Samuel Willard (1640-1707)A pilgrim in the New World, president of Harvard, and an able Minister of the Reformed Gospel.
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“The Covenant of Redemption is only applied by grace to all the redeemed, and only they are to receive its benefits.”
- The Checkered State of the Gospel Church – by Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
- The Decrees of God – by Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
Biography of Samuel Willard (1640-1707):
Samuel Willard (1640-1707) was born in Concord, Massachusetts, and has been deemed “the last puritan.” However, on two accounts this would be untrue. First, puritanism surrounds those nonconformist ministers who remained in the Church of England in order to “purify it.” Secondly, those ministers who left the Church of England were called pilgrims, not puritans. Certainly Willard’s doctrine was in accordance with Puritanism, and the Reformed Theology of the day (as was Jonathan Edwards later), but strictly speaking, it would be better to deem Mr. Willard a reformed Preacher of the Gospel, than “a puritan.”
Willard attended Harvard and graduated in 1659, studying divinity after his conversion to the Gospel. After graduating from Harvard, he was ordained a minister in Groton, Massachusetts in 1664, where he served as pastor until 1676 (until the town was attacked by Indians in 1676, during King Philip’s War). He was then called to the Old South Church in Boston, and became the second most important preacher of the New England Calvinistic Church of the day, after Increase Mather (1639-1723). John Dunton (1659-1733), an English bookseller, said, “He’s a man of profound notions, can say what he will, and prove what he says,” commenting on Willard’s scholarly abilities with Scripture. He had a keen ability for preaching with excellent delivery. For example, his son-in-law, Rev. Samuel Neal, preached for him in the Old South church one Lord’s Day, and the sermon being considered very poor, the congregation requested that he should not be invited to fill the pulpit again. Mr. Willard borrowed the identical sermon and read it to the same congregation, which immediately requested a copy for publication.
Willard strenuously opposed the Salem witchcraft trials, and tried to influence public opinion against them.
When Increase Mather retired from the presidency of Harvard, Mr. Willard, being vice-president, succeeded to the government of that college, serving in 1701 until 1707.
In keeping with a Reformed emphasis on the Gospel, Willard’s preaching centered on the doctrine of the covenant (of which the work “The Doctrine of the Covenant of Redemption,” masterfully demonstrates). He opposed Arminianism by preaching the Reformed doctrines of predestination, total depravity, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints as standards of Gospel truth, consistently magnifying the sovereignty of God’s divine grace through Jesus Christ’s redemptive work.
Willard opposed Antinominanism by writing and preaching vigorously on the historic Reformed emphases of revelation, justification, and sanctification. Throughout his ministry he propagated and defended New England’s biblical and orthodox stance on infant baptism, an educated pastorate, and the alliance of church and state in religion (opposing both Baptist and Quaker theology).
Willard published many sermons including one of the largest books ever printed in New England, A Compleat Body of Divinity.
Some of his most famous sermons include:
- “A Sermon occasioned by the Death of John Leverett, Governor of Massachusetts” (Boston, 1679).
2. “The Duty of a People that have renewed their Covenant with God,” (1680).
3. “Ne Sutor ultra Crepidam, or Brief Animadversions upon the New England Anabaptists’ Late Fallacious Narrative,” (1681)
4. “Mourner’s Cordial against Excessive Sorrow,” (1691).
5. “Peril of the Times displayed,” (1700).
6. “Compleat Body of Divinity,” 250 sermons organized according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism.