THOMAS TENISON: AN EARLY DEFENDER OF the KING JAMES BIBLE
by Daryl R. Coates
In his preface to the first volume of Oxford University Press's 1955 issuing of The Diary of John Evelyn, E. S. de Beer notes that "Evelyn's Diary has enjoyed high rank among historical scholars and general readers ever since its first publication" in 1818. Evelyn was born in 1620 and died in 1706, and as a man who loved to write, he kept a diary which is immensely important to historians studying England's history in the century following the first appearance of the King James Bible (AV 1611)
Evelyn knew and visited numerous dignitaries and figures such as Bishop James Usher, chronicling those visits in his diary; likewise, he describes most of the sermons he heard in his adult life, listing the preachers as well as the texts of those messages. A diehard Anglican, he noted that the first "phanatical" preacher he ever heard was a street-preaching Baptist who was railing against the state--and the many references he makes to Anglican sermons against "anabaptism" bear testimony that Baptists were regarded as a major threat in 17th-century England.
Evelyn eventually became good friends with the English preacher Thomas Tenison (1636 -1715), the Vicar of St. Martins in the field and later (beginning in 1694) the Archbishop of Canterbury. Tenison’s defense of the Bible and his attacks on Catholicism were so powerful and effective that by 1688 Catholic apologists were attacking him in print and writing books against him and "his" doctrines--and others were writing works exposing the lies of the Catholic apologists. Two of John Evelyn's journal entries concerning Tenison are especially interesting to those who believe that the AV 1611 is indeed God's word for the world's English-speaking peoples. Evelyn's entry for 7 October 1688 begins, "The next day being Sonday Dr. Tenison viccar of St. Martins, preached on 2 Tim: 3.16. shewing the Scripture to be our undoubted & onely Rule of Faith, & its perfection above all other Traditions & Writings, most excellently proved." As Evelyn clarifies later in the entry, the "Scripture" whose "perfection" Dr. Tenison expounded on was none other than the A V 1611. Notice that more than 300 years ago, an English minister was preaching an entire sermon about the King James Bible--and that his proof-text was 2 Timothy 3:16!
Nor was this the only time Tenison defended the AV 1611 in a sermon; in his diary entry for 30 January 1687, Evelyn recorded the following about the second sermon he heard that day: "At St. Martins, Dr. Tenison: on 2 Cor: 2:17, shewing the Truth of the Scriptures, & most learnedly defending our Translation, clearing divers Controversies about it, and proving that there is no neede of an Infallible Interpreter [i.e., a pope or Catholic Church]" (emphasis added). In an explanatory footnote to this passage, E.S. de Beer explains, "Tenison had already discussed this topic briefly in A Discourse concerning a Guide in Matters of Faith, 1683; and returned to it in his introduction to Popery Not Founded on Scripture, 1688." In other words, Tenison preached that English-speakers had no need for a pope or a "Catholic Church" because they already had the perfect word of God in their own language: the AV 1611. When men stick to the true word of God, ecumenical compromise with Rome is impossible--as is obvious from the remainder of Evelyn's diary entry for 7 October 1688.
Tenison's sermon that day was topical, "chiefly occasioned by an impertinent Jesuite who in their Massehouse that Sunday before had disparaged the Scripture & railed at our Translation with extraordinarv ignorance and impudence" (emphasis added). Did you catch that? Tenison’s sermon was in response to that of a Jesuit (Charles Petre, who was "preaching at the Elector Palatine s chapel in Lime Street") who was attacking the King James Bible. In the late 17th century, Romanism was distinguished from Protestantism by its rejection of the A V 1611 -- and that rejection was attributed to "extraordinary ignorance"!
But Evelyn's diary entry isn't finished yet. It turns out that the Jesuit Peter had not even been able to finish his own sermon: "an impertinent Jesuit . . . railed at our Translation with extraordinary ignorance and impudence; which some present contradicting, they pulled him out of the Pulpit, & treated him very coarsely, insomuch as it was like to create a very greate disturbance in the City" (emphasis added)! Three hundred years ago, when a man attacked the King James Bible from a pulpit. Bible-believers in the midst refuted him and forcibly removed him; yet in our time, such a man would be lauded and extoled. "How are the mighty fallen!" (2 Sam. 1:19).
Of course, one thing hasn't changed since Evelyn’s time or from Paul’s (e.g... Acts 19 and 22) publicly siding with God's word or refuting the false claims of religious apostates is still likely to create a public uproar or stir up a riot. But such a probability didn't deter Thomas Tenison, who, like the Apostle Paul, was "set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil. 1: 17). Are you? As Jude commanded, he "earnestly contend[ed] for the faith once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Do you? Like David, he discovered that whether they're in prison or in the archbishop's chair, God Himself defends "all those that put their trust in [Him]" (Ps. 5:11). Have you?
Note: John Evelyn's diary entries for 30 January 1687 and 7 October 1688 can be found in Volume 4 (Kalendarium 1673 - 1689) of The Diary of John Evelyn, edited by E. S. de Beer (Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 537 and 599.