THE HARMONY OF THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES
William Bates (1625-1699) was one of the most popular and esteemed preachers among the Nonconformists; a master of the Puritan plain style of preaching, his stress on piety earned him the name "silver-tongued." Born in November 1625, he was the son of William Bates, gentleman of St.. Mary Magdalene parish, Bermondsey, Surrey. He graduated from Queenís College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1645 and a Master of Arts degree in 1648. The following year he became vicar of Tottenham, Middlesex, and a few years later succeeded William Strong as vicar of St. Dunstan-in-the West. Like other Puritans, Bates often lectured at the famous morning exercises at Cripplegate Church.
According to Richard Baxter, Bates played a major role in negotiating for the restoration of Charles II. As a reward, he was appointed royal chaplain in 1660. That same year he was appointed as a commissioner for the approbation of ministers by the Rump Parliament and was given a doctorate in divinity from Cambridge University by royal mandate. The following year he represented the Presbyterians as a commissioner at the Savoy Conference, of which one purpose was to review public liturgy. That included pointing out weaknesses in the Book of Common Prayer.
Batesís first wife died young, as did his first daughter. At age thirty-six, he married Margaret, 21-year-old daughter of Edward Gravenor, gentleman of St. Giles Cripplegate. She outlived him by a generation.
In 1662, Bates was one of 2,000 ministers ejected by the Act of Uniformity. Yet he did not take offense. In his farewell sermon to the St. Dunstanís church, he made no mention of the coming ejections, other than to say rather mildly in his conclusion that his Nonconformity was motivated only by his fear of offending God. He then added, "If it be my unhappiness to be in an error, surely men will have no reason to be angry with me in this world, and I hope God will pardon me in the next" (Oxford DNB, 4:327).
Bates labored for the next ten years in a variety of ways, often with men like Thomas Manton, Edmund Calamy, Richard Baxter, for the inclusion of Nonconformists within the Anglican church and for toleration of other churches. On two occasions, he addressed William III and Mary on behalf of his fellow Nonconformists. All of these efforts remained largely fruitless, however, for Charles never fulfilled his promises to work toward nonconformist inclusion.
After his ejection, Bates often preached in the vicinity of St. Dunstanís, most commonly at the house of the countess of Exeter and in a room over Temple Bar Gate, beside his old church. From 1669 onward he apparently served as one of the lecturers at a dissenting congregation at Hackney. In 1672, he was licensed as a Presbyterian teacher and was appointed to lecture at Pinnerís Hall (later called the Ancient Merchants lecture). When Daniel Williams was expelled from this lectureship in 1694, Bates surrendered his lectureship as well and founded the Salters Hall lecture, where he drew large crowds.
Throughout the last decades of his life, Bates had several brushes with the authorities, including at least three fines for holding conventicles, notwithstanding his irenical character, mild manner of preaching, growing reputation as a respectable scholar, and friendships with leading Anglican authorities, such as Archbishop Tillotson. Bates remained a leading Puritan until the end of his life, often being invited to preach at the funerals of close Puritan friends, including Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, Thomas Jacomb, and David Clarkson.
Bates died in Hackney on July 21, 1699. His funeral sermon, preached by John Howe, a close friend of more than forty years, was a rich testimony to his godly life and diligent study. His excellent library, purchased by Daniel Williams, helped establish the Dr. Williamsís Library, now situated at Gordon Square, London.
Batesís writings were first collected in a 1700 folio edition; in 1815, they were printed in four volumes as The Complete Works of William Bates. Sprinkle Publications reprinted them in 1990.
All of Batesís writings convey good scholarship, wide reading, and careful writing. John Howe called Bates a "devourer of books," and one who yearned to study about God and set forth His love and mercy: "Into what transports of admiration and love of God, have I seen him break forth," Howe said (Works of Bates, 1:xviii). That comes to the fore in Batesís most frequently reprinted book, The Harmony of the Attributes of God (1674). His chapters on the mercy of God are some of the finest ever written on this precious subject. Here are four practical inferences Bates draws from reveling in the infinity of divine love: "(1) Redeeming love deserves our highest admiration and most humble acknowledgments. (2) The love of God discovered in our redemption, is the most powerful persuasive to repentance. (3) The transcendent love that God hath expressed in our redemption by Christ, should kindle in us a reciprocal affection to him. (4) What an high provocation is it to despise redeeming mercy, and to defeat that infinite goodness which hath been at such expense for our recovery?" (1:329-40).
Some consider Batesís greatest work to be The Four Last Things (1691), a short, poignant treatment on death, judgment, heaven, and hell. His 50-page treatise On Divine Meditation is typically Puritan and one of the best in its field, covering the basics of its nature, necessity, time, advantages, rules, and applications - no word wastage here! His other major publications include The Select Lives of Illustrious and Pious Persons, Discourses on the Existence of God, The Immortality of the Soul, The Great Duty of Resignation, The Danger of Prosperity, Sermons on the Forgiveness of Sins, and The Sure Trial of Uprightness. Complete Works includes numerous sermons and several treatises on Christian living, all of which are succinctly written and packed with edifying material. If you are looking for a Puritan who always writes well, is both practical and heavenly, and is never tedious, read William Bates.
-Contributed by Dr. Joel Beeke