Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Thomas Wilcocks

Thomas Wilcocks, A. M.—This celebrated divine was bora about the year 1549, and educated in St. John's college, Oxford. Upon his leaving the university, he became a learned, zealous, and useful preacher in Honeylane, London. In the year 1572, he was an active person in the erection of the prcsbyterian church at Wandsworth in Surrey. During the same year he was brought into much trouble for Ins nonconformity. The puritans having for a long time sought in vain to the queen and prelates, for a further reformation of the church, now resolved to apply to the parliament. Accordingly, Mr. Wilcocks and Mr. John Field published " An Admonition to the Parliament," which they presented to the house of commons with their own hands. Though the book was much esteemed, and soon passed through four editions, the authors were apprehended and committed to Newgate, where they remained a long time, in close and miserable confinement.* A particular account of these cruel proceedings, together with their other troubles, will be found in another place,t

The character and sentiments of these excellent divines having greatly suffered by reproach, they published a vindication of themselves, against the false imputations of unsound doctrine, and disloyalty to the queen. The piece is entitled " A Copie of a Letter, with a Confession of Faith, written by two faithful Servants of God, unto an honourable and virtuous Ladie."} It is subscribed with their own hands; but whether it was published before, or during their imprisonment, we are not able to learn. It is, however, a different confession from that which is noticed in the place referred to above, but was penned most probably on the same occasion. During their confinement in Newgate, Archbishop Parker sent his chaplain, one Pearson, to confer with them. This conference, dated September 11, 1572, was in the presence of Mr. Mondes their keeper, and is as follows:

Pearson. Is your name Wilcocks ?

Wilcocks. Yes, verily.

P. I desire to become acquainted with you; for I know you not.

W. Neither do I know you.

* Mr. Thomas Woodcock, a bookseller in London, for Tending the Admonition, was, at the same time, committed to Newgate by Bishop Aylmer.—Strypt't Jylmcr, p. 57.

+ See Art. Field.

I Parte of a Register, p. 523—546.

P. I am come to converse with you, by warrant from my lord of Canterbury. '

W. Indeed it is high time. I have been in close prison almost three months, and no one has yet been sent to confer with me, and reclaim me from error, if I be in any.

P. I am come to you, and your companion, Sir. Field, about a letter from you, delivered by your wives to his grace of Canterbury; wherein you charge him with unjust dealing and cruelty. He would gladly know in what particular instance you can accuse him of injustice and cruelty.

Field. To charge him with cruelty we mind not: neither did we write any such thing. But we may justly charge him with unjust dealing.

P. Why so ? What is the special cause of it ?

W. Because he hath kept us in close prison almost three months without a cause.

P. I judge it is not so.

F. We wrote a book in time of parliament, justly craving a redress and reformation of many abuses, tor which we are thus imprisoned and uncoiirteously treated.

P. That book 1 read over at the time of its first coming out; but since that time I have not read four lines of it. To speak my mind, though some things in it be good, I dare not justify all.

W. What are the points which you so much dislike? Mention some, and we will gladly talk about them.

P. So far as I can gather, you would have in the church an equality of ministers.

W. We would not have it of ourselves; but God's word requireth it.

P. No: God's word is against it.

F. I pray you let us see the place.

P. Before I proceed, let me ask you one question. Do you both agree in this point ? For if you do not agree, I shall labour in vain.

F. We agree both in this point, and all others. For, the Lord's name be praised, there is no contrariety of judgment.

P. You will allow of the name of a bishop.
W. Yes, verily.
P. And why so ?

W. Because God's word alloweth the same, in the ordinary government of the church.' P. You will, also, allow the name of an apostle.

F. In one respect we do, and in another respect we do not. As it signified! one sent of God to preach the gospel, we allow it.

P. And in what respect do you not allow it ?

W. As it signifieth one sent to preach to all creatures, it hath no place in the church.

P. Why so?

W. Because the calling of the Gentiles is ended, and that office was only temporal, enduring only tor a season.

P. I know many good writers are of your opinion. But how do you prove that from scripture ?

W. Easily enough. It is scripture itself.

P. Let this be granted. Doth an equality of ministers, therefore, follow ? St. Paul saith, God gave to his church some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and some teachers.

F. That place maketh most for us, as, by the assistance of God, we hope to make evidently appear.

W. Seeing we are dealing in matters which concern God's glory, and we cannot of ourselves speak to his praise, nor without the teaching of his Spirit, let us crave his divine assistance in the exercise of prayer.

P. Will you use private or public prayer ?

W. Nay, in my judgment, the more public the better.

[Mr. Field then engaged in prayer, which being finished, they resumed the conversation as follows: j

W. Now, if it please you, let us begin where we left off.

P. From the words of Paul, I reason thus: In his day there was a distinction of callings; therefore, there can be no parity of ministers.

