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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From the Baptist Magazine, 1835
Having, in an extended article in the preceding number, presented our readers with a relation of the share which this venerable Reformer had with the publication of the first translation of the whole Bible into our language, it only remains that we accompany the beautiful likeness which is attached to the present number, with a few brief notices of his personal history.
This celebrated puritan was born in Yorkshire, in the year 1486, and educated in the University of Cambridge. Being brought up in the popish religion, he became an Augustine monk at the place of his education, where Dr. Barnes was prior, who was afterwards burnt for pretended heresy. He took his doctor's degree at Tubingen, in Germany, and was incorporated in the same at Cambridge. At an early period in the reign of Henry VIII., he cast off the shackles of popery, and became a zealous and an avowed Protestant. When the king quarrelled with the pope, and renounced the authority of Rome, he is said to have been one of the first who preached the gospel in its purity, and wholly devoted himself to promote the reformed religion.
In the year 1528, he preached at Burnstead, in Essex, when he declared openly against the popish mass, the worship of images, and auricular confession. He maintained that contrition for sin, betwixt God and a man's own conscience was sufficient of itself, without any confession to a priest. His zealous and faithful labours at this place were not in vain: it is preserved on authentic record, that he was the honoured instrument of turning one Thomas Topley, afterwards a martyr, from the superstitions and errors of popery; to the true Protestant faith.
Coverdale, having espoused the same opinions as Dr. Barnes, and finding himself in danger of the fire, fled, not long after the above period, beyond sea, and lived for some time in Holland, where he chiefly applied himself to the study and translation of the Holy Scriptures. In the year 1529, the famous Mr. William Tindal, having finished his translation of the Pentateuch, wished to have it printed at Hamburg; but in crossing the sea, the ship was wrecked, when he lost all his money and papers, and so had to begin the work afresh.
Upon his arrival at Hamburg, his friend Coverdale, who was waiting for him, assisted him in writing a new translation. In the year 1535 (some by mistake say 1532), Tindal and Coverdale translated and published the whole Bible, and dedicated it to King Henry.
In this dedication he tells his majesty, that the blind bishop of Rome no more knew what he did when he gave this title, Defender of the Faith, than the Jewish bishop Caiaphas, when he taught that it was better to put Christ to death, than that all the people should perish: that the pope gave him this title, only because his highness suffered his bishops to burn God's Word, and to persecute the lovers and ministers of it.
Whereas, he openly declared, that by the righteous administration of his majesty, the faith ought to be so defended, that God's Word, the mother of faith, should have its free course through all Christendom, but especially in these realms, and that his majesty should, indeed, defend the faith; yea, even the true faith of Christ, not dreams, not fables, not heresy, not papistical inventions, but the uncorrupt faith of God's most holy Word, to set forth which, his highness, with his most honourable council, applied all study and endeavour.
The first publication of the Bible in English roused the malice and of the bigoted prelates. Their anger and jealousy being awakened, they laid their complaints before the king, who, in compliance with their suggestions, ordered all the copies to be called in, and promised them a new translation. And when the translation in 1539, called Coverdale's translation, came forth, the bishops told Henry that there were many faults in it. His majesty asked them whether it contained any heresies; and when the bishops said they had found none, the king replied, "Then in the name of God, let it go abroad among the people."
Coverdale's immense labours, in publishing the various translations of the Scriptures, exposed him to the wrath of the English bishops, by whom he was most severely persecuted for his pains. The angry prelates hunted him from place to place, which obliged him to flee from the storm, and continue many years in a foreign land. While in a state of exile, he printed the Bible, and sent it to be sold in England, by which means he obtained a comfortable support. This, however, could not long be concealed from the jealous eye of the Bishop of London; who no sooner found what Coverdale was doing, than he inquired where the Bibles were sold, and bought them all up, supposing by this means he should be able to suppress their circulation.
But God so ordered it, contrary to the prelate's expectations, that the merchant of whom the Bibles were purchased, sent the money to Coverdale; whereby he was enabled to print more, and send them over to England. This roused the fury of the angry prelates, who, by their outstretched arms, reached him even in Holland; and to escape their potent malice, he was obliged to retire into Germany. He settled under the palsgrave of the Rhine, where he found much favour. Here, upon his first settlement, he taught school for a subsistence. But having afterwards learned the Dutch language, the Prince Elector Palatine conferred upon him the benefice of Burghsaber, where his faithful ministry and holy life were made a blessing to the people. During his continuance in this situation, he was maintained partly by his benefice, and partly by Lord Cromwell, his liberal and worthy benefactor.
Upon the accession of Edward VI, the tyrannical cruelties of King Henry began immediately to relax; the prison doors were set open; and those who had been driven into a state of exile, returned home. Among the last, was Doctor Miles Coverdale.
In the year 1551, he, though a married man, was made Bishop of Exeter, being promoted "on account of his extraordinary knowledge in divinity, and his unblemished character." The diocese of Exeter, on account of its late insurrection, and the prevalence of popery, was in a most lamentable state; and some wise, courageous, and excellent preacher was extremely necessary for that situation. Though Coverdale had submitted to wear the habits, in the late reign, he now, with many other celebrated divines, laid them aside.
