Extended Biography of Rev. Nathaniel Vincent, A.M.
This laborious minister was the son of the Rev. John Vincent, and brother to the Rev. Thomas Vincent. He was born in 1639, in Hertfordshire. Such was the strength of his memory, that when but seven years of age, he would repeat in the family, on the Lord’s Day evening, the sermons he had heard, for the ease of his father. When but eleven years of age, he was admitted to Christchurch, Oxford, where he obtained his degree of A.B. March 13, 1655, and of A.M. June 11, 1657. Soon afterwards, he was nominated by Oliver Cromwell for one of the first fellows of the college founded by him at Durham; but that foundation being set aside, he returned to his college. Before he was twenty he preached at Pulborow, and at twenty-one was ordained, and presented to the rectory of Langley Marsh, in Buckinghamshire. When ejected, in 1662, he became chaplain to Sir Henry Blount, of Tittenhanger, Herts; “His lady,” said Wood, “being then fanatically inclined.” After three years, he removed to London, soon after the fire in 1666, and preached to large multitudes, amidst the ruins. This was censured by some persons as rashness, but God owned his labors, in the conversion of many souls. A meeting-house was soon erected for him in Southwark, where he met with frequent interruptions. The soldiers would sometimes come in the morning of the Lord’s Day, and take possession of the place, and prevent him from preaching. One time, after they had planted four muskets round the pulpit, with which he was not terrified, they pulled him out of it by his hair. As they were carrying him through the narrow alley adjoining, the multitude crowded in and rescued him. On a Sabbath shortly after, they again seized him, and having kept him under guard all day, at night Justice Reading and three others fined him 20l. This was in 1670, and soon after he was again taken, and committed to the Marshalsea, where the great number of persons who came to visit him gave offense. He was, therefore, hurried away to the Gatehouse, in Westminster, which none of his friends would have known, had not an acquaintance been accidentally by the waterside when he was put into a boat. He was committed close prisoner, without pen, ink, or paper; his wife carried him some necessaries, but could not be admitted to see him without a large fee, and then only for a few minutes. This imprisonment was the most severe, as he had long had a severe quartan ague. One day the jailer going with the criminals to their trial, took the key of Mr. Vincent’s room with him, when he happened to have his ague, and he was kept all day without any refreshment, so that his fit was very severe; but it pleased God so to order it, that it never returned. While he was in prison, some persons were endeavoring to draw up articles against him, to affect his life, but they could not accomplish their design. His wife obtained all the friends she could to petition the king and council, and in seven weeks got him out of the close imprisonment; but still he was obliged to remain a prisoner for six months upon the Five-Mile Act.
To Nathaniel Vincent the public is indebted for the very valuable volume against Popery, in the Morning Exercises. The lectures were delivered in 1674, in his meeting-house, Southwark. His thesis was, “That public prayer is not to be made in an unknown tongue, but in such a language as is understood by the common people.” In handling of which, he observed:—“1. I shall give you the judgment of the Church of Rome in the matter. 2. Produce arguments to prove that public prayer ought not to be made in an unknown tongue. 3. I shall make it manifest, that antiquity is utterly against the Papists in this business. 4. I shall answer the objections of the Romish doctors, and show the weakness of their arguments, which they urge for their Latin, and by the people not understood, service. 5. I shall discover the mystery of iniquity in this papal doctrine, which preaches up and encourages to an ignorant devotion. 6. Conclude with a practical application.” He edited the volume, and in his Epistle to the Reader, says, “Since England was formerly such a tributary to the see of Rome, and such vast sums of money were carried yearly from hence thither; we are not to doubt but the pope looks upon us with grief that he has lost us, and with an earnest desire to regain us. His instruments are more than ordinarily busy to this end, insomuch that both King and Parliament have taken public notice of it. This lecture, therefore, against popery, is very seasonable; and if, which I earnestly beg, this labor be made successful to reduce any of them who have been reduced, or to arm and defend the people against one of the greatest visible enemies that Christ has in the world; I shall exceedingly rejoice that my pulpit was so much honored by my fathers and brethren when they preached in it, and that ever such a project against popery came into my mind.”