F. That place of Paul proveth no such thing. For he there speaketh of those extraordinary offices which were peculiar to the state of the church in the time of the apostles: as apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Also he speaks of those offices which are ordinary, and to continue to the end of time: as pastors and teachers, which differ not in authority and dignity, though they may in gifts and graces.

P. I understand your meaning. I perceive you will have no minister to preach out of his own charge. F. That is our opinion. P. And why so.'

F.. Because every pastor hath work enough to take proper care of his own flock; therefore, he ncedeth not to thrust himself upon another man's labour.

P. It is not thrusting himself upon another, provided he Cometh called ?

F. Indeed, if the minister had nothing more to do than to preach a sermon or two a week, this might be pleaded; but seeing he must visit the sick, comfort the mourners, strengthen the weak, and admonish and instruct all from house to house, through the whole of his charge, I warrant you he will have little desire, and less leisure, to preach in other men's cures.

P. It is said, in the acts of the apostles, that when the apostles laboured to appease the contention betwixt the Greeks and the Jews, deacons were chosen to provide for the poor, that they might give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.

\V. That is not contrary to what my brother hath said, but serveth very aptly to confirm it; for there the Holy Ghost includes their whole office in two particular duties. And if the apostles did well in communicating the temporal part of their office to others, that they might give themselves the more to prayer and preaching, what can we judge of those who unite civil functions to their ecclesiastical officesBut a wandering ministry is to be avoided, because it is an ignorant and unlearned ministry, the reformation of which, with the banishment of the pope's canon law, we have particularly set forth in our late book. And because it is directly contrary both to reason and scripture.

P. I wish to hear that reason, and see that scripture.

F. You know that a father hath much regard for his children, because they arc nearly related to him : so, on the same account, hath a pastor for the children of his flock. And the scripture saith, " Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God. Feed the flock of God which is among you."

P. May I not then preach in other men's charges ?

F. Upon certain conditions you may.

P. If I sec the people lacking instruction, and out of compassion preach to them, do you think I do evil ?

F. It is not for us to condemn another man's servant: to his own master he standeth or f'allcth. Yet you will do well to take heed to your own calling. But having your own flock, and intermeddling with other mens' charges, which God hath not commanded, you do not well. If, indeed, there be a defection among the churches, either in faith or practice, and God stir you up by an extraordinary calling, though yon preach in other places, I condemn you not.

P. What are the reasons why I may not come into another man's charge ?

W. If our church were so reformed, that there was a learned and painful ministry, with a godly sincerity in every congregation, then, with a view to end a controversy, confirm a doctrine, or refute an error, you might preach in another man's charge: yet you might not do this, unless you were requested by the minister and seniority of the church, and permitted by your own.

P. You seem to have written your book in choler against some persons, rather than to promote a reformation of the church.

W. I suppose you are displeased with the sharpness of the language. We are willing to bear the blame of that.

P. I think it did not proceed from a spirit of love, and charity, and meekness.

F. That toucheth me, and therefore I answer; as God hath his Moses, so he hath his Elijah. Isaiah calleth the rulers of his time, princes of Sodom. John calleth the scribes and pharisees, a generation of vipers. Jesus Christ calleth them adders, and an adulterous generation. And the scriptures, especially the prophets, arc full of such warm expressions. We have used gentle words too long: we perceive they have done no good. The wound is become desperate; it therefore needeth a strong corrosive. It is no time to flatter men in their sins. Yet God knoweth, we meant to speak against no man's person, but their places, and existing corruptions.

P. Will you then take away all ecclesiastical policy ? It pleaseth the prince, in policy, to make the ministers ford' bishops and archbishops. I confess this cannot be warranted by God's word; but as the christian magistrate, in policy, csteemeth it good, and not against God's word, I doubt whether they may not do it.

W. We praise God for having made yon confess this truth. But, from your words, we must consider whether the policy concerning ecclesiastical matters, as contained in God's word, be not all-sufficient, and that alone which is to be followed. The ministers of Christ may take unto themselves no other titles than those which arc allowed and appointed in God's word, though the christian prince would, in policy, make them ever so liberal an offer of them.

F. No. Though the prince would give them such offices and titles, they ought, according to the word of God, to refuse them.

P. When in honour they are offered, would you have them wilfully and unthankfully to refuse them ?

F. Whenever the prince is so disposed, they, in the fear of God, should say, " A greater charge is already laid upon us than we are well able to fulfil. We cannot labour so faithfully in this function as the Lord requireth; therefore, we most humbly desire your majesty to lay the charge of civil matters upon those who have time and skill to manage them, and to whom in duty they belong; and let us exercise ourselves in the office of the ministry alone." No names can be more blasphemous than those of lord-bishops and archbishops. They take that honour to themselves which belongs to Jesus Christ alone, as lord and king in Zion.

P. If for religion the prince appoint fasts, we ought not to obey; but if, in policy, when victuals arc clear, he appoint them, we arc bound in conscience to obey.

