Henry Jessey, A.M., was a native of Yorkshire, and the son of an Episcopal clergyman. Having been carefully prepared for University studies, he entered St. John’s College, Cambridge, in the seventeenth year of his age, and continued there six years. He was a hard student. In addition to a competent knowledge of classics and mathematics, he acquired great proficiency in Hebrew and Rabbinical lore, and was well skilled in Syriac and Arabic.
He was converted to God while at the University -- a rare occurrence at that time. After his ordination, he officiated, for a short time, in a country parish, but was removed on account of his nonconformity to some of the rites and services enjoined. In 1637, he became the pastor of an Independent church in London. He had not been long there when the Baptist controversy broke out among them. Many of his congregation withdrew and joined Baptist churches. Being led thereby to study anew the points in debate, he was convinced of the unlawfulness of sprinkling, announced the fact to his people in 1642, and for two years dipped the children that were brought to him. Further thought and inquiry issued in the conviction that believers only are the proper subjects of baptism. Before he took the final step, he conferred with Dr. Goodwin, Philip Nye, and other eminent ministers of the Independent persuasion, but their arguments for infant baptism failed to give him satisfaction. He followed the dictates of conscience, was baptized by Hanserd Knollys in June, 1645, and became the pastor of a church which is supposed to have met in Woodmonger's Hall, London. He laboured there till his death.
Mr. Jessey was a hard student. He continued to be so all his days. Biblical criticism was his principal study. A large amount of his time was devoted to a revision of our authorized version of the Scriptures. Crosby gives the following account of his labours in this department: -- "Besides his constant labours in the work of the ministry, there was another profitable work wherein his soul was engaged, and in which he took great pains for divers years, and this was no less than the making a new and more correct translation of the Holy Bible."
"He was very industrious, in the first place, to understand fully those languages in which it was written: the Hebrew and Greek Testaments he constantly carried about him, frequently calling one his 'sword and dagger,' and the other his 'shield and buckler.' And besides the Hebrew and Greek, he studied the Syriac and Chaldee dialects, which the unlearned Jews spoke in their captivity. But, notwithstanding his qualifications in this and many other respects, he had not the vanity to think this a work fit for any single man to encounter with, and, therefore, sent letters to many learned men of this and other nations, desiring their assistance and joint labours with him in this great design. And, by his persuasions, many persons of great note for their learning, faithfulness, and piety, did engage in it; particularly Mr. Rowe, the Hebrew professor of Aberdeen, took great pains with him herein. The writer of Mr. Jessey's life says that he made it the master study of his life, and would often cry out, 'Oh! that I might see this done before I die!'"
"In that book there is a specimen given of the errors he took notice of in the present translation, the rules he observed in correcting them, and the progress that was made in this work."
"It appears that it was almost completed, and wanted little more than the appointing commissioners to examine it, and authorize its publication, which was what he always intended, and of which he had from the first some assurances given him. But the great turn that was given to public affairs, both in Church and State, by the Restoration, caused this great and noble design to prove abortive."(1) Under the Protectorate, Mr. Jessey was appointed one of the "Triers." He officiated also at St. George’s Church, Southwark, every Lord's-day morning, preaching to his own people in the afternoon, and at other places during the week.
Being an unmarried man, he was able to gratify his benevolent disposition to a large extent. His charities were very liberally bestowed. About thirty families were chiefly sustained by him. Applications for aid pressed upon him daily, and, if they were deserving, he seldom refused them. On one occasion he interested himself in behalf of the poor Jews resident in Jerusalem, who had fallen into great destitution through the failure of customary remittances from Europe. He succeeded in enlisting the sympathies of London merchants and others, and remitted upwards of 300£ for their relief.
On account of the high esteem in which he was held, and his well-known learning and admirable judgment, his opinion was frequently sought on a great variety of subjects. Such demands on his time were thereby occasioned, that he affixed the following notice to his study door:--"Amice, quisquis huc ades; Aut agito paucis, aut abi: Aut me laborantem adjuva." "Whatever friend comes hither, Despatch in brief, or go, Or help me busied too." By Henry Jessey
After the Restoration, Mr. Jessey was quickly ejected from St. George's Church. Twice he suffered imprisonment. But he did not live to see the "great and sore troubles" of the times of Charles II. and his brother. He died September 4th, 1663, and was followed to his grave by thousands of mourners.
"He spent his last days and nights in searching his heart, humbling his soul, extolling free grace, and exhorting all about him to keep close to God, to persevere in faith, and prepare for trials; adding, for their encouragement, the long experience he had had of the goodness of the Lord in all times and conditions. The last evening but one before his departure, having a mind to walk, he was led about the room, and often repeated this expression, 'God is good; He doth not lead me whither I would not, as He did Peter: good is the Lord to me.' Being soon tired, he sat down on his bed, and one who sat by him said, 'They among whom you have laboured can witness that you have been a faithful servant of Christ; making His glory your utmost end, for the good of their souls.' But he replied, 'Say no more of that; exalt God -- exalt God.' He spent the first part of his last night in blessing God and singing praises to His name, and fell asleep about eleven o'clock. Waking again between two and three, he fell into a wonderful strain of abasing himself, and admiring the love of God, 'that He, should choose the vilest, the unworthiest, and the basest,' which last word he repeated many times, and then cried out, 'Oh, the unspeakable love of God, that He should reach me, when I could not reach Him!' And when the cordial ordered for that night was brought, he said, 'Trouble me not -- upon your peril, trouble me not!' He was then as if he had seen some glorious vision, or had been in a rapture. . . . The last words he was heard to speak were these: -- 'He counted me worthy.' And when the sound of his words ceased, his lips were observed still to move, and he seemed to be inwardly adoring that God whom, in his health, he served, feared, and praised, and made his boast of continually; whose law he preached, and whose goodness he proclaimed. Such was his habitual sense of the goodness of God, that, when he met an acquaintance, it was a common thing for him (after the usual salutations) to say, 'Verily God is good -- blessed be His name -- stick to Him.' . . . He was so great a Scripturist, that if one began to rehearse any passage, he could go on with it, and name the book, chapter, and verse where it might be found. The original languages of the old and New Testaments were as familiar to him as his mother tongue."(2) ______________
1. Thomas Crosby, History of the English Baptists, Vol. I, p. 313.
2. Palmer's Nonconformist's Memorial, i. 133.
[From J. M. Cramp, Baptist History: From the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Present Time, 1871; rpt. 1987, pp. 356-360. The title is added; footnotes are changed to endnotes; symbols to numbers. jrd]
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