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Arthur Hildersham, A. M., (1563-1631)

One of the most popular puritans, though mainly unpublished.
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“It is a sin and contempt done to Gods public worship, when our churches are spoiled and defaced.”

This work is an abridged version of Arthur Hildersham’s 1000-page commentary on the fourth chapter of John. It has been prayerfully edited to its current size so that not only will readers have a chance to handle a manageable book on worship by this exemplary puritan, but also that they might focus on the most proper teachings by Hildersham concerning Christ’s Directives on the Nature of True Worship.

Biography of Arthur Hildersham (15631-1631):

Arthur Hildersham, A. M., (1563-1631)[1] was a celebrated divine descended from the royal family.[2] Our divine being so honorably descended,[3] was born at Stechworth in Cambridgeshire on October 6, 1563, and educated in Christ’s college, Cambridge. His parents were zealous papists, and he was brought up in all the errors and superstitions of popery, and taught to repeat his prayers in Latin. During his stay at the university, he embraced the protestant religion, and was highly esteemed on account of his learning, piety, affability, and inoffensive and witty conversation. His father no sooner knew of the change in his religious sentiments, than he took him from the university, and resolved to send him to Rome, with a view to have him reclaimed, in order to become a priest. Young Hildersham, however, was fixed in his protestant principles, and refused to go; for which his father cast him off and disinherited him.


In this way, he whom God had appointed to be a great sufferer in his cause, began to bear the yoke in his youth by forsaking parents, friends, and all earthly comforts, and the certain prospect of worldly advancement, for the sake of Christ and the testimony of a good conscience.

In this forlorn situation, God, who comforteth his people in all their tribulations, comforted Mr. Hildersham, through the kind assistance of Mr. John Ireton, then of Cambridge, but afterwards rector of Kegworth in Leicestershire. This gentleman providentially meeting him in London, said to him, “Arthur, why art thou so long from thy books, losing so much time?” “Alas, sir,” said he, “I shall go no more to Cambridge;” and then gave him a particular account of his unhappy condition. “Well,” said Mr. Ireton, “be not discouraged. Thou hast a noble kinsman, whom I will acquaint with thy case; and I doubt not that he will provide for thee.” He accordingly laid his distressed situation before Henry earl of Huntingdon, lord president of the north, whose mother and Mr. Hildersham’s mother were brother’s children. The noble earl gladly embraced this opportunity of showing his kindness and generosity. He warmly espoused his cause, sent him again to the university, and afforded him his liberal support.

Hildersham entered his public ministerial function; but be presently received a sudden check, and was convened before the high commission, suspended from his ministry, and deprived of his fellowship, chiefly for preaching occasionally before he took orders. This was done by the particular instigation of Archbishop Whitgift, who commanded him to make a public recantation, and required him to enter into bonds to appear again on a certain day before the high commission, if he presumed to refuse. The form of his recantation, dated January 10, 1588, was the following:

“I confess that I have rashly and indiscreetly taken upon me to preach, not being licensed, nor admitted into holy orders, contrary to the orders of the church of England; contrary to the example of antiquity; and contrary to the direction of the apostle in the Acts: whereby I have given great and just offence to many; and the more, be cause I have uttered in my sermons certain impertinent, and very unfit speeches for the auditory, as moving their minds to discontent with the state, rather than tending to of godly edification. For which my presumption and indiscretion, I am very heartily sorry, and desire you to bear witness of this my confession, and acknowledging my said offences.”[4]

It is extremely doubtful whether Mr. Hildersham ever recanted; for he was, previous to the above date, called from the university by the Earl of Huntingdon, and appointed to preach at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. In this situation he continued to the end of his days, though not without frequent molestations and interruptions. He was a man of great piety, learning, charity, and very peaceable, and one who loved all pious and learned men, whatever might be their opinions of the discipline and ceremonies. Although he was a minister in the established church, and so far opposed a total separation from it, that he was called the hammer of schismatics, yet “he was,” says Mr. Clark, “always, from his first entrance into the ministry, a resolved and conscientious nonconformist.” He labored hard, in concert with his brethren, to obtain a more pure reformation of the national church. His honest and decided attachment to what he considered to be the truth, exposed him to all those oppressions and cruelties with which he was exercised. He was frequently silenced from his ministry, and treated in many other respects with the utmost barbarity; notwithstanding which he usually attended upon the prayers, sermons, and sacraments, at the established church. All his excellent endowments were insufficient to screen him from the tyrannical proceedings of the ruling ecclesiastics.

In the year 1590 he married the daughter of Mr. Barfoot of Lamborn-hall in Essex. She was his constant companion in all his tribulations, and an excellent comforter under his numerous and painful sufferings. During the first year of his marriage, his faith and patience were put to the trial. He was convened before the high commission, suspended from his ministry, and obliged to enter into bonds, prohibiting him from attending upon the duties of his ministry in any part of England. The year following he was partially restored, but still forbidden to preach at any place south of the river Trent.[5] This prohibition utterly excluded him from laboring among his beloved people at Ashby. But this restraint was afterwards taken away, when he returned to his stated ministerial charge at that place.

His name was often honorably mentioned in the presence of Queen Elizabeth. On these occasions she used to describe him as cousin Hildersham. By her majesty’s favor, he was released from the ecclesiastical censure.

