Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nye, Philip
NYE, PHILIP (1596?–1672), independent divine, probably eldest son of Henry Nye (d. 1646), rector of Clapham, Sussex, was born about 1596. The Nye family seat was Hayes, near Slinfold, Sussex. On 21 July 1615, aged about nineteen, he was entered a commoner of Brasenose College, Oxford. He removed on 28th June 1616 to Magdalen Hall, and graduated B.A. 24 April 1619, M.A. 9 May 1622. In 1620 he began to preach, but his first cure is unknown; he was licensed to the perpetual curacy of Allhallows, Staining, on 9 Oct. 1627 (Newcourt), and in 1630 he was at St. Michael's, Cornhill (Wood). By 1633 his nonconformity had got him into trouble, and he withdrew to Holland, where he remained, principally at Arnhem, till 1640. Early in that year he returned to England with John Canne [q. v.], landing at Hull. Canne reached Bristol by Easter (5 April 1640), which fixes the time of Nye's return. Baxter states that Nye held a discussion (in Staffordshire) with John Ball (1585–1640) [q. v.] On the presentation of Edward Montagu (afterwards second Earl of Manchester) [q. v.], he became vicar of Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire, where he organised an independent church. According to Edwards, he was much in Yorkshire, spreading his independent opinions especially at Hull. At Kimbolton (apparently) on 22 July 1643 seven persons belonging to Hull formed themselves into an independent church for that town.
He was summoned (12 June 1643) to the Westminster assembly of divines, having had, according to Calamy, a considerable hand in selecting them (his father was on the list, but did not attend), and was sent to Scotland (20 July) as one of the assembly's commissioners with Stephen Marshall [q. v.] His locum tenens at Kimbolton appears to have been Robert Luddington (1586–1663), who on Nye's return became pastor of the Hull independent church. On 20 Aug. he preached in the Grey Friars Church, Edinburgh, but ‘did not please. His voice was clamorous. … He read much out of his paper book. All his sermon was on … a spiritual life … upon a knowledge of God, as God, without the scripture, without grace, without Christ’ (Baillie). He returned (30 Aug.) before Marshall. On 25 Sept. he delivered an ‘exhortation’ at St. Margaret's, Westminster, preliminary to the taking of the ‘league and covenant’ [see Henderson, Alexander, 1583?–1646], by the houses of parliament and the assembly. Nye showed that the covenant in upholding ‘the example of the best reformed churches’ did not bind to the adoption of the Scottish model. He received the rectory of Acton, Middlesex, on the sequestration (30 Sept.) of Daniel Featley [q. v.] John Vicars [q. v.] says he was offered a royal chaplaincy in December if he would abandon the covenant and agree to moderate episcopacy.
In the proceedings of the assembly, Nye took a decided part with the ‘dissenting brethren,’ of whom Dr. Thomas Goodwin [q. v.], ‘vulgo vocatus Dr. Nine Caps,’ was the leader. The rift began early, for on 20 Nov. 1643 the Scottish commissioners found the assembly in ‘sharp debate’ on a proposition, by ten or eleven independents, that every congregation should have its ‘doctor’ as well as its ‘pastor.’ This was compromised by agreeing that ‘where two ministers can be had,’ their functions should be thus distinguished. The thoroughgoing independents were four, Goodwin, Nye, William Bridge [q. v.], and Sydrach Simpson [q. v.] With them was Jeremiah Burroughes [q. v.], who, however, was content to abide by the parochial system, as against ‘gathered churches.’ These issued the ‘Apologeticall Narration’ (1643). William Carter (1605–1658) joined them in signing the ‘dissent’ (9 Dec. 1644) from the assembly's propositions on church government; the published ‘Reasons’ (1648) for dissent were signed also by William Greenhill [q. v.] That so small a party proved so serious a trouble to the assembly is inexplicable till it is remembered that the strict autonomy of ‘particular churches’ was the basis of the English presbyterianism of Thomas Cartwright (1535–1603) [q. v.] and William Bradshaw (1571–1618) [q. v.], while the ‘presbyterian government dependent,’ defended (1645) by John Bastwick, M.D. [q. v.], in opposition to the ‘presbyterian government independent,’ was an exotic novelty. No differences of doctrine or worship divided the ‘dissenting brethren’ from the presbyterians. In January 1644 attempts were made by Sir Thomas Ogle [q. v.] to attach Nye to the royalist side. He was urged to go to Oxford, and again promised a royal chaplaincy. Nye wrote the preface to the ‘Directory’ (1644), a very able document. In harmony with the freedom from ‘set forms’ which it advocated, Nye successfully opposed the exclusive authorisation of any psalm-book, and the obligation of sitting to the table at communion. He was for ‘uniformity, but only in institutions’ (Minutes, 20 Nov. 1644). His party was most at issue with the assembly on the question of the liberty to be given to ‘tender’ (religiously affected) consciences. Goodwin and Nye had a robust belief in the ultimate victory of good sense; they proposed to treat fanaticisms as follies, not as crimes, and to tolerate all peaceable preachers.
