Richard Greenham (1531?-1594)Famous Early Puritan and Passionate Minister of the Gospel
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“There is no commandment of God’s part more urged, and of our parts less observed, then this one of the Sabbath.”
Biography of Richard Greenham:
Richard Greenham, A.M. (1531-1694) was a most excellent servant of Christ, born about the year 1531, and educated in Pembroke hall, Cambridge. There he earned his degrees in arts, and was chosen as a fellow. On his removal from the university, he became pastor to the congregation at Drayton, near Cambridge; where he continued many years, not sparing himself to promote the salvation of souls. He was a hard student, and constantly rose, winter and summer, at four o’clock in the morning. He always preached twice on a Lord’s Day, and catechized the young people of his church. He usually preached four times and catechized once, during the week; and for the greater convenience of his people, these week-day services were observed early in the morning.
He was a man of uncommon zeal, and was so remarkably passionate in his preaching, that at the conclusion of the service, his perspiration was so great, that his shirt was usually as wet as if it had been drenched in water. He was more concerned to be useful, than to obtain any worldly reward. Therefore, he refused several lucrative vocational offers.
He naturally cared for souls, and manifested on all occasions a warm concern for their salvation. At the same time, he was not unmindful of their temporal comfort, but abounded in acts of liberality to the poor and distressed; for which he and his family often suffered need.
In addition to his public ministerial labors, he had a remarkable talent for comforting afflicted consciences; and in this department the Lord greatly blessed his endeavors. Having himself waded through the deep waters, and labored under many painful conflicts, he was eminently qualified for relieving others. The fame of his usefulness in resolving the doubts of inquiring souls, having spread through the country, multitudes from all quarters, flocked to him as to a wise physician, and by the blessing of God, obtained the desired comfort. Numerous people who to his own knowledge had labored under the most difficult terrors of conscience, were restored to joy and peace in believing. When any complained of blasphemous thoughts, his advice was “do not fear them, but abhor them.”
Mr. Greenham was a man remarkable for peace. He was celebrated for promoting peace among those who were at variance, and in laboring incessantly for the peace of the church of God. He was a most exact and conscientious nonconformist, choosing on all occasions to suffer, rather than sacrifice a good conscience. Though he cautiously avoided speaking against conformity, or those things which to him appeared objectionable in the established church; lest he should give the least offence, he was suspended from his ministry, for refusing to subscribe and wear the habits. He was of opinion that rites and ceremonies introduced into the church of Christ, without the warrant of scripture, were of no real advantage, but productive of much superstition. Therefore, he prayed that all such things, as hinderances to the success of the gospel, might be taken away. To subscribe to anything besides the word of God, or not collected from that sacred volume, he dared not do, but peremptorily refused.
Whoever will read his letter to Dr. Cox, bishop of Ely, will easily perceive what manner of spirit they were of, who could bear hard upon so excellent and peaceable a divine. When he was called before the bishop, on a complaint of his nonconformity, he discovered at once, his prudence, peaceableness, and good sense. His lordship observing that there was a great schism in the church, asked him whether the blame was attached to the conformists, or nonconformists. To which Mr. Greenham immediately replied, “that it might be attached to either, or to neither. For,” said he, “if both parties loved each other as they ought, and did acts of kindness for each other, thereby maintaining love and concord, the blame would be on neither side; but no matter which party made the rent, the charge of schism belonged to them.” The bishop is said to have been so well satisfied with this answer, that he dismissed him in peace. Mr. Greenham united with his brethren in subscribing the “Book of Discipline.”
This worthy divine having labored in the ministry at Drayton about twenty-one years, moved to London, and became minister at Christ-church, where, in about two years, he finished his labor’s. He died a most comfortable and happy death, in the year 1591, aged sixty years. Fuller, who says he died of the plague, observes, that he was an avowed enemy to nonresidents, and wondered how such men could find any comfort in their wealth. “For,” he used to say, “they must see written upon all they have, this is the price of blood,” Our author adds, that he was most precise in his conversation, a strict observer of the Lord’s Day, and that no book made a greater impression upon the minds of the people, than his “Treatise on the Sabbath,” which greatly promoted the observance of it through the nation. Mr. Strype describes him as a pious minister, but not well affected to the orders of the established church.
Mr. Greenham was an excellent writer, for the time in which he lived. His works, including sermons, treatises, and a commentary on Psalm 119, which all came forth at different times, but were collected and published in one volume folio, in 1601. The excellent Bishop Wilkins speaks in high commendation of his sermons, classing them with the most valuable in his day. And his commentary, says Dr. Williams, is admirable, for the time in which it was written, both for style and method; and, like all the productions of this author, is full of spiritual unction.
The above edition of Mr. Greenham’s works was published by Mr. Henry Holland, and dedicated to the Countess of Cumberland and the Countess Dowager of Huntington. In this dedication, it is observed as follows:
“I come as in the name of the faithful servant of Christ, Mr. Richard Greenham, a man well known unto your honors, and to those most religious patrons of all piety and good learning, the Right Honorable Earls of Huntington, Warwick, and Bedford, of blessed memory, which now sleep in the Lord. Of them was he much reverenced in his life-time; of your honors much lamented after death; for you know the loss of such to be no small rack unto the church and people of God. Such experience and good liking have your honors had of this man of God, of his godliness and gravity, and of the manifold gifts of God in him, that I need say no more, as any way doubting of your honorable acceptation.”
In the edition of his works, published in 1612, there is a dedication by Mr. Stephen Egerton, another excellent puritan, to Sir Marmaduke Darrell and Sir Thomas Bloother, knights, part of which is as follows: “Surely, if one heathen man could gather gold out of the writings of another, how much more may we, being Christians, gather not gold only, but pearls and precious stones out of the religious and holy labors of Mr. Richard Greenham, being a most godly brother; yea, more than a brother, even a most painful pastor, zealous preacher, and reverend father in the church of God; of whom I am persuaded that for practical divinity he was inferior to few or none in his time.”
This pious divine had a strong and an unceasing attachment to the house of God. He used to say that ministers ought to frequent those places most where God has made them most useful. Having once found the sweetness of gaining souls, there should they be most desirous to resort. He had so conscientious a regard for the ordinance of public worship, that, however weak might be the talents of the preacher, he constantly esteemed it his duty, as well as his happiness, to go to the house of the Lord.
For further study:
Fuller’s Church Hist. of Britain, 1655, ix. 219; Clarke’s Lives of Thirty-two English Divines (at the end of a General Martyrologie), 1677, pp. 12 sq., 169 sq.; Brook’s Lives of the Puritans, 1813, i. 415 sq.; Neal’s Hist. of the Puritans, 1822, i. 281, 387; Strype’s Aylmer, 1821, p. 100; Whitgift, 1822, p. 6; Annals, 1824, ii. (2) 415, 417, iii. (1) 720, iv. 607; Waddington’s John Penry, 1854, p. 123; Marsden’s Hist. of the Early Puritans, 1860, p. 248; Cooper’s Athenæ Cantabr. 1861, ii. 103, 143 sq., 356, 546; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. vii. 366, viii. 55.
 See his other works published by Puritan Publications on his godly treatises.
 Clark’s Lives annexed to his Martyrologie, p. 12–14.
 Greenham’s Works, p. 278. Edit. 1601.
 Parte of a Register, pp. 88-89.
 Clark’s Lives, p. 13.
 Neal’s Puritans, vol. i. p. 423.
 Strype’s Aylmer, p. 152.
 Christian Preacher, p. 431.
 Puritan Publications has published Egerton’s work on hearing the Scriptures, which is outstanding.
- Grave Councils and Godly Observations
- Seven Godly and Fruitful Sermons
- Meditations on Proverbs 4
- Meditations on Proverbs 14
- Sweet Comfort for an Afflicted Conscience
- The Marks of a Righteous Man
- Sweet and Sure Signs of Election
- A Contract Before Marriage
- Notes of Our Salvation
- Of the Sabbath
- A Profitable Treatise on the Reading and Understanding the Scriptures
- A Short Form of Catechizing