During the accession of King James, numerous petitions were presented to his majesty and the parliament, for a further reformation of the church. Mr. Hildersham, being a leading person among the puritans, and universally beloved by all the enemies of superstition and oppression, was appointed, with several of his brethren, to present these petitions, and, if required, to defend them by disputation. At the Hampton-court conference, our worthy divine, together with Mr. Stephen Egerton of London, and Mr. Edward Fleetwood of Lancashire, presented a number of requests to his majesty, earnestly desiring a further reformation in ecclesiastical matters.

It was impossible for Mr. Hildersham to act in this public capacity without being particularly noticed. The eyes of the jealous prelates were fixed upon him. Therefore, in the year 1605, he was silenced by the Bishop of Lincoln for nonconformity. Afterwards, he obtained some favor from the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, who allowed him to preach occasionally in his diocese, particularly at the two famous associations at Repton in Derbyshire, and Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire. These associations were designed for private conference among the ministers, and the public ministry of the word. They were the means of doing unspeakable good to both ministers and people; and Mr. Hildersham was a chief promoter of them for many years. His fame, indeed, was so great in those parts, that for many years after, when any one became remarkable for true piety, he was sure to be stigmatized as “one of Hildersham’s old puritans.”

It was after his restoration at this time that he entered upon his “Lectures on John 4,” which he continued every Tuesday for upwards of two years.

These lectures were afterwards published, in 1628, and dedicated to Henry earl of Huntingdon, who attended them, when preached in Ashby church, and whose uncle and grandfather had been the author’s worthy patrons. Dr. Williams says, “that these lectures discover the author to be a sound divine, an admirable textuary, a profoundly experienced Christian, and an excellent teacher.”[6]

He had numerous interruptions and oppressions to his ministry. Mr. Hildersham had to pass through the fire of persecution many times. Yet, he continued preaching until December 27th 1631 when he preached his last sermon.[7]

In this way, our pious and learned divine knew by painful experience the truth of that doctrine which he delivered to the people. “Every faithful minister,” says he, “who laboreth to win souls to God, shall be sure to be rewarded, how ill soever an unthankful world may reward him. If we judge by sense and reason, we shall hardly be able to conceive how it can be true; for no kind of men ever seems to be more neglected of God in this life, than faithful ministers. In all ages these men have been in much trouble, and their enemies have prevailed against them and that oftentimes even unto death. But,” he says, “if with a special care to provide for faithful ministers; and that one have such promises of protection and deliverance from trouble. If it please the Lord to let his ministers suffer, it is,” he says, “either because their testimony is finished; or because God will receive more honor by their suffering and constant confession of his truth, than by their peace. As the apostle says of his own troubles, “would, brethren, ye should understand, that the things which have happened unto me, have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.”

This excellent servant of Christ discovered in his last sickness very becoming submission to the will of God. His conversation was spiritual, holy, and heavenly. He gave solemn charge to his son, to take heed unto the flock of Christ; and on the Lord’s Day, while his son was at prayer with him, he closed his eyes in peace, and entered upon the joy of his Lord, March 4, 1631, aged sixty-eight years.

Mr. Hildersham preached at Ashby upwards of forty-three years, excepting the intervals of his suspension for nonconformity. He was a pious, learned, and useful preacher. Fuller describes him “a worthy divine, and a just and upright man,” but has incorrectly classed him among the fellows and learned writers of Christ’s college, Cambridge.[8] Echard denominates him “a great and shining light of the puritan party,” and observes, “that he was justly celebrated for his singular learning and piety.”[9] He was a divine of great moderation, and of a most amiable Christian spirit. He used to say, “that he never heard any faithful preacher of the gospel, however mean his talents might be, but he could discover some gift in him that was wanting in himself, and could receive some profit from his preaching.”


[1] Taken from Thomas Brooks’, Lives of the Puritans, Volume 2.

[2] The famous Cardinal Poole was his great uncle. He was the son of Mr. Thomas Hildersham, a gentleman of an ancient family, and Ann Poole his second wife. See Mather’s Hist, of New. Eng. b. iii. p. 181.

[3] Mrs. Hildersham was daughter to Sir Jeffery Poole, the fourth son of Sir Richard Poole, cousin german to King Henry VII. Margaret, countess of Salisbury, the wife of Sir Richard Poole, and grandmother to Mr. Hildersham, was the daughter of George duke of Clarence (second brother to King Edward IV.) and Isabella, elder daughter and co-heir of Richard earl of Warwick and Salisbury.

[4] Baker’s MS. Colleg. vol. ii. p. 445. MS. Register, p. 82.

[5] MS. Chronology, Voi. iii. A. D. 1631. p. 8.

[6] Christian Preacher, p. 435.

[7] Clark’s Lives, p. 122.

[8] Fuller’s Worthies, part i. p. 159.—Hist, of Cam. p. 92.

[9] Echard in Hist, of Eng. vol. ii. p. 98.

His Works:

In addition to his lectures on John 4 and Psalm 51 (which are enormous), Mr. Hildersham was author of “Lectures on Psalm 35,” published in 1632; and “A Treatise on the Lord’s Supper.” Of this work, Mr. John Cotton says, “Those questions and answers furnish a Christian with a more proper view of that spiritual duty, than any other book in any language, that I know, in so small a compass.”

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