Charnock, Stephen (DNB00)

CHARNOCK, STEPHEN (1628–1680), puritan theologian, was born in 1628 in the parish of St. Catherine Creechurch, London, where his father, Richard Charnock (a relation of the Lancashire family of Charnock of Charnock), was a solicitor. At an early period he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he had for his tutor Dr. Sancroft, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, and graduated in art. While at the university he was profoundly impressed with the puritan views of religion,ans ever after was intensely moved by téhem. Devoting himself to the christian ministry, he appears at a very early age to have begun to exercise it somewhere in Southwark, and with encouraging results. In 1649 he removed to Oxford, and obtained in 1650 a fellowship in New College. In 1652 he was incorporated M.A. In the conflict then going on between the high church and the puritan party for the control of the university, Charnock very cordially went with the latter. Oliver Cromwell was chancellor of the university, and John Owen vice-chancellor. As proctor in 1654 he had great opportunities of influence, and he used them with conscientious earnestness. Leaving Oxford he went to Ireland in the capacity of chaplain to Henry Cromwell, who had been appointed lord deputy by his father. Charnock preached frequently in St. Werburgh's Church, and also in Christ Church. His calm, grave manner, great learning, and fervent piety procured for him high esteem, even from some who did not share his sentiments, and made a great impression.

Soon after the death of Oliver, Henry Cromwell ceased to be lord deputy of Ireland, and Charnock had to leave the scene of much successful labour. For some time he remained in obscurity in London, and for fifteen years he had no regular charge. Devoted to study, he spent much of his time among his books, but. he had the misfortune to lose them all in the great fire of London. He preached here and there, occasionally spending some time in France and Holland. In 1675 he was appointed, with the Rev. Thomas Watson, formerly rector of St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, a well-known puritan divine, joint pastor of a large and important presbyterian congregation assembling at Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate Street. Wood says that ‘in the five last years of his life he became more known by his constant preaching in private meetings in the great city.’ Samuel Parker, in his ‘History of his own Time,’ p. 71, vaguely says that he was engaged in a presbyterian plot, changed his name to Clark, and died in 1683. But the date is certainly wrong. Wood writes: ‘He died in the house of one Richard Tymms, a glazier, in the parish of White Chapel, near London, on 27 July 1680, being then 52 years, or thereabouts.’ The body was first taken to Crosby Hall, and then to St. Michael’s, Cornhill, where it was buried on 30 July, after his college friend John Johnson had preached the funeral sermon.

As a preacher Charnock was grave and calm, and his valuable thoughts, his intense earnestness, his lively imagination, and the practical turn towards present duty which he gave to his discourses made him at first very acceptable. Later in life, when he read his sermons, and through failing sight had to read them through a glass, he was less popular. During his lifetime he published but a single volume, ‘The Sinfulness and Cure of Evil Thoughts.’ It was after his death that his works were published. Two of his at admirers, Richard Adams and Edward Veal, transcribed and issued in 1680 ‘A Discourse on Divine Providence’ (another edit. 1685), and in 1681-2 his chief work, ‘On the Excellence and Attributes of God,’ followed in 1683 by a volume of ‘Discourses on Regeneration, the Lord’s Supper, and other subjects.’ In 1699 a smaller volume appeared on 'Man’s Enmity to God,' and ‘Mercy for the Chief of Sinners.’

The writings of Charnock show a well-trained laborious mind that took an exhaustive view of his subject, and discussed it in all its aspects, but especially in its practical bearings, with great orderliness of manner, fulness of matter, and power of a application. The faults of his school and of the age are manifest in them. In establishing the being of God he had to handle, among other arguments, that from design; but though the Copernican theory had been adopted by scientific men, and though Sir Isaac Newton had just propounded his theory of gravitation, Charnock kept rather to the popular idea of astronomy and science, so that many of his illustrations are in a setting not adapted to the present state of knowledge. His theology was Calvinistic, conceiving as he did that the infinite foreknowledge of God involved divine foreordination, but assigning to man a power of distinguishing good and evil which threw on him the responsibility of his actions. The life of Charnock presents a fair picture, for no one has ever questioned the calmness consistency, and elevation of character which it shows throughout. The esteem of his editors, Messrs. Adams and Veal, was shown in their long labour of love, involved in copying and editing from his manuscripts two great folio volumes. More modern editions of his writings are those published in 1816 in 9 vols. 8vo, with preface, &c., by the Rev. Edward Parsons of Leeds, and that of 1860 in Nichols's 'Puritan Divines,' with life of the author, and introduction by Professor James McCosh, LL.D., now president of Princeton College, New Jersey.

[Calamy's Nonconformists' Memorial, vol. i.; Neal's History of the Puritans, vol. iv.; McCosh's edition of Charnock's Works; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 1234-6.]

W. G. B.