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John Howe

Born: 17-May-1630
Birthplace: Loughborough, Leicestershire, England
Died: 2-Apr-1706
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Protestant
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Religion

Nationality: England
Executive summary: The Living Temple

English Puritan divine, born on the 17th of May 1630 at Loughborough, Leicestershire, where his father was vicar. On the 19th of May 1647 he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, as a sizar, and in the following year took his degree of B.A. During his residence at the university he made the acquaintance of Ralph Cudworth, Henry More and John Smith, from intercourse with whom, as well as from direct acquaintance with the Dialogues themselves, his mind received that "Platonic tinge" so perceptible in his writings. Immediately after graduation at Cambridge, he migrated to Oxford, where be became fellow and chaplain of Magdalen College, proceeding M.A. in 1652. He was then ordained by Charles Herle (1598-1659), the Puritan rector of Winwick, and in 1654 went as perpetual curate to Great Torrington in Devon. where he preached the discourses which later took shape in his treatises on The Blessedness of the Righteous and on Delighting in God. In the beginning of 1657 a journey to London accidentally brought Howe under the notice of Oliver Cromwell, who made him his domestic chaplain. In this position his conduct was such as to win the praise of even the bitterest enemies of his party. Without overlooking his fellow Puritans, he was always ready to help pious and learned men of other schools. Seth Ward (afterwards bishop of Exeter) and Thomas Fuller were among those who profited by Howe's kindness, and were not ashamed subsequently to express their gratitude for it. On the resignation of Richard Cromwell, Howe returned to Great Torrington, to leave it again in 1662 on the passing of the Act of Uniformity. For several years he led a wandering and uncertain life, preaching in secret as occasion offered to handfuls of trusted hearers. Being in straits he published in 1668 The Blessedness of the Righteous; the reputation which he thus acquired procured him an invitation from Lord Massereene, of Antrim Castle, Ireland, with whom he lived for five or six years as domestic chaplain, frequently preaching in public, with the approval of the bishop of the diocese. Here too he produced the most eloquent of his shorter treatises, The Vanity of Man as Mortal, and On Delighting in God, and planned his best work, The Living Temple. In the beginning of 1676 he accepted an invitation to become joint-pastor of a nonconformist congregation at Haberdashers' Hall, London; and in the same year he published the first part of The Living Temple entitled Concerning God's Existence and his Conversableness with Man: Against Atheism or the Epicurean Deism. In 1677 appeared his tractate On the Reconcileableness of God's Prescience of the Sins of Men with the Wisdom and Sincerity of His Counsels, Exhortations and whatsoever means He uses to prevent them, which was attacked from various quarters, and had Andrew Marvell for one of its defenders. On Thoughtfulness for the Morrow followed in 1681; Self-Dedication and Union among Protestants in 1682, and The Redeemer's Tears wept over Lost Souls in 1684.

For five years after his settlement in London Howe enjoyed comparative freedom, and was on not unfriendly terms with many eminent Anglicans, such as Stillingfleet, Tillotson, John Sharp and Richard Kidder; but the greater severity which began to be exercised towards nonconformists in 1681 so interfered with his liberty that in 1685 he gladly accepted the invitation of Philip, Lord Wharton, to travel abroad with him. In 1686 he determined to settle for a time at Utrecht, where he officiated in the English chapel. Among his friends there was Gilbert Burnet, by whose influence he obtained several confidential interviews with William of Orange. In 1687 Howe availed himself of the declaration for liberty of conscience to return to England, and in the following year he headed the deputation of nonconformist ministers who went to congratulate William on his accession to the English throne. The remainder of his life was uneventful. His influence was always on the side of mutual forbearance, between conformists and dissenters in 1689, and between Congregationalists and Presbyterians in 1690. In 1693 he published three discourses On the Carnality of Religious Contention, suggested by the disputes that became rife among nonconformists as soon as liberty of doctrine and worship had been granted. In 1694 and 1695 he published various treatises on the subject of the Trinity, the principal being A Calm and Solemn Inquiry concerning the Possibility of a Trinity in the Godhead. The second part of The Living Temple, entitled Animadversions on Spinosa and a French Writer pretending to confute him, with a recapitulation of the former part and an account of the destitution and restitution of God's Temple among Men, appeared in 1702. In 1701 he had some controversy with Daniel Defoe on the question of occasional conformity. In 1705 he published a discourse On Patience in the Expectation of Future Blessedness, but his health had begun to fail, and he died in London on the 2nd of April 1706. Richard Cromwell visited him in his last illness.

Though excelled by Baxter as a pulpit orator, and by Owen in exegetical ingenuity and in almost every department of theological learning, Howe compares favorably with either as a sagacious and profound thinker, while he was much more successful in combining religious earnestness and fervor of conviction with large-hearted tolerance and cultured breadth of view. He was a man of high principle and fine presence, and it was said of him "that he never made an enemy and never lost a friend."

    University: BA, Christ's College, Cambridge University (1648)
    University: MA, Magdalen College, Oxford University (1652)



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