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Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Thomas Goodwin

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. Thomas Goodwin.

MR. THOMAS GOODWIN was born at Rolesby, a small village in the county of Norfolk, on the 5th October 1600. His parents watched over his early years with anxious solicitude, and bestowed on him a truly religious education. Observing a pious disposition, and marks of uncommon genius in their young scholar, they resolved to train him up for the ministry; and having got the ordinary routine of grammatical learning, he was sent to Christ church college, in the university of Camrbridge, on the 25th August 1613. In this college, which was then in a very flourishing condition, having about two hundred scholars, young Goodwin remained about six years, where, by a close application to his studies, he soon became a very promising scholar, secured the good opinion of his tutors, and obtained an excellent reputation in the university. In 1619 he .removed to Katherinehall, in the same university, of which he afterwards became fellow; and was, moreover, chosen lecturer for the year 1620.

For some time he was a great admirer of Dr. Senhouse, whose sermons were ornamented with flowers of oratory, collected from the fathers, the poets, and historians, a mode of preaching at that time greatly applauded in the university. Mr. Goodwin was, at this time, but little acquainted with his own heart, the corruption of his nature, and the necessity of regenerating grace. His ardent pursuit was after the wisdom of the world, and that fame and emolument which sometimes rewards the industry of learned men. But God was pleased to change his heart, and direct the course of his life and labors to the service of Christ and his church. Mr. Goodwin kept a diary, which, we are told by his son, consisted of more than an hundred sheets, written by his own hand, wherein he most minutely notices the various feelings, hopes, and apprehensions with which his heart was exercised prior to his conversion to God, the manner in which the great change was effected in his soul, and the joy and peace he had in believing, after Christ had manifested himself to his soul as the all and only sufficient Saviour. Mr. Goodwin was a great admirer of Dr. Preston and of Dr. Hill, both thorough Calvinists. He set them before him as models in his preparations for the ministerial work, and adopted their sentiments and views of the doctrine of justification by grace, and the necessity of good works. Mr. Goodwin, after examination, was admitted a preacher of the everlasting gospel, and soon became greatly celebrated at Cambridge. He was now become acquainted with personal religion, which has been ever considered a necessary prerequisite in those who presume to preach the gospel to others; for though God has not proportioned the efficacy of his gospel to the characters of its dispensers; yet the word of God authorizes us to say, that ungodly and wicked ministers run unsent. When souls are entrusted to Satan’s slaves, we cannot but fear they will, in one way or other, be directed in an unprofitable path. Ministers of the word are sometimes denominated men of God; an expression which, at least, ought to imply, that they are men devoted to his service, conformed to his image, animated by his spirit, and zealous for his honor. But a man of God, living without God in the world; a master of Israel ignorant of the new birth; a spiritual guide walking in the paths of destruction; a soldier of Christ in league with the archenemy of God and man—must be a monstrous absurdity. With respect to Mr. Goodwin, his ardent love to Christ, the head, induced him to watch over, and carefully instruct even the meanest of the flock entrusted to his charge. He now began to lose al] relish for the showy flourishes which Dr. Senhouse had introduced into the university, and which had procured him such unbounded applause, and came to the fixed resolution, as he expresses himself in his diary, of preaching wholly and altogether sound words, without the affectation of wit, and the vanity of eloquence; all which he left off, and continued in the same purpose and practice for threescore years, without so much as having ever been tempted to put in any of his own withered flowers, which he had carefully gathered, and, at one time, valued more than diamonds. His inquiry now was, not how he might raise his own reputation, but how he might be most instrumental in converting sinners from the error of their ways, instructing the ignorant, encouraging the serious, and comforting those who were cast down.

Mr. Goodwin was chosen lecturer of Trinity church, Cambridge, in 1628, though not without considerable opposition from Dr. Buckridge, bishop of Ely. The bishop refused to admit him, unless he would solemnly promise, pursuant to the king’s proclamation, not to preach upon any controverted points of divinity. To this objection Mr. Goodwin very ingeniously replied, “That all the most essential points of the Christian faith being controverted, either by one person or another, such a promise would scarcely leave him a subject to preach upon: That it was not his majesty’s intention to prohibit him, or any other person, from preaching against the gross errors of popery.” After some farther opposition, he was admitted. In 1632 he was presented to the vicarage of the same church by the king. In this situation he was much admired, and followed by the puritans, who were rapidly increasing in the university, as well as throughout the kingdom.

