis--all in the county of Stafford ; Mr. Bryan, vicar of Allesley, Warwickshire; Mr. Bell, vicar of Polesworth; Mr. Basset, of the same county; Mr. Fisher, rector of Thornton-inthe-Moor, Cheshire ; and Mr. Hildersham, rector of West Fulton, Shropshire.
What a fellowship of suffering, of patience, and of sentiment must these noble, but silenced, confessors have held in this their Patmos, and how must their presence and conversation, their prayers and their counsels, have contributed to the faith and patience of the saints whom they found of like views here. We can easily imagine what solemn seasons of devout intercourse they would stealthily hold, while the storm of persecution was rolling over them, and they knew not but the next flash from the thunder cloud would strike the house in which they were assembled ; and we can scarcely help wishing we knew the spots which they had moistened with their tears and consecrated by their prayers. Honour to their memory. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.
At length the hour of deliverance drew on. The indulgence granted first by Charles II, and afterwards by James II. for the accomplishment of their own Popish views and designs, was, whatever was its object and motives, the dawn of religious liberty to the persecuted Nonconformists. Among the rest who came forth from their hiding places were the dissenters of Birmingham. These, upon the declaration of religious liberty by Charles licensed a room for public worship, in which Mr. Fisher preached. This gentleman, says Calamy, was first of all turned out of the living at Shrewsbury with Mr. Blake, for not taking the engagement against the King and the House of Lords, and was afterwards rector of Thornton-in-the-Moor, whence in 1662 he was cast out and silenced. He was an old man, an able preacher, and of a godly life. He lived many years in Birmingham, and died there. He printed a sermon “On honouring the King,” dated “From my study at Birmingham, March 10, 1073."
It was not, however, till the indulgence granted by James, in 1687, that any regularly organised society, of which we have any account, was formed.
The congregation then chose for their minister Mr. Turton, who, as we have already mentioned, was ejected from Rowley Regis. Of this excellent man Calamy, in his Nonconformists' Memorial, gives the following particulars :“When he had almost brought himself to the grave, by hard study and labour in ministerial work, his ejectment gave him some ease, and was a means of recovering his health and strength. He afterwards preached frequently in churches and chapels, as he had opportunity, but chiefly in private houses, and at length became pastor to one of the dissenting congregations at Birmingham, where he died in 1716.” From the last paragraph in this account, it would seem that there was at this time another congregation in the town, though no particulars concerning it are upon record, which may have been the body that met in Meeting-house-yard, to which we shall refer in the sequel.
The glorious Revolution followed within a year after James's declaration of indulgence; and in another year the Toleration Act of William and Mary, that great charter of religious liberty, was passed. In this year a spot of ground was obtained by Mr. Turton and his flock, almost within reach of the shadow of St. Martin's steeple, and a place of worship was erected on the site, where now stands the Old Meeting. This was the first place ever erected in the town of Birmingham for any other worship than that which is conducted in the parish church. It is pretty evident, from the situation selected, that the Nonconformists of those days deemed it inexpedient to be too obtrusive in the use of their recently acquired liberty, as all the first meeting-houses of different denominations were in rather obscure retreats, and
probably veiled by small streets or front buildings from public notice. Dudley-street, the Inkleys, and Pinfoldstreet on one side, and Worcester-street as it then was on
the other, formed, if this indeed were the motive, a sufficient screen to prevent the new erection from being too provocative to the eye of religious bigotry.
SUBSEQUENTLY We give this first designation to the congregations of the Old and New Meeting-houses, because they assumed it as the successors of those who called themseves such at the time of the Restoration, and not because they carried out the principles implied in that term, either as it was then, or is now understood. Had the state of things continued which the Long Parliament set up, Presbyterianism as recommended by the Westminster Assembly of Divines, would probably have been established and arranged after the Scotch and Genevan form; preparations had commenced for such an organization, but they were never carried forward, so that in point of fact, England at that time had no Presbyterianism in practice, except in some of the northern counties, which bordered on Scotland. From the time of the Revolution, even those who called themselves Presbyterian were Independent in their actual government, though certainly not Congregational. The Presbyterian congregations, as they were called, were no farther Presbyterian than as they vested the power of government pretty much in a body of trustees, instead of the Kirk session of the Scotch Church, or the whole body of the people, as among the Congregationalists. In most of the congregations bearing this designation, which are now