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Richard Steele

Extended Biography of Richard Steele

REV. RICHARD STEEL, A.M. This holy man was born at Nantwich, in Cheshire, May 10, 1629. He took his degree at St. John's College, Cambridge; and on July 5, 1656, was incorporated into the University of Oxford. He was minister of Hanmere, in Flintshire, North Wales. Mr. Steel had contracted a friendship with the pious and excellent Mr. Philip Henry, who, coming to reside at Worthenbury, became his near neighbor. He assisted at Mr. Henry's ordination, and it is remarkable that he was engaged in a similar service about thirty years afterwards, when his son, the celebrated Matthew Henry, was set apart to the pastoral office. Being now settled in the same neighborhood, they became frequent companions, and labored together in the same honorable employment with the utmost harmony, zeal, and affection. Mr. Steel became Mr. Henry's confidential friend and counsellor, and they preserved a mutual regard to their dying day. Mr. Henry would frequently go over to Hanmere and elsewhere, and join his friend in Christian conference, and in days of humiliation and prayer, besides their meetings with other ministers at public lectures; after which it was usual for them to spend some time together in set disputation in Latin. This was a work that was of remarkable service in those days: it kept up a friendly correspondence between ministers, and was a strong incitement to their people to provoke one another to love and to good works. After the Restoration Mr. Steel met with much trouble on account of his nonconformity.

In September, 1660, he was presented at Flint assizes, together with Mr. Fogg and Mr. Henry, for not reading the common prayer, though as yet it was not enjoined; but there were some busy people whose zeal prompted them to outrun the law. They entered their appearance, but the affair came to nothing, for the King's Declaration, touching ecclesiastical affairs, coming out soon after, promised liberty, and gave hopes of a peaceable settlement. However, at the spring assizes following, Mr. Steel and Mr. Henry were again presented, and came off with some difficulty. In his farewell sermon, Aug. 17, 1662, he said that he was turned out of his living for not declaring his unfeigned assent and consent to a book which he never saw, nor had an opportunity of seeing. In October, 1663, he and Mr. Henry were again taken up, with some of their friends, and brought prisoners to Hanmere, under pretense of a plot against the government. After being kept in confinement some days, they were examined by the deputy-lieutenants, charged with they, knew not what, and dismissed upon their verbal security to be forthcoming upon twenty-four hours' notice. It was remarked, as a retaliation of Providence, that the day after their release the person who had been the principal cause of their trouble died of a drunken surfeit. In 1665 he was made sub-collector of the royal aid for the township of Hanmere, to which he patiently submitted, though it was designed to hold him forth to the world in the disparaging light of a layman. In September, the same year, Mr. Steel was again committed to prison for being present at a private meeting; but in a few days was discharged. After this he formed a resolution of removing to London, when a fresh trouble overtook him. As he was setting out on his journey he was served with a warrant from the neighboring justices, and, under color of the report of a plot, stopped and searched; but his enemies, finding nothing upon him to ground an accusation, seized his almanac, in which he kept his diary for that year. This being written not very legibly, they put what malicious constructions upon it they pleased, and endeavored to turn it to his reproach; though to all sober and sensible people it discovered him to be a man who kept a strict watch over his own heart, and was anxious how he might best improve his time. Having overcome this trouble, he quickly fell into another, by the passing of the Oxford, or Five-mile Act, which took place at Lady-day, 1666.

In 1667 he removed to London, where he gathered a congregation, which met for several years at Armourers' Hall, Coleman street, to whom he preached on the morning of the Sabbath, and to another congregation at Hoxton the other part of the day. After a short illness, he quietly yielded up his spirit, Nov. 16, 1692, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. His friend and fellow-laborer, the Rev. George Hamond, preached his funeral sermon. It is entitled, A good Minister of Jesus Christ; and the text is 2 Timothy 2:15. He remarks,—“1. Our apostle, the more to recommend a good minister, doth show how unlike he is to a contentious, wrangling sophister, who lives in the fire of disputing and dividing; but it may be truly said of our worthy brother as it was of Caleb, ‘He was a man of another spirit.’ 2. The apostle describes a good minister of Jesus Christ by his studiousness and diligence; in which it must be concluded that our deceased brother was very exemplary, for his sermons were composed and written with mature digestion, though with much brevity, which manifested them to have been the product of many serious thoughts, and, considering his constancy in preaching, must needs require very hard study. His manuscript notes of his sermons are exceeding many, and deserve to be carefully preserved. 3. A good minister of Jesus Christ will study to approve himself unto God; and, to do so, we may be assured, was the constant care and endeavor of our deceased brother, for he was circumspect, unblameable, and exemplary in the whole course of his conversation, and in the exercise of his ministry. 4. A good minister of Jesus Christ is a workman that need not to be ashamed. His abundant labors do manifest that he was a constant and diligent workman; and the Lord Christ did so assist and help him in his work, that, upon an impartial review, he needed not to have been ashamed of it. He had a singular faculty of saying much in a little. The subjects which he discoursed upon were practicable and profitable. 5. He was a pastor who made it his business to oversee and feed his flock. He desired to know his sheep by name. He often visited those who were his peculiar charge, and endeavored to edify them with some serious discourse about their soul concernments, inquiring after their proficiency, resolving their doubts, encouraging and directing them as their case did require. He was careful and exact in observing whether any of them failed in their attendance upon the ordinances of God, especially if he missed any of them at the Lord's Supper, once or twice, he would be sure to send to them, and, on the first opportunity, inquire of them what it was that kept them away. 6. As a good minister of Jesus Christ he was very dexterous and skillful in rightly dividing the word of truth. In every sermon he was careful to provide milk for babes and strong meat for grown men. His style was easy and familiar, though far from being loose, care less, or rustic. 7. As in his preaching he made it appear that he was richly stored with scripture knowledge, so in his praying he gave evident proof that the Spirit of grace and supplication was plentifully poured out upon him, for he performed that holy duty orderly, perspicuously, seriously, and affectionately, to the exciting of devotion in those that joined with him. These instances are sufficient to demonstrate that the character of a good minister of Jesus Christ was exemplified in him."

His works:—An Antidote against Distractions;—The Husbandman's Calling;—A Plain Discourse of Uprightness;—The Tradesman's Calling;—A Discourse of Old Age;—A Scheme and Abstract of the Christian Religion;—Life of Mr. Thomas Froysel. The Tradesman's Calling ought to be in every shop and counting-house. Dr. Watts, who wrote a recommendatory preface to it in 1747, observes, “As the age in which we live is much degenerated from the virtue and piety of our forefathers, I should be heartily glad if I might see, the salvation of God in a general repentance and reformation; and should this begin in the shop and the exchange, how wide and amazing would be its influence! No more would our eyes be witnesses of the base practices of over-reaching and various other iniquities; nor would our ears be so often shocked with the tremendous bankruptcy and ruin, brought by idleness, luxury, and vice, not only upon single persons, but whole families, left destitute and wretched for ever after.” Four sermons in the Exercises on:—What are the duties of husbands and wives towards each other?—What are the hinderances and helps of a good memory in spiritual things? —How may the uncharitable and dangerous contentions that are amongst professors of the true religion be allayed?—The right of every believer to the blessed cup in the Lord's Supper.

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.