Inspiration from a long-lived puritan
A Review of Lesley Rowe's new book 'From Barebones to Old Bones. John St Nicholas (1604-1698)' Latimer Trust 2023
When I first saw the title of this new short Latimer Trust book, I thought that it might have something to do with Ezekiel 37. However, the Puritan side of my brain quickly kicked in and I realised that being a St Antholin lecture that the subject probably had something to do with Cromwell’s ‘Barebone’s’ Parliament (named after Praise-God Barebone - a much more digestible name than one of his family members: 'Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned'). And so it turned out to be, as the long life of John St. Nicholas which neatly covered the whole of the 17th century (he was born just after Elizabeth the first’s reign and lived through the reigns of James 1 & 2, Charles 1 & 2 and William & Mary - not to mention the writing of the King James Bible, the Mayflower’s trip, the Civil War, Cromwell’s Commonwealth, the Restoration; with its Great Plague and Fire of London and the Glorious Revolution) is explored.
This booklet is a great example of local historical work by Dr Lesley A. Rowe (PhD from the great University of Warwick - my alma mater) who carefully unearthed new knowledge of a Barthlolomean who is buried in her local church. St Nicholas’ early life is briefly covered but it is the second half of his life which is examined in more detail which is relevant to a growing elderly population in the UK now - Dr. Rowe mentions that the over 65s in the UK will grow from 12.2 million people to 16.5m in 2036.
The author shows how St Nicholas took stock of his life after being one of the first casualties of the Great Ejection (on St. Bartholomew’s day) after King Charles II was restored to the throne. She then looks at how he maintained close relationships with others and indeed practically helped ejected ministers, how he continued his calling as a preacher even as he had to take on practical work on leaving his parish in Lutterworth (where the great Anglican Divine John Wycliffe once had his ministry and wrote his English version of the Bible), how he kept intellectually and spiritually alive and his amazing example of faithfulness that he showed - even attending church well into his 90s when he was completely deaf but didn’t want to discourage others by his absence!
As well as the historical interest and pastoral encouragement I feel that this booklet might be a personal prophetic word to me! John St Nicholas was the same age as I am now, when he left his church (after a short period there as a minister) over the crisis of the Church of England (it is estimated that 2,000, ~10% of all Anglican clergy moved on then) just as a King Charles took the throne of England. I leave my reader to join the dots! I pray that I might have many more faithful decades of ministry to come, as St. John did, and that this book may be of much encouragement to others to continually serve our gracious Lord well into old age.