A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF CHRISTOPHER NESS
Christopher Ness (1621-1705) was an English Nonconformist preacher and author.
He wrote "A History and Mystery of the Old and New Testaments," a work to which Matthew Henry is thought to owe much of his most valuable material for his commentary; "A Protestant Antidote Against the Poison of Popery;" "The Crown and Glory of a Christian;" "A Christian's Walk and Work on Earth;" "A Church History from Adam," and "A Scripture Prophecy to the End of the World;" "A Discovery of the Person and Period of AntiChrist;" and "An Antidote Against Arminianism," a small work embodying in a brief form the doctrines on election, predestination, etc., as taught by John Owen, Toplady, and others.
Ness was born on December 22, 1621 at North Cave, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the son of Thomas Ness, a husbandman there. He was educated at a private school at North Cave, under Lazarus Seaman, and entered St. John's College, Cambridge, on May 17, 1638, where he graduated B.A. and M.A. When 23 years old he retired into Yorkshire, where he became a preacher of independent tenets successively at Cliffe, or South Cliffe Chapel in his native parish, in Holderness, and at Beverley, where he taught a school. On Dr. Winter's election as provost of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1651, Ness was chosen as his successor in the living of Cottingham, near Hull, though it does not appear that he ever received Episcopal orders.
In 1656, he became a preacher at Leeds, and in 1660 he was a lecturer under the vicar, Dr. Lake, afterwards Bishop of Chichester; but his Calvinism clashed with the Arminianism of Dr. Lake, and on St. Bartholomew's day in 1662 he was ejected from his lectureship. After this he became a schoolmaster and private preacher at Clayton, Morley, and Hunslet, all in Yorkshire. At Hunslet he took an indulgence as a Congregationalist in 1672, and a new meeting-house was opened by him on June 3, 1672.
He was excommunicated no less than four times, and when in 1674 or 1675 a writ de excommunicato capiendo was issued against him, he removed to London, where he preached to a private congregation in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street. In 1684 he had to conceal himself from the officers of the crown, who had a warrant for his arrest on the charge of publishing an elegy on the death of his friend John Partridge, another Nonconformist minister. He died on December 26, 1705, aged exactly 84 years, and was buried at Bunhill Fields Cemetery.
Candid Reader, observe these few considerations: Although this small manual be very little in itself and substance, yet ought it not therefore to be despised; for,
First. We read how the mighty angel of the Covenant had a very little book open in his hand, (Re 10:2), yet this little book contained the great concerns of the Redeemer's little, little flock; a double diminutive as Christ calls them in Lu 12:32. And that little book was not shut nor sealed, but it was open. It is the work of AntiChrist to keep it shut. Yea, it must also be eaten; "take it and eat it up." (Re 10:9); that is, it must go down and be hid in our hearts ("Thy Word have I hid in mine heart," Ps 119:11); then the simplest soul may have right conceptions of it. "The word [is then] very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it" (De 30:14).
Secondly. This little book hath cost me great study and labour to compose it, that it might contain the very cream and quintessence of the best Authors on this subject. Moreover, it hath cost me likewise many ardent prayers to God, and many earnest wrestlings with God, that I might not be one "of those that rebel against the light" (Job 24:13); but that in His light I might see light, (Ps 36:9); and to have mine eyes anointed with Christ's eye-salve, (Re 3:18), that I might see clearly into these profound points, which hath so very much puzzled the Christian world. As blessed Athanasius sighed out in his day, "The world is overrun with Arianism;" so it is the sad sigh of our present times, the Christian world is overrun, yea, overwhelmed with the flood of Arminianism; which cometh, as it were, out of the mouth of the serpent, that he might cause the woman [the Church] "to be carried away of the flood" of it (Re 12:15).
Thirdly. Lest this overflowing deluge of Arminianism should bring destruction upon us, there is great need that some servants of Christ should run to stop the further spreading of this plague and leprosy. Thus Moses stood in the gap, and prevented the destruction of Israel (Ps 105:23). Also (Nu 16:48), "He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed." And the neglect of this duty the Lord complains of, that He found none of His servants to stand in the gap, etc. "O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. . . With lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, . . . by promising him life" (Eze 13:4, 5, 22). While I was considering these things, the Lord stirred up my spirit to do as is done in common conflagrations, when everyone runs with the best bucket he can get, wherewith to quench the devouring flames, and to stop them, that they may not lay waste all before them.
Fourthly. When I had completed this short compendium I showed it to Dr. John Owen, Mr. Nicholas Lockier, and Mr. George Griffith, who all unanimously approved of it and wrote an epistle commendatory to it, subscribing it with all their three hands, which is too large here to insert, but the truth of the premises I do hereby affirm.