During the progress of the assembly Nye was a frequent preacher, holding, according to Edwards, besides his Acton rectory, four lectureships at Westminster and others in London. His lecture at the abbey was worth 50l. a year. He was with Marshall in 1647 as one of the chaplains to the commissioners in treaty with the king in the Isle of Wight; on the failure (28 Dec.) of the treaty he got up a London petition against further personal treaty with Charles. What view he took of the fate of Charles does not appear. He was one of the ministers who proffered their religious services to the king on the morning of his execution. In April 1649 he was sent in vain, with Marshall and others, to persuade the secluded members to resume their places in parliament.
The turn of the tide for the independents came in 1653. Cromwell appointed ‘triers’ (20 March 1654) and ‘expurgators’ (28 Aug.) for admitting and dismissing clergy; Nye was on both commissions. His examination of Anthony Sadler (3 July 1654) has often been quoted from Sadler's account, but this should be compared with the pamphlet in reply [see Nye, John, d. 1688]. The ‘instrument of government’ had proposed to tolerate all Christians; the parliament which met September 1654 interpreted this to mean all who held the ‘fundamentals.’ Nye was put on a committee to define ‘fundamentals;’ their plans were upset by Baxter; they drew up and printed (1654, 4to) a list of sixteen ‘principles of faith,’ but the document was shelved on the dissolution of parliament (22 Jan. 1655). Some time in 1654 Nye received the rectory of St. Bartholomew, Exchange, vacant by the sequestration of John Grant, D.D.; he was succeeded at Acton by Thomas Elford, an independent. In 1656 Baxter approached Nye with a view to terms of accommodation with independents; the irreducible difference was in regard to ordination. Nye took part in the Savoy conference of October 1658, when the Westminster confession was raised in the independent sense, and signed the remarkable preface to the ‘declaration of faith and order’ (1659) written by John Owen, D.D. (1616–1683) [q. v.] It seems clear that at the Wallingford House meetings, early in 1659, he acted in the republican interest. He strongly opposed the measure reimposing the covenant on 5 March 1660.
At the Restoration he lost his preferments, and narrowly escaped exclusion from the indemnity, on condition of never again holding civil or ecclesiastical office. He printed an exculpatory pamphlet, addressed to the Convention parliament; in this he says he had been a preacher forty years, and was now in the sixty-fifth year of his age. In January 1661 he signed the ‘declaration of the ministers of congregational churches’ against the rising of the Fifth-monarchy men under Venner. His papers connected with the commission of ‘triers’ were ordered (7 Jan. 1662) to be deposited in Juxon's care at Lambeth. On the appearance of Charles II's abortive declaration of indulgence (26 Dec. 1662), Nye and other independents waited on the king. Nye fell back on Bradshaw's doctrine of the royal supremacy in church and state, and upheld the king's prerogative of dispensing with ecclesiastical laws. He went to Baxter (2 Jan. 1663), urging him to take the lead in an address of thanks; but Baxter had burned his fingers, and would ‘meddle no more in such matters;’ all his party objected to any toleration that would include papists. Nye left London. In 1666, however, after the fire, he returned and preached in open conventicles. On the indulgence of 1672, he ministered to an independent church in Cutlers' Hall, Cloak Lane, Queen Street, of which he was ‘doctor,’ the pastor being John Loder (d. 30 Dec. 1673), who had been his assistant at St. Bartholomew's, Exchange.
Nye died at ‘Brompton in the parish of Kensington,’ in September 1672, and was buried in St. Michael's, Cornhill, on 27 Sept. His wife, Judith, survived him, and probably died in 1680. After her death, his eldest son Henry, applied (2 Oct. 1680) for letters of administration to his father's estate, which were granted on 13 Oct. 1681; he subsequently edited some of his father's papers. John (d. 1688), the second son, is separately noticed. Rupert, the third son, matriculated from Magdalen College, Oxford, on 25 Oct. 1659, and died in 1660. Judith, his daughter, was buried in 1670 at Kensington.
Calamy describes Nye as ‘a man of uncommon depth.’ He and his fellow independents, John Goodwin [q. v.], and Peter Sterry [q. v.], were the most original minds among the later puritans. His literary remains, ephemeral pamphlets, are suggestive of the subtle powers which impressed his contemporaries. He was reckoned a schemer; Lilly, against whose astrology he had preached, calls him ‘jesuitical.’ Howe said he was a man who must be consulted, or he would know what was going on, and ‘if he disliked, would hinder it.’ But he had no vulgar ambitions; he sought no personal popularity; the accusation of enriching himself is groundless. Butler has made merry with his ‘thanksgiving beard;’ he ‘did wear a tail upon his throat.’ He held the curious view that, at sermons, the preacher should wear his hat, the audience being uncovered; at sacraments the minister should be bareheaded and the communicants covered.
He published: 1. ‘Letter from Scotland,’ &c., 1643, 4to (written by Nye, signed also by Marshall). 2. ‘Exhortation to the Taking of the Solemn League and Covenant,’ &c., 1643 , 4to; several reprints (that of 1660, 4to, called ‘second edition,’ was brought out by opponents in consequence of No. 3). 3. ‘Beames of former Light, discovering how evil it is to impose … Formes,’ &c., 1660, 4to; another edition, 1660, 8vo. Posthumous were: 4. ‘The Case of Philip Nye, Minister, humbly tendered to the consideration of the Parliament,’ &c. , 4to. 5. ‘Sermon at the Election of the Lord Mayor,’ &c., 1661, 4to. 6. ‘Case of great and present Use,’ &c., 1677, 8vo. 7. ‘The Lawfulness of the Oath of Supremacy,’ &c.; appended are ‘Vindication of Dissenters,’ &c., and ‘Some Account of … Ecclesiastical Courts,’ &c., 1683, 4to; reprinted under the title, ‘The King's Authority in Dispensing with Ecclesiastical Laws Asserted and Vindicated,’ &c., 1687, 4to, with dedication to James II by Henry Nye, his eldest son. Wood mentions a ‘Sermon,’ 1659, 4to, and ‘something about catechising.’ Besides publications, already mentioned, in which he took part, he had a hand with Thomas Goodwin and Samuel Hartlib [q. v.], in ‘An Epistolary Discourse about Toleration,’ 1644, 4to. With Goodwin he edited Sibs's ‘Bowels Opened,’ 1641, 4to, and Cotton's ‘Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,’ 1644, 4to. Extracts from his writings are in ‘The Lawfulness of Hearing the … Ministers of the Church of England: proved by Philip Nye and John Robinson,’ &c., 1683, 4to. Calamy says ‘he had a compleat history of the old puritan dissenters in manuscript, which was burnt at Alderman Clarkson's in the Fire of London;’ Wilson's inference that Nye was the author of this history is gratuitous.
[Edwards's Antapologia, 1644, pp. 217, 224, 243; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 963 sq., 1138; Wood's Fasti (Bliss), i. 386, 406; Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, 1696, i. 103, ii. 188 sq., 197 sq., 430, iii. 19, 46; Warwick's Memoirs, 1703, p. 342; Calamy's Account, 1713, pp. 29 sq.; Calamy's Continuation, 1727, ii. 28 sq.; Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, 1714, ii. 168, 170; Butler's Hudibras (Heroical Epistle), and Butler's Remains (Thyer), 1759, i. 177; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1810, iii. 70 sq.; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans (Toulmin), 1822, iv. 416; Baillie's Letters, 1841–2; Hanbury's Historical Memorials, 1844, vols. ii. iii.; Records of Broadmead, Bristol (Hanserd Knollys Soc.), 1847, p. 18; Lathbury's Hist. of Convocation, 1853, p. 300; Waddington's Surrey Congregational Hist. 1866, pp. 45 sq.; Stoughton's Church of the Civil Wars, 1867, i. 305, 489; Miall's Congregationalism in Yorkshire, 1868, pp. 288 sq. (cf. the ‘addenda’); Mitchell and Struthers's Minutes of Westminster Assembly, 1874; Gardiner's Hist. of the Great Civil War, 1886, i. 275, 312 sq. iii. 546; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1891, iii. 1083; Dale's Old Church Roll of Dagger Lane, Hull, in Yorkshire County Magazine, 1893; Kensington Parish Register; the parish register of Clapham, Sussex, does not begin till 1691; application for administration (Philip Nye) and will of John Nye at Somerset House.]