Christ Exalted

Vavasor Powell

Originally Printed In 1651

Posted On January 20, 2020

CHRIST EXALTED Above all Creatures BY GOD His Father; or a Sermon Preached before the Right Honourable, the Parliament of the Commonwealth of ENGLAND. {At their solemn Fast, observed the last day of the last Month called February 1649.}

Biographical Sketch: Vavasor Powell, 1617-1670, Welsh Nonconformist and Fifth Monarchist, was born in Knucklas, a small village in Powys, Wales. It is said that his father, Richard Powell, was an ‘ale-keeper' and ‘bagger of oatmeal,’ and that when his son was quite young he saw to it that he would learn the ancient languages, and become proficient in the general knowledge of the day. According to some accounts he was educated at Jesus College, Oxford, {although no official records exist of this, perhaps because he did not graduate,} and around 1638 returned to Wales, and became a schoolmaster, during which time he was brought to an understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ under the preaching of the Puritan Walter Cradock, and helped immensely by the writings of Richard Sibbes and William Perkins. In the same year as his conversion, his mind was formulated by the Spirit of truth, as he was being “separated unto the gospel of God,” and called to preach amongst his native countrymen the unsearchable riches of Christ; and thus began a fruitful itinerant ministry in his home country sometime in late 1639. At the outbreak of the Civil War he left eastern Wales, where he had by now become a zealous promotor of Christ’s pre-eminent glory, withdrew to England, and situated himself in London by 1642. Edward Bagshaw’s biography of Vavasor Powell, mentions the fact that Powell was made vicar of Dartford in the early years of the Civil War, {1644-1646,} and describes him as “that faithful minister and confessor of Jesus Christ.” In January 1646, almost three years after arriving in Dartford, he left to join the New Model Army in their military campaigns to besiege the Royalist controlled city of Oxford, which ended with a Parliamentarian victory in June of 1646. As Wales was also brought under the control of the Parliamentary Army, and their victory seemed certain, Powell returned, {as a missionary at the request of Parliament,} having received a “certificate of character” from the Westminster Assembly, {although he had refused to be ordained by the Presbyterians,} and with a salary granted to him by Parliament he began, {by the Summer of 1648,} an extensive preaching ministry in his own native land, whose people were at this point, and in many respects plunged in the most deplorable ignorance about the salvation of Christ, which ministry took him to nearly every parish in Wales. Thomas Crosby, {History of the English Baptists, 1738,} says that “he frequently preached in two or three places in a day, and he was seldom two days in a week throughout the year out of the pulpit; nay, he would sometimes ride an hundred miles in a week and preach in every place where he might have admittance, either night or day; so that there was hardly a church, chapel, or town hall in all Wales where he had not preached.” In reference to the spiritual state of Wales at this particular time, Walter Cradock, in a speech to Parliament, in July of 1646, exclaimed that “is it not a sad case that in Wales that there should not be above thirteen conscientious ministers who in these times expressed themselves faithful to Parliament.” Henry Palmer, in another speech a month later to Parliament, said in regards to Wales, {and in essence how Wales may be best brought under Cromwellian Rule,} that it “is a howling wilderness; there has hardly been a sermon preached among them since the Reformation. Churches will be your strongest castles, if you furnish them well with ministers.”