Lastly. As a little map doth represent a large country at one view, which will take much time to travel over, so this book is multum in parvo, much in a little. Read it seriously without partiality, and the Lord give you understanding in all things.
So prayeth Yours in the best of bonds, CHRISTOPHER NESS September 30th, 1700.
OF ARMINIANISM IN GENERAL
It hath ever been the lot of truth (like the Lord of it) to be crucified between right-hand and left-hand thieves. Truth's enemies, on all hands, are various. While some men consider the Bible to be an imposition on the world, and treat salvation by Christ as mere priestcraft and deception, there are others who tell us they have Christ, and are one with Christ, and yet with audacious effrontery cry down the ordinances of the gospel, and consider the means of grace as too burdensome for a free-born conscience, and too low and carnal for a seraphic spirit. There is as much beyond the truth as on this side of it; as much in outrunning the flock of Christ and the Lamb that leads them, as in straggling and loitering behind. Truth hath evermore observed the golden mean.
The Socinians decry the divinity of Christ and His satisfaction, as if His sufferings were exemplary only, not expiatory. The Roman Catholics turn the true worship of God into will worship, and teach their own traditions for the commandments of God, spoiling God's institutions with man's inventions. And the Arminians do call the justice of God to the bar of reason; they dare confidently wade in the deep ocean of divine mysteries, and in stating the decrees of God, where blessed Paul could find no bottom, but cried out "O the depth" etc. (Ro 11:33); they dare undertake to fetch the Apostle from off his nonplus, saying, "God foresaw that Jacob would believe, and that Esau would not believe; therefore, the one was loved and the other hated." Thus Arminius' school teacheth deeper divinity than what Paul learned in the third heaven. And they do not only with the Socinians gratify the pride of man's reason, but also the pride of man's will, in extenuating and lessening both the guilt and filth of original sin; even as Popery, their elder sister, doth gratify the pride of outward sense.
Hence Dr. Leighton calls Arminianism "the Pope's Benjamin, the last and greatest monster of the man of sin; the elixir of Anti- Christianism; the mystery of the mystery of iniquity; the Pope's cabinet; the very quintessence of equivocation." Alike hereunto Mr. Rous (Master of Eton College) addeth, saying, "Arminianism is the spawn of Popery, which the warmth of favour may easily turn into frogs of the bottomless pit." And what are the new Arminians but the varnished offspring of the old Pelagians, that makes the grace of God to lackey it at the foot, or rather, the will of man? that makes the sheep to keep the shepherd? that puts God into the same extremity with Darius, who would gladly have saved Daniel but could not (Da 6:14)?
What else can their doctrine signify which they call a prescience or foreknowledge in God, the truth of which depends, not on the decree of God, but on the free-will of the creature? This is to make the creature have no dependence on the Creator, and to fetter Divine Providence. Thus that fatal necessity, which they would lay at our doors, unavoidably remains at theirs, and (according to their scheme) God must say thus to man, "O My poor creature? that fatal fortune which hath harmed you must be endured more than bewailed, for it was from all eternity, before My providence. I could not hinder, I could not but consent to those fatal contingencies; and unavoidable Fate hath, whether I will or not, pronounced the inevitable sentence." What else is this but to overthrow all those graces of Faith, Hope, etc., to expectorate (to cast off) all vital godliness; and to pull the great Jehovah Himself out of His throne of glory, setting up dame Fortune to be worshipped in His stead?
and many other great abominations have been discovered in the "chambers
of imagery" in our days, and are nothing but measuring supernatural mysteries
with the crooked metewand of degenerate reason. "Wisdom is too high for
a fool" (Pr 24:7). In these points it was once well said, "Give me a mortified
reason," for, to prescribe to God's infinite understanding, and to allow
Him no reasons to guide His determinations by, but what we are acquainted
with, is extremely arrogant. Reason must neither be the rule to measure
faith by, nor the judge of it. We may give a reason of our believing, to
wit, "because it is written," but not of all things believed, as why Jacob
was loved and Esau hated before they had done either good or evil -- this
was the counsel of God's own will. Touching such sublime mysteries our
faith stands upon two sure bottoms: the first is, that being, wisdom, and
power of God doth infinitely transcend ours; so may reveal matters far
above our reach; the second is; that whatsoever God reveals is undoubtedly
true, and to be believed, although the bottom of it cannot be sounded by
the line of our reason; because man's reason is not absolute, but variously
limited, perplexed with his own frailty, and defective in its own acting.