At this early period there were many persons in the kingdom who, beside the papists, were non-conformable to the established church. They refused to have their children baptized, and differed in some points of doctrine from the national creed. These, out of reproach, were denominated Anabaptists. Also, there were many others who administered the sacraments in other manner than as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer, set forth by public authority. Therefore, to prevent these persons from propagating their opinions, and to bring them to conformity, a commission was issued to thirty-one persons, empowering them to correct and punish these nonconformists.
Among those in the commission were Cranmer, Latimer, Parker, and Coverdale; but it does not appear whether any of the non-conformists were prosecuted by them. Coverdale, being ever celebrated for peace and moderation, would undoubtedly disapprove of all such measures.
This excellent divine, while he was Bishop of Exeter, conducted himself in a manner worthy of his high office. Like a true primitive bishop, he was a constant preacher, and much given to hospitality. He was sober and temperate in all things, holy and blameless, friendly to good men, liberal to the poor, courteous to all, void of pride, clothed with humility, abhorring covetousness and every scene of vice. His house was a little church, in which was exercised all virtue and godliness. He suffered no one to abide under his roof, who could not give some satisfactory account of his faith and hope, and whose life did not correspond with his profession.
He was not, however, without his enemies. Because he was a constant and faithful preacher of the gospel, an avowed enemy to all superstition and popery, and a most upright, worthy man, his adversaries sought to have him disgraced; sometimes by secret backbiting; sometimes by open raillery; and sometimes by false accusation. Indeed, their malice is said to have been carried to so great a length, that they endeavoured at last to poison him; but, through the good providence of God, their snares were broken, and he was delivered out of their hands.
Coverdale having continued in the episcopal office betwixt two and three years, it pleased God to remove, by death, the excellent King Edward. Upon the accession of his sister Mary, the face of religion was soon changed; great numbers of the most worthy preachers in the kingdom were immediately silenced; and this good bishop, together with many others, was cast into prison.
It was intended that he should be brought to the stake, and burnt as a heretic; but after two years, through the importunate request of Christian III, king of Denmark, he was released. Coverdale and Dr. J. Machabaeus, the king of Denmark's chaplain, had married sisters, and through his chaplain's solicitations the king interposed between Mary and the devoted bishop; yet it was not till he had sent two or three letters that he could accomplish his purpose. By one of these, dated April 25, 1554, it appears that some insinuations had been thrown out, that he was imprisoned for being concerned in an insurrection against the queen.
But this is not likely to have been the case, as no charge is alleged in the queen's reply, and the reason given being a pretended debt due from him on account of his bishopric. The first-fruits had been remitted by Edward; the only claim therefore which Mary could make, was for the tenths, which Coverdale said he was unable to pay, not having been in possession of the see long enough to acquire a sum sufficient to satisfy the queen's demand. At length the king of Denmark gained his request, upon the condition that the deposed bishop should leave England. This accordingly he did, and repaired to the king of Denmark.
Coverdale and several of his brethren, during their exile, published a new translation of the Bible, commonly called the Geneva Bible. The translators of this Bible were Coverdale, Goodman, Gilby, Whittingham, Sampson, Cole, Knox, Bodliegh, and Pullain, all celebrated puritans. They first published the New Testament in 1557. This was the first that was ever printed with numerical verses. The whole Bible, with marginal notes, was printed in 1560, and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.
The translators say, "They were employed in the work night and day, with fear and trembling; and they protest from their consciences, and call God to witness, that in every point and word they have faithfully rendered the text, to the best of their knowledge." But the marginal notes giving some offence, it was not suffered to be printed in England till after the death of archbishop Parker when it was printed in 1576, and soon passed through twenty or thirty editions.
Soon after the accession of Queen Elizabeth, Dr. Coverdale again returned to his native country. His bishopric was reserved for him, and he was repeatedly urged to accept it; but on account of the popish habits and ceremonies retained in the church, he modestly refused. He assisted in the consecration of Archbishop Parker, in Lambeth Chapel, December 17, 1559. The ceremony was performed in a plain manner by the imposition of hands and prayer. Coverdale, on this occasion, wore only a plain black gown; and because he could not with a good conscience come up to the terms of conformity, he was neglected, and for some time had no preferment. He had the plague in the year 1563, but afterwards recovered.
He was commonly called Father Coverdale. But on account of the neglect with which he was treated, and the reproach which it brought upon the ruling prelates, Grindal, bishop of London, said, "Surely it is not well that he, who was in Christ before any of us, should be now in his age without stay of living. I cannot herein excuse us bishops." Grindal therefore, in the above year, gave him the living of St. Magnus, at the Bridgefoot. But he, being old and poor, petitioned Secretary Cecil and others, to be released from paying the first-fruits, amounting to upwards of sixty pounds, adding, "If poor old Miles might be thus provided for, he should think this enough and as good as a feast." This favour was granted.
Coverdale continued in the undisturbed exercise of his ministry a little more than two years; but not coming up to the terms of conformity, he was driven from his flock, and obliged to relinquish his benefice.
His remains were honourably interred in the chancel of St. Bartholomew's church, behind the Exchange, London; when vast crowds of people attended the funeral procession. A monumental inscription was afterwards erected to his memory, of which the following is a translation:
of the most reverend Father,
who died, aged eighty years.
contains the mortal remains of COVERDALE
who, having finished his labours,
now lies at rest.
He was once the most faithful
and worthy Bishop of Exeter, a man
remarkable for the uprightness of his life.
He lived to exceed the age of
having several times
been unjustly sent into banishment;
and after being tossed about and
exposed to the various
hardships of life,
the Earth kindly received him into