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Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Thomas Cawton

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. Thomas Cawton.

THIS excellent divine was born at Rainham in Norfolk, in 1605, and educated in Queen’s college, Cambridge. From a child he was thoughtful and serious, and anxious to learn, that he might become a minister; and being a boy of great promise, Sir Roger Townsend patronised and supported him at college, where he made uncommon progress in the arts, the languages, and also in divinity. In the meantime, his piety was such, that it became a proverb amongst the students, the less serious of whom stigmatized those who were religiously inclined as being Cawtonists. Having continued seven years at the university, he removed to Ashwell, about twelve miles from Cambridge, to live in the house of Mr. Herbert Palmer, another puritan divine, for the purpose of studying divinity; in which he made great proficiency, and occasionally assisted Mr. Palmer in his pulpit exercises. On leaving Mr. Palmer’s, he became domestic chaplain to Sir William Armin of Orton in Northamptonshire; where his piety and holy life, together with his great abilities and faithful labors, gained general love and respect. Having continued in this situation four years, he became rector of Wivenhoe in Essex, having been presented to the living by Sir Roger Townsend. Wivenhoe, at this time, was notorious for drunkenness, swearing, sabbath profanation, and almost every vice; but his faithful labors, and exemplary life, accompanied by the divine blessing, were the means of working an astonishing reformation. The people were in the habit of bringing their fish to market, and selling them on the Lord’s day, hard by the church doors, which sorely grieved his righteous soul; but by his faithful and unwearied endeavors, this abominable practice was abolished, and a happy reformation of manners took place in the town and neighborhood; and, it is added, that he was made instrumental in bringing great numbers to the saving knowledge of the gospel. He was married to the daughter of Mr. William Jenkin, an ejected minister for nonconformity.

Mr. Cawton having prosecuted his ministerial labors in this place about seven years, his health began to fall off; so that it was considered necessary for him to remove to some other situation for the benefit of a change of air; and receiving, about the same time, an invitation to Bartholomew’s church, behind the exchange, London, he removed thither; and this change was the means of restoring his health, and preventing the return of the ague, with which be had been long and seriously afflicted. In 1648 he united with the London ministers in their declaration against the king’s death; and, the same year, was brought to trouble for his zeal in the royal cause. Being invited by the lord mayor and aldermen to preach at Mercer’s chapel, he prayed for the royal family, especially for Charles the II. whom he considered as the legal sovereign; but delivered nothing offensive1 in his sermon. His prayer, however, was offensive to the ruling party. Accordingly, the day Following, the council of state issued a warrant to apprehend him. When Mr. Cawton appeared before his judges, he was charged with having proclaimed the young king; by which, according to the existing laws, he was guilty of high treason. He was therefore required to retract what he had said on this point, as the indispensable condition of his pardon. This Mr. Cawton refused to da. “If (said he) I can be made sensible of having done or said any thing unbecoming a minister of the gospel, I am ready to recant; but I have heard no satisfactory reason assigned.” He was therefore sent prisoner to the Gatehouse, where he remained in confinement about six months; when the parliament’s army in Ireland having gained a signal victory, the House came to the resolution, that a certain number of prisoners, and Mr. Cawton amongst that number, should be set at liberty, as a testimony of their gratitude to God; by which means he obtained his liberty, and returned to his family and flock, where he continued, for some time, in the exercise of his ministerial office. But being deeply concerned in Love’s plot, he fled to Holland, together with Mr. James Nalton, in 1651. On their arrival at Amsterdam, the English church, at that place, being destitute of a minister, they were both chosen collegiate pastors to the society. Mr. Nalton afterwards was permitted to return to his native country; which he did: but Mr. Cawton, not being favored with this privilege, remained at Amsterdam till the day of his death. His fame, as a preacher and scholar, was soon spread through the United Provinces, where he shone as a star of the first magnitude, and he was held in high estimation by the Dutch, French, and English ministers in those parts. He became intimately acquainted with the most distinguished literary characters, Voetius, Leusden, Uchtman, Hulsius, and many others. The publication of Walton’s Polyglot Bible, and Castell’s Lexicon Heptagloton; was much forwarded both by his exertions and recommendation. (The former of these learned works was printed in six folio volumes, and was the first book published by subscription in England. The latter cost the author the labor of seventeen years; by which his health was impaired, his constitution greatly shattered, and his fortune entirely ruined. It cost him upwards of twelve thousand pounds; for which, and his herculean labors, he had a poor remuneration.) In 1658 he received a letter from Charles II., then at Brussels, in which his majesty attempts to acquit himself of the charge of being at all inclined to popery, and urges Mr. Cawton, by all possible means, to remove such false and unworthy aspersions.

Thus having served the Lord seven years at Cambridge, seven years at Wivenhoe, seven years at London, and seven more in , Holland, Mr. Cawton died at Rotterdam, of a fit of the palsy, August 7th, 1659, and fifty-fourth year of his age. He was a laborious student, an excellent logician, and an incomparable linguist. He possessed a most accurate knowledge of the Hebrew, Greek, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic languages, and was familiar with the Dutch, Saxon, Italian, Spanish, and French. But that which set forth his talents and literary acquisitions to the greatest advantage, was his eminent piety and holy life, his faith, patience, and sincerity, his self-denial, and charitable hospitality. As a minister, a master, a husband, a father, he was highly exemplary; an honor to his profession, and a pattern of virtue in every social relation. Even Wood allows him to have been a learned and religious puritan. Mr. Thomas Cawton, one of the ejected nonconformists of 1662, was his son, who trod in his father’s footsteps, and published his life in 1662, together with the sermon preached by his father at Mercer’s chapel, February 25th, 1648, entitled, God’s rule for a Godly life, or a Gospel Conversation opened and applied from Phil. i. 27.

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