In January, 1682, Justice Pierce came into the meeting when Mr. Vincent was in the pulpit, and commanded him in the king’s name to come down. Mr. V. replied, that he was commanded by the King of Kings to stand there, and so went on in his work. Officers were frequently sent to disturb him, but having notice of their approach, he used to quit the pulpit, and the congregation sang a psalm. When the justices and constables were gone, he would return to the pulpit and proceed. On one occasion he was fined 20l., and had a summons to appear at the assizes at Dorking, in Surrey, under the penalty of 40l. On the Wednesday following, he was committed to the Marshalsea. He had at that time a sick wife and six small children. He took the advice of the ablest counsellors, who found a flaw in the indictment; and observed that he had been tried before those who were not the legal judges in the case, and advised him to be at the expense of a habeas corpus, in order to his being brought to the bar of the King’s Bench. He appeared six days successively. The lord chief justice, Saunders, dying at that time, Sir George Jefferies succeeded him; and Mr. Vincent being in the hall when they were just going to enter upon a tedious cause, Judge Jones, casting his eyes upon him, observed, that he had attended several days, and asked the court whether any reason could be given why bail might not be taken for his appearance? Upon which he obtained his liberty. This imprisonment cost him 200l. For a year after this he preached but seldom, and when he did it was to very few persons at a time. In May, 1687, he and five other respectable ministers ordained the excellent Matthew Henry; and the same year, Messrs. Shallet, Warburton, and Holland, three members of his church, founded “The Gravellane Charity School.” After the Revolution, Mr. Vincent continued to exercise his ministry in peace. But, for some years before his death, an unhappy division took place in his congregation, when sixty of his communicants broke off from him, and joined with Mr. Fincher, in the same neighborhood. This circumstance made a deeper impression on his spirit than any of the troubles he had met with for nonconformity. He died June 22, 1697, aged fifty-eight years; and was buried in Bunhill-fields. On his tombstone are the following lines:
Though dead I lye, I speak to you that live,—
Your heart, your all, be sure to God you give:
At death the day of grace will fully end;
In grief for bad, in good works your time spend.
Earth is vanity; Christ’s worth, and of his cross,
The virtue know, and greatness of soul’s loss.
Immortal souls to benefit and save,
I have thus made a pulpit of my grave.
Anthony Wood said of him: “He is a person of smarter, more brisk and florid parts than most of his dull and sluggish fraternity can reasonably pretend to; of a facetious and jolly humor, and is a considerable scholar.” The Rev. Nathaniel Taylor, who preached his funeral sermon, on Luke 12:4, says: “As a minister, he had a good share of learning and other ministerial abilities, which he daily improved by diligent study.” He had Luther’s three qualifications to make a man a gospel minister: he gave himself much to meditation and prayer, and as to temptation, he had, in his younger days, been sorely exercised by it. He had a natural fervency of spirit, which made him some what vehement in everything, which time and experience corrected, so far as to make him more moderate towards his brethren who differed from him. He had a great zeal against bold intruders into the work of the ministry. He had a marvellous readiness in answering difficult questions. But the gift of preaching was the peculiar talent with which God had blessed him. He opened and applied the great truths of the gospel with such plainness and majesty, life and power, as manifested the deep sense he had of the great ends of the ministry. His sermons commanded attention, raised affection, and struck awe into the consciences of his hearers; no wonder then that he had such eminent success. As a Christian, he was ready on all occasions to start some serious discourse, and whatever company he came into, like an open box of precious ointment, would leave some sweet perfume behind him. His compassion to the poor was great, and he was liberal in doing good at once both to body and soul. He was a close walker with God, and he found the fruit of it, in a settled calm assurance of the Divine love, for many years together; which several times passed the trial, and stood unshaken when he thought himself near his end; so that when his nearest relation expressed her sorrow, he replied, “Why weep you for me, who am going to the eternal inheritance?” To a friend he said, “I do not expect to live long, but I bless God, I am ready.” When a relative expressed much concern for him, he answered, “Submission, submission best becomes creatures.” And he used often to say, “I am in the hands of my gracious God and Father, who best sees what is best for me.” His death was very sudden. He was taken ill in the morning, and had time only to say to those who came about him, “I find I am dying; Lord, Lord, have mercy on my family and congregation.” So near did his people lie to his heart, even in his last moments.
He published:—The Conversion of a Sinner;—The Day of Grace;—The Spirit of Prayer;—The Saint’s Triumph;—The Rev. James Janeway’s funeral sermon;—A Hell and Heaven upon Earth;— Rev. Thomas Cawton’s funeral sermon;—The Little Child’s Catechism;—The True Touchstone;—A Discourse concerning Love;—The Principles of the doctrines of Christ;—A Catechism for conscience;—A Covert from a Storm;—Worthy Walking;—A Present for such as have been sick;—Rev. Edward Lawrence’s funeral sermon. His sermons in the Morning Exercises are:—How we may grow in the knowledge of Christ?—How is Christ to be followed in our example?—Public prayer ought not to be made in an unknown tongue.
Source: Samuel Dunn. Memoirs of the Seventy-Five Eminent Divines whose Discourses form the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, St. Giles in the Fields, and in Southwark. London: John Snow, 1844.