Upon Mr. Goodman’s commencing preacher, his sermons were, for the most part, if not wholly, calculated to produce conviction and terror, to alarm the conscience, and wound the heart; but he seems to have improved a hint from Dr. Sibbs, given in a familiar manner—”Young man (said the doctor), if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel, and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus, and the consolations that flow from these important doctrines.” Our author readily complied with his friend’s advice, and, on publishing his sermons on the glory of the gospel, he entitled them, his Evangelical first fruits. The only copy of these sermons was remarkably preserved and recovered. The portmanteau in which it was deposited was cut off from his horse’s saddle by a thief, in the dark of the evening, opposite to St. Andrew’s church, Holborn. The sexton, next morning, being Sabbath, on coming to ring the bell, found a parcel of papers at the root of a large tree; and opening them, found some papers belonging to a bookseller in Cambridge, who had accompanied Mr. Goodwin, by which alone he could know to whom the parcel belonged. In this way our author recovered his manuscripts, to his no small satisfaction.

Mr. Goodwin became much dissatisfied with the terms of conformity, whereupon he relinquished all his preferments, and left the university. In this step he acted upon the light he had derived from the word of God, and though thereby subjected to much trouble and worldly inconvenience, he enjoyed the satisfaction arising from a clear conscience. He left all for the sake of Christ and his gospel, and was content to live in meanness and obscurity, if so he might serve his Lord in godly sincerity. “I cheerfully parted with all for Christ (says he), and he has made me abundant compensation, not merely in the consolations of his Spirit, which are incomparably better than all things beside, hut also in the enjoyment of what is desirable in this world. What love and esteem I have had among men are from him. It is he alone who has made my ministry acceptable, and his blessing alone has made it successful to the conversion and spiritual consolation of many souls.”

In 1638 he married Elizabeth, daughter of alderman Prescot, London; a woman of a very sweet temper, a lively wit, and sincere piety, which rendered her highly agreeable to her husband and to all her acquaintances. When the terms of conformity became still more rigidly urged, and the puritans more severely persecuted by the prelatic consistories, Mr. Goodwin retired into Holland, in search of that religious freedom denied him in his native land. In that asylum for persecuted Christians, he became pastor of an independent congregation at Arnheim. During his residence with that congregation, some misunderstanding having taken place in the English church at Rotterdam, Mr. Goodwin, and the elders of the church of Arnheim, went thither; and God was pleased to bless their counsel and advice to the restoring of peace to that distracted church.

About the beginning of the long parliament he returned to London, where he was chosen pastor of a church in the city, and elected a member of the assembly of divines; which he regularly attended, and took a brief account of the transactions of that venerable body, in fourteen or fifteen volumes octavo, which, his son informs us, he had in his possession written in his father’s own hand. Being of independent principles, Mr. Goodwin was, of course, one of the dissenting brethren. Wood says, “He was one of the Atlases and patriarchs of independency in that assembly.” In 1647 he had invitations from the reverend and learned John Cotton, and other worthy ministers in New England, to join them. He was much inclined to embrace their kind invitation, and had even some part of his library put on board for that purpose; but the advice of a friend, to which he paid great respect, induced him to alter his resolution.

In 1649, he took, for his second wife, Mrs. Mary Hammond, who bore him two sons and two daughters. He was a great favorite with Oliver Cromwell, who considered him an eminent instrument in propagating the gospel, and a great luminary in the church. Through Cromwell’s influence he was appointed president in Magdalen College, Oxford, in the year 1649. Here he formed a church on the independent plan, and was very diligent in promoting the interest of religion and literature. He was also appointed one of the commissioners for the approbation of preachers. Having been bachelor of divinity of several years standing, he took his degree of doctor of divinity in 1653. He was one of those ministers who attended Cromwell on, his deathbed. In 1660 he was ejected by the new act of uniformity, and retired to London, where he continued the exercise of his ministry till his death. He now spent much of his time in religious retirement, reading, and meditation. He read much, and studied more, but chiefly the scriptures; and having furnished his library with an excellent collection of commentators, he made good use of them. The love and unmerited grace of God, the all sufficiency of Christ as a Saviour and Redeemer, were the truths on which he most delighted to ponder. These were the food of his soul, and he wrote and preached them with a spiritual warmth which can be better felt than expressed.

Mr. Goodwin was seized with a malignant fever, which in a few days terminated in his death. As his life had been highly exemplary, so his end was peculiarly edifying. Even under the violence of his fever, he discoursed, with such confident assurance of the love of Christ, and his interest in that salvation he had purchased, with such holy admiration at the free and unmerited grace manifested in the glorious plan of redemption, and with such heavenly expressions of gratitude and praise, as deeply affected all present. He rejoiced to think he was dying, that he was about to leave a shattered tabernacle of clay, for an house not made with hands. “There (said he) I shall hold uninterrupted fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. I shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. My corruptions, under which I have long groaned, and against which I have so long contended, these croaking toads, that continually harassed me while here, shall mar my felicity no more for ever.” Running over the illustrious names mentioned in Heb. xi., he said, “All these died in the faith. As for me, I could never have imagined that I should possess such a measure of faith at this trying hour. No, I could never have imagined it. My bow abides in full strength. Is Christ divided? No—I have the whole of his righteousness. I am found in him, not in mine own righteousness which is of the law, but in the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ Jesus, who loved me, and gave himself also for me. Christ cannot love me more than he does; and I think I cannot love Christ better than I do. I am. swallowed up in the vast ocean of its redeeming love.” Addressing himself to his two sons, he exhorted them to watch over their own hearts, and beware of provoking God’s holy Spirit to depart from, and reject them— To value the privileges the gospel offered, and to remember, that now is the accepted time, and the day of grace. That Christ is still seated on his throne of mercy, and that the door of hope still stands open. Another day he will be seated on a throne of justice, administering impartial judgment. “My days are numbered (said he); my work on earth is accomplished—I ‘ have finished my course; I have kept the faith; I have conquered through the strength of the Captain of my salvation; I am about to enter on my triumph, and shall shortly receive my crown, so shall I be ever with the Lord.”

He died February 23d, 1680, and was interred in a little vault towards the east end of the new burial place for dissenters, joining on the north side of the New Artillery yard, by Bunhill fields. In doctrine Mr. Goodwin was a supralapsarian Calvinist. He was ever zealous in supporting what he considered to be the genuine doctrines of Christianity, and neglected not to remind his hearers, or his reader, of the powerful excitement these sublime doctrines presented to induce Christians to purity both of heart and life. Dr. Calamy says, “He was a very considerable scholar, and an eminent divine. That he had a very happy faculty in descanting on scripture, so as to produce surprising remarks.” He was also a writer of considerable eminence. Dr. Wilkins places him amongst some of the most eminent English divines for sermons and practical divinity; and Dr. Cotton Mather, in his Student and Preacher, says, “You have a Goodwin, who will place you among the children of light, and give you the marrow of the doctrine according to godliness. His style is plain and familiar, but diffuse and tedious, though by no means disagreeable to a sober mind. He handles his subject with much gravity, and at great length. Fiery declamations, or appeals to the passions, discover more enthusiasm than judgment; but Dr. Goodwin’s discourses are well digested, temperate, and attended with conclusive reasoning, having a tendency to impress the mind of the sensible reader with the importance of the subject; which reflection confirms, and the memory retains.” It is said that his writings continue to be much esteemed by the Calvinistic independents.

They are, 1. A Child of Light walking in Darkness.—2. Select Cases Resolved.—3. Return of Prayer.—4. The Vanity of Vain Thoughts Discovered.—5. Christ set forth in his Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Intercession, as the cause of Justification, and the object of Justifying Faith.—6. The Trial of a Christian’s growth in Mortification and Vivification.—1. The Aggravation of Sin, and Sinning against Knowledge.—8. Christ the Universal Peacemaker.—9. Zerubbabel’s encouragement to finish the Temple.—10. The great Interest of Nations.—11. The World to Come.—12. Patience, and its perfect,Work, in the time of sudden and sore Trials.—13. The Punishment of Sin in an after State; a posthumous work, published by Mr. Owen and Mr. Banon, followed some time after by five volumes folio. According to Wood, some part of his works were translated into Latin, and printed at Heidelberg in 1658.

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