When King Charles I was executed in 1649, Powell supported the action, which he felt was altogether justified on the grounds that the “King had broken all ten of the Commandments,” which statement, along with his loyal support at this time, brought him into favour with the existing government of Cromwell. He preached before Thomas Foot, the Lord Mayor of London in December of 1649, and a few weeks later engaged in a public debate with the Arminian John Goodwin. The discussion was regarding the subject of Universal Redemption, Powell, accompanied by John Simpson, {Simpson, like his friend Powell, was a Fifth Monarchy Man, both holding the same political sentiments, and were afterwards companions in prison for delivering inflammatory harangues against Cromwell,} debated Goodwin and his followers on at least two separate occasions, with Joseph Caryl, and Henry Jessey, also taking part in attempting to vindicate the True Gospel. Powell, along with Jessey, Caryl and Simpson all took an active part in these debates, holding tenaciously to the blessed truths of God’s Eternal and Unconditional Election unto Salvation in Christ, Efficacious Particular Redemption of God’s elect by Sovereign Divine Imputation, Irresistible & Invincible Grace by the Word of the Son of God in Holy Spirit Regeneration, &c., and in essence, proclaiming the one Gospel of Christ, in strong opposition to the false gospel of Arminianism. An interesting account of the conclusion of one of these debates, {as found in the Life of John Goodwin, written by Thomas Jackson,} reads as follows, “at the conclusion of this day’s debate, Mr. Henry Jessey, a minister of the Baptist denomination, a man of liberal sentiments and of a catholic spirit, interfered, and spake to this effect, ‘I desire, {says he,} because there are many weak Christians here present, that are apt to be troubled, and to despair within themselves, to hear such differences between godly and learned men, they will be ready to say, they know not what to believe, nor what religion to be of; therefore I shall only desire to inform them this one thing, that the difference between the two opinions is not so great, but that men, whether they believe the one or the other may be saved through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.’ On hearing this, John Simpson exclaimed, ‘Mr. Jessey! Mr. Jessey! No more of that! I conceive that they that hold General Redemption and Free Will in opposition to Free Grace, never had any experimental knowledge of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.’ ‘I am sorry,’ replied Mr. Jessey, ‘to hear such words come from you.’ Then Mr. Powell prayed, and the congregation was dismissed.” Those who have been brought to love and embrace the eternal truths of the Gospel will be made to wonder at Mr. Jessey’s limp grasp of, or lack of contention for these truths, {at this juncture of his life,} in allowing them to be so defamed without a clear distinction in separating from, and anathemizing those who tenaciously have embraced and defend this false gospel of Arminianism, {including all forms of free-will Conditionalism, any denial of the absolute Sovereignty of God in salvation, the Redemptive nature of the death of Christ in representation, &c.,} as it is in fact an abominable evil, and as unveiled in all its Christ denying subtlety will be wholly renounced and utterly detested by all the faithful in Christ Jesus; whilst also having to acknowledge that any professed conversion under its delusionary & fabricated lies will be seen as false & spurious, and in no manner consistent with a genuine work of the Spirit in granting repentance to the acknowledgement of the truth.

In 1650 Powell addressed the House of Commons, as Parliament appointed a Commission for “the better propagation and preaching of the gospel in Wales,” with Powell acting as one of the principal advisers of this body. Returning to Wales, for three years he was actively employed in removing from their parishes those Anglican ministers whom he regarded as incompetent, replacing them with such whom he felt he could embrace in Christ Jesus, which work of scrutinizing and separating constantly brought him into conflict with those who stood opposed to his proceedings at any given time. In 1653, he was also influential in selecting Welsh Representatives to sit in Cromwell’s Barebones Parliament, but it was only soon thereafter that in accordance with the general perception of his Fifth Monarchy brethren and friends that he publicly denounced Cromwell’s acceptance of the office of Lord Protector, which led to his interrogation by the Council of State, and brief imprisonment. Without a doubt Powell seemed to have been swept away by the tenets of this extraordinary religious and political movement, {the Fifth Monarchy movement was active between 1649-1660,} believing like so many in that day, {brought on, no doubt, in part by the great political turmoil and eschatological fervor of the day,} that the time of the fifth monarchy, that is, the monarchy that - according to their traditional interpretation of the book of Daniel - should succeed the Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman Monarchies, and which would culminate with Christ’s return to earth, beginning a thousand-year period wherein he should reign on Earth, {with his saints,} and that this period was immanent, wherein all earthly rulers would be subject, or rather subdued to his ultimate authority. Even Cromwell, though certainly not a Fifth Monarchist himself, declared in his opening speech on July 4, 1653, in the Council Chamber at Whitehall, that “God doth manifest it to be a day of the Power of Jesus Christ,” and that, “this may be the door to usher in things that God hath promised and prophesied of,” herein revealing his own millenarian hopes and dreams. In that same speech, Cromwell had this to say in regards to propagation of the Gospel in Wales, {no doubt mindful of the decision to send Powell, along with those ministers that accompanied him there,} “then, {says Cromwell,} when we came to other trials, as in that case of Wales, of establishing a Preaching Ministry in Wales, which, I must confess for my own part, I set myself upon, if I should relate what discountenance that business of the poor people of God there had {who had men watching over them like so many wolves, ready to catch the lambs so soon as they were brought forth into the world,} how signally that business was trodden under foot in Parliament, to the discountenancing of the Honest People, and the countenancing of the Malignant Party, of this Commonwealth! I need but say it was so for many of you know, and by sad experience have felt it to be so. And somebody I hope will, at leisure, better impart to you the state of that business of Wales; which really, to myself and Officers, was as plain a trial of their spirits, the Parliament’s spirits, as anything, it being known to many of us that God had kindled a seed there, indeed hardly to be paralleled since the Primitive time.” Evidently, Cromwell himself had a blessed desire to see Wales come under the power of the Gospel of Christ.

On December 18, 1653, Powell, in confederacy with Christopher Feake, {another English Independent Minister and Fifth-Monarchist,} took occasion to attack and malign the new Protectorate in no unmeasured terms, and shortly thereafter, in addressing the congregation at Blackfriar’s Church, {whose pulpit was just vacated by the death of their minister, William Gouge,} Powell spoke these words on the day that Cromwell was named Lord Protector, {which he felt was a blasphemous defiance of Christ’s exclusive Kingship,} “let us go home and pray, and say Lord wilt thou have Oliver Cromwell or Jesus Christ to reign over us.” This was a decisive break with the Cromwellian establishment, which remark again briefly landed him in jail, although his general message to his followers at that time was to essentially abandon all political action whatsoever. Returning to Wales in 1655, he continued his personal attacks on Cromwell, especially by sponsoring a petition entitled, “A Word for God, or a Testimony on Truth’s behalf, from several Churches, and divers hundreds of Christians in Wales against Wickedness in High Places, with a Letter to the Lord General Cromwell,” which action {interpreted as thoughtless zeal by many of his brethren in Christ} seemed to slightly alienate him from such men as Walter Cradock, {who by now had become the representative for Cromwellian Policy in South Wales; one writer of that period referring to Cradock as the “chiefest priest in South Wales,”} whose lack of support at this time seemed to be an evident commentary on the immoderate and extreme position of Powell in this matter. In fact, the following year, Walter Cradock himself would come to the defense of Cromwell, in another petition, which he titled, “A Humble Representation,” a petition which he personally presented to Cromwell in February of 1656, and which attempted to rally together those loyal Cromwellians of Wales, to assure Cromwell of the fact that the “poor saints of Wales who were so much your joy had not degenerated from their former allegiance like Powell’s Fifth Monarchist radicals.”

It seems that the next few years would be spent peaching Christ, near his home in the vicinity of Powys, Wales; although one report puts him in Oxford on July 15, 1657, preaching in All Saints Church, a message, which amongst other matters, denounced Henry Hickman for his statement that “the Church of Rome, for aught he knew, was a true church,” which prompted Powell to reply that “the Pope would provide him with a mitre and the Devil with a frying–pan,” as Powell reckoned that Popery was “the common public enemy of all mankind.” Immediately at the Restoration of Charles II, Powell, {because of his outspokenness, and his resolute refusal to take the oath of allegiance to the monarchy, being described now as “a most factious and dangerous minister,”} became a marked man, and was arrested in April of 1660, and held in Shrewsbury, and then again arrested a short while later on a warrant by the High Sheriff of Montgomeryshire for refusing to abstain from preaching, and held until the end of June. In the following month he was incarcerated again, as his preaching, {because of its Christ-enthroned emphasis, which was interpreted as tending to sedition,} and by September of 1661 removed to Fleet Prison, London, and from there to Southsea Castle, an artillery fort originally constructed by Henry VIII in 1544, but used primarily as a prison during the Interregnum and the early days of the Restoration. He continued in prison until November 1667, upon which he immediately resumed his preaching, and was again arrested in October 1668, after preaching at Merthyr Tydfil. He was eventually re-committed to the Fleet Prison in May of 1669, and sadly died shortly thereafter on October 27, 1670, at an early age of 53. Powell was buried in Bunhill Fields Cemetery in London.

It would appear that Powell had no fear of men, imprisonment, {having spent a total of eight years of his life in prison,} or even death itself, when it came to his faithfulness to Christ. Until the end, he maintained his persuasion of Christ’s imminent return, and interpreted many current events through the looking-glass of this prophetical interpretation, having his “loins girt about with truth,” {as “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone,”} and his feet “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” He was the author of nine works, {his style characterized by a forcible and earnest contention for Truth,} one of which was a Concordance, indicative of his ardent love to the Scriptures of Truth. He wrote whilst in prison, and never ceased preaching whilst out, being of the persuasion that the Lord had especially equipped him for this momentous task, stating towards the end of his life that, “I would not, {he says,} neglect, for the printing of a thousand books, the preaching of one sermon.” It’s also recorded that he loved the company of saints, and would often open his home to those in need, telling them at one point that he had “room for twelve in his beds, a hundred in his barns, and a thousand in his heart.” At his interment in Bunhill Fields a monument {since perished} was erected to his memory, which contained an elaborate inscription written by his biographer, Edward Bagshaw.