20070106

The life of Richard Bernard 1568-1641

HIS prolific Puritan pastor and writer who produced mostly practical works deserves to be better known and it may be possible through this blog to bring that about.
His most influential work was The Faithfull Shepheard and his practice (1607 and 1621), a handbook for ministers. He also produced several catechisms and a commentary on Revelation. His most popular work The Isle of Man (1627) reached its sixteenth edition in 1683 and was reprinted in the 19th Century. His Faithfull Shepheard rivalled Baxter’s Reformed Pastor and his Isle of Man may have inspired Bunyan’s Holy War. In 1865, James Nichol republished his sermons on the Book of Ruth, Ruth’s Recompense. He also wrote against separatism on one hand and prelatic imposition of ceremonies and popery on the other. Other works include Christian See to thy Conscience and Bible Battles.
The son of John Bernard (1515-1592) and his third wife, Anne Wright, it appears that when a small boy, two prominent ladies (Isabel and Frances Wray) took notice of him and paid for his schooling. Like Puritans William Perkins and William Ames, he became a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge. This was in the 1590s (entrance 1592, BA 1595, MA 1598).
Back home in Epworth, Lincolnshire, he completed a translation of ancient Roman playwright Terence. Married by 1601 he and his wife had six children. Some had quite unusual names, eg Cananuel (who later became a minister himself), Besekiell and Hoseel. His refusal to conform meant he was deprived of his living in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, in 1604 and went to Gainsborough, where he spent time with William Brewster (1567-1644) and John Robinson (1575-1625). Appearing to embrace separatism, in 1606 he covenanted with about a hundred people from Worksop and neighbouring parishes to form a church. By the following year he had returned to his parish post, his brief separatist flirtation over.
From 1612 he was based in Somerset where he succeeded a faithful and godly man called Dr Bisse in the parish of Batcombe, near Shepton Mallet, North East Somerset. In 1634 his nonconformity was again attacked. The Bishop of Winchester had been a friend in college and perhaps this enabled him to weather the storm. His successor at Batcombe was Richard Alleine (1611-1681). (Cf Brook, vol 2, 460 who says Bernard’s assistants were Robert Balsom (d 1647) then an Edward Bennet). In the ODNB Greaves comments that ‘throughout most of his career Bernard was an example of those godly protestants who practised as much nonconformity as they could within the established church, yielding to authority as necessary but willing to work with those bishops who appreciated his marked commitment to elevating the piety of his parishioners through preaching and catechising.' His daughter Mary married Roger Williams (1603-1684) in 1629 and emigrated with him to New England in 1631.

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