Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Robert BoltonPuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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THIS pious and diligent laborer in his Master’s vineyard was born at Blackburn, in Lancashire, in 1572, and educated at Brazennose college, Oxford, where he was chosen fellow. He made an uncommonly rapid progress in philosophy, logic, and the learned languages. His. means of support being extremely limited, he borrowed books of his tutor and others, and besides reading them with peculiar attention, he transcribed the substance of them into his commonplace book. With the view of acquiring a more distinct knowledge of the Greek language, he transcribed the whole of Homer with great care, and in a very fair character. He was famed for his lectures on natural and moral philosophy. He was likewise deeply learned in metaphysics, mathematics, and school divinity; and having most brilliantly displayed his learning and talents in the public disputations in the schools, he was chosen by the vice-chancellor to be one of the disputants before king James, when he first visited the university. But notwithstanding all these useful and ornamental accomplishments, he was still destitute of the one thing needful; he had as yet no serious concern for his soul, he was even destitute, in a great measure, of moral propriety; he greatly delighted in plays and cards; he was, moreover, a horrible swearer and Sabbath breaker, who despised the counsel and company of the wise and serious, and associated with the wicked and profane; particularly he could not endure those men stigmatized with the appellation of puritans. His views, however, were afterwards quite changed. During his residence at Oxford he fell in with one Anderton, formerly his schoolfellow, but now a learned popish priest, who, taking advantage of his mean circumstances, persuaded him into a reconciliation with the Romish church, and to accompany him to one of the seminaries in Flanders, where, he told him, he should have gold in abundance. The time and place of embarkation were accordingly appointed; but Anderton failing in his promise, Bolton renounced the object in view, and returned to his college. Here, by the pious instructions of Mr. Thomas Peacock, he was brought to a deep sense of Ms sin, which, for many months, deprived him of all peace of mind; his appetite failed him, and sleep, in a great measure, had departed from his eyes; but the grace of God at last restored him to peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. This memorable change took place in the thirty-fifth year of his age; upon which he resolved to enter on the work of the ministry. Having, for the space of about two years, preached at various places, Sir Augustine Nicols, a justice of the common pleas, a learned man, an impartial judge, and a sincere Christian, presented him to the rectory of Broughton in Northamptonshire, at which place he continued till his death. Upon his presentation to Broughton, which took place in 1609, bishop King thanked the worthy judge; but observed, that he had deprived the university of Oxford of one of its brightest ornaments.
Mr. Bolton being endowed with a commanding and energetic eloquence, he was a most awakening preacher. He delivered two sermons every Lord’s day, and catechized the youth of his congregation. On every holiday, and every Friday before the sacrament, he expounded a portion of scripture; and in his domestic and secret devotions, he invariably prayed six times everyday; twice with his family, twice with his wife, and twice i» secret. He was of a comely person, with a grave and commanding exterior, ever zealous in the cause of Christ, yet prudent to avoid being called in question concerning those things in which he could not conform to the national requisitions in religious matters. In his last sickness, observing that his complaint was daily gaining ground, Mr. Bolton revised his will, and retired from the bustling departments of life, and employed the residue of his days in meditating on the joys of heaven. His sickness was tedious and painful; yet he bore up under his sufferings with admirable patience, often exclaiming, during the intervals of his fits, “Oh! when shall the happy hour arrive when I shall be dissolved? When shall I be with Christ, and see him as he is?” Some of his friends observing, that though better for himself, his dissolution would be a heavy loss to the church, in depriving them of the benefit of his ministry; to which he replied, “If my Lord and Redeemer has further work for me in his church on earth, he will restore me again, and show me his holy habitation: if otherwise, lo! here am I, let him do what seemeth him good.” Being asked by one, Whether he should not be content to live if it were the will of God? He readily replied, “I grant that life is the great blessing of God, neither will I neglect any means to preserve it; but though I heartily desire to be submissive to the will of God, of the two alternatives, I infinitely prefer being absent from the body, that I may be present with the Lord,” During the progress of his complaint, though his body was wasted, his mind was lively and vigorous as ever. The ministers who visited him he exhorted and encouraged to be strong in the Lord, and in the confidence of his power and goodness, not to let their spirits sink under the apprehensions of any danger or difficulty that might stand in the way, but to be diligent and faithful in the work whereunto they had been called, and leave the result to him who does all things well. All his visitors he warmly exhorted to improve the acceptable time and day of salvation, and not put off the most important business of their lives till the days of sickness and of death should come upon them, expressing, in the language of joy and praise, his gratitude to God, who had plucked him as a brand from the fire, and had, in his wonderful mercy and condescension, blessed his ministry to the conversion of many souls to himself. About a week before his departure, he admonished his wife not to be troubled at his dissolution, but to bear it with Christian fortitude, assuring her they should meet again in heaven. Then turning towards his weeping children, he said, “My dear children, you must not now expect me to say any thing more to you, seeing my strength is quite gone. I have told you enough in time past, which, I trust, you will remember, and reduce to practice when I am gone.” In the course of his ministry he had dwelt on the consolations of the gospel; and his people, in their turn, were anxious to know how he felt them in his own soul. “Alas! (said Mr. Bolton) do they expect that of me now, when I have neither breath nor strength to speak. I have said a great deal on that subject in my ministry; but, for their satisfaction, tell them, that I am, by the wonderful mercy of God, as full of comfort as my soul can contain, and feel nothing within me but Christ, with whom I earnestly desire to be.” And looking on those who were weeping near him, he said, “Oh! how much ado there is before one can die.”
A little before his departure, being told that some of his best friends were about to take their last farewell, he caused himself to be raised up on the bed; and after struggling for breath, he said, “I am now drawing on apace to my dissolution, hold out faith and patience, your work is nearly over.” Then, shaking them all by the hand, he said, “Make sure of heaven; keep in mind what I have formerly delivered to you. The doctrines I have preached amongst you these twenty years is the truth of God, as I shall answer at the tribunal of Christ, before whom I am on the point of appearing.” This he spoke while the very pangs of death were Upon him. A dear friend, taking him by the hand, asked if he felt much pain. “Truly no (said he), not so much as I feel from the coldness of your hand;” and instantly expired, December 16th, 1631, aged fifty-nine years.
Mr. Nicholas Estwick, who preached his funeral sermon, says, “That the Lord had enriched him with a great measure of grace, and that his life was a copy of the doctrines he taught: That he was sober, righteous, and godly, and, in every respect, irreproveable in all the various relations, ‘of a minister, a father, a husband, a brother, or as a member of the community: That he was a hard student and faithful laborer in the work of the gospel. A great man, says he, has fallen in our Israel, whose, loss will be severely felt, and long lamented. His wife has lost a gracious husband; his children, a loving father and gracious guardian; ministers, a grave and learned brother; the poor, a liberal benefactor, a wise instructor, and a gracious friend; and the whole land will feel the loss of a zealous wrestler with God for the continuation and promotion of their happiness.”
The Oxford historian styles him a most religious and learned puritan, a painful preacher, and full of good works. He was so expert in the Greek language, that he could dispute or write in it with the same ease as in Latin or English. Fuller says he was one of a thousand for piety, wisdom, and steadfastness; while Echard denominates him a great and shining light of the puritan party, justly celebrated for his singular learning and piety. His eloquent and invaluable writings will be read with pleasure and advantage, and perpetuate his memory so long as the English language is understood. His style is lofty, in some instances rather approaching the bombast; but, generally speaking, his expressions are magnificent, and often sublime. The beauties of imagination are, however, most apparent in his Four Last Things. There never had been a minister in the county of Northampton who either lived more beloved, or died more lamented than Mr. Bolton. His remains were interred in the chancel of Broughton church, and a flood of tears shed over his grave, where his half length figure is erected, with his hands raised in the attitude of prayer, and underneath a monumental inscription upon black marble.