John Howe – Puritan Preacher

This is the day that … John Howe was born in Leicestershire, England, in 1630.

His father was a Church of England clergyman who was later ejected from his parish because of his non-conformity.  He had “espoused the cause of the Puritans” and thereby the wrath of Archbishop Laud.

Young John was but 5 years of age at this time.

Returning to England some years later, John Howe was seen by Oliver Cromwell, who was impressed by “his fine appearance”.  The Protector invited Howe to preach the following Sunday. Howe “pleads one excuse after another not to do so”, but finally “much against his private preferences” became one of the chaplains to the Cromwellian army (Schaff Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 1027).

We read that he was “a ready off-hand preacher” who never used notes,  despite the fact that he was “famous for the unusual length of his sermons and prayers” (Dictionary of Literary Biography, page 340).   An example of this is given by Edward Calamy, his biographer:  On fast-days he would begin the service at 9.00 a.m., pray for a quarter of an hour, read and expound a chapter for three-quarters of an hour, pray for about an hour, preach for another hour, and then pray for half an hour.  Then, whilst the people sang for fifteen minutes, he would “take some refreshments” before returning to the pulpit.  He would pray for an hour, preach for an hour and conclude the service around 4.00 p.m., with a final prayer “of about a half an hour or more” (History of Preaching, by E. Dargan, page 147).

A member of his flock is reported to have commented that Mr Howe “is a dear good man but he spends so much time in laying the cloth that I lose my appetite for the dinner” (page 180).

After King Charles II came to the throne, Howe “wandered from place to place, preaching in secret,” and devoting himself to writing.  The Living Temple is probably his best-known work.

Robert Hall speaks of him as “the greatest of the Puritan Divines”, although he admits that his sentences are often “long and cumbersome” (page 181).

John Howe died on 2 April, 1705.

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