F. As you plead so much for policy, we suffer imprisonment for opposing the popish hierarchy, the policy of which is directly contrary to that which was used in the primitive church.

P. Must we then in every point follow the apostles and primitive church ?

W. Yes; unless a better order can be found. In matters of government and discipline, the word of God is our only warrant; but rites and ceremonies not mentioned in scripture, are to be used or refused, as shall best appear to the edification of the church.*

Here the conversation closed; and soon after this Mr. Wilcocks and Mr. Field presented a supplication to Lord Treasurer Burleigh, written, says Mr. Strype, in a good Latin style. In this they vindicate their own innocence, and petition his lordship to procure their liberty, by addressing him as follows:—" Confiding in your singular benevolence, we were induced to address you, hoping to obtain our liberty, and to propagate the truth. We are aware that we are spoken against and slandered by many. But let the truth speak for itself—it never seeks to be hid in corners. While we commend the innocency and equity of our cause to your consideration, we humbly and earnestly beseech you to grant us favour. We have, indeed, lately written a book, urging the reformation of horrid abuses; and

that true religion may be freed from popish superstition, and, with the queen's approbation, be again restored by the parliament. But of ourselves we have never attempted to correct or change any thing. We referred all to their judgments, according as the case may seem to them to require. And we hoped that, by this means, the peace of the church, and the reconciliation of brethren, might have been happily promoted.

"By this ecclesiastical establishment, which is so contrary to the word of God, we have all seen a sad schism in the church; and that most desirable blessing of peace, which ought to abound among those of the same religion, has been destroj'ed. We said nothing of the contempt of good learning, the corruption of true religion, the depraving of the ministry, and the increase of sin which it hath occasioned. All this is a suflicient justification of our book. And the corruptions and abuse* which we have mentioned, arc unanimously acknowledged by all theforeign reformed churches, and by the writings of men of eminent learning, to be very foul."*

In the conclusion they humbly and earnestly entreat him to be a means of procuring their liberty. They also presented other petitions to other persons of distinction, but apparently to little effect: for they were confined in close prison in Newgate at least fifteen months. A further account of these proceedings will be found in another place.t

Mr. Wilcocks at length obtained his release from prison, but was at the same time deprived of his living in Honeylane. Being driven from his flock and his benefice, he preached where he could, as he found an opportunity, though not without frequent molestation from the persecuting prelates. For the greatest part of ten years he preached very, frequently at Bovington, in Hertfordshire. lie spent a considerable portion of his time and pains in his epistolary correspondence with his numerous friends; and in his letters he commonly subscribed himself, " Thomas Wilcocks, the Lord's unworthy servant." Among his numerous and learned correspondents, was the venerable Mr. Anthony Gilby, of Ashby de la Zouch, in Leicestershire, to whom he addressed the following epistle, descriptive of the cruel oppressions of the time:}

. - •> Good Father Gilby, since my separation from you I have received letters from London, wherein was certified the

» Slrype's Annals, vol. ii. p. 186. t See Art. Field,

t Baker'a MS. Collec. vol. mil, p. 441,442.

stirs and troubles there. When I had read them, I thought it meet to make you partaker of such news as was sent unto me, to the end that you and all the godly there with you may pour forth earnest supplications tor our brethren who are now in bonds, and under the cross, for the testimony of the truth. Thus standeth the case. Mr. Fulwcr, our dear friend and brother in the Lord, with divers others, are prisoners in the same Compter, and for the same cause that our brother Edmunds is. Our brother Johnson, minister of the church without Temple-bar, and others with him, are laid in the Gatehouse at Westminster. Our brother Wight and others with him are committed to Newgate.

" The ministers of London were called by the archdeacon and Dr. Hames, the bishop's chancellor, to Lawrence church in the Jewry, and then subscribed, and were commanded to put on their trash; as surplices, &c. on the Sunday following. Amongst them, none bad more deceived the godly than one Wager, who had many times been, but only in words, against the popish regimen and ceremonies retained and used in the English church; but now by his subscription hath allowed all. The Lord grant that, as he hath fallen with Peter, and denied the truth, so he may, if it be his will, rise with him again. This subscription is required, not of ministers alone, but of the common people, such as they caA puritans. Scribbled in haste from Coventry, this 21st of December, 1573.

" By yours to command in the Lord Jesus,

Mr. Wilcocks, in about six weeks after the above, addressed another epistle to the same venerable divine, containing a further account of oppressions and cruelties exercised upon the poor persecuted puritans. It contains, indeed, some other interesting facts worthy of being communicated to posterity; and the whole is so excellent, and so exactly characteristic of the writer, that it would be an inexcusable omission to withhold it from the inquisitive reader. The following is an exact copy :• " Grace and peace trom God.

" Father Gilby, news here is none good; for how may

go forwards in their haughty proceedings: God, if it be his will, stay their rage. Three of them that they have imprisoned are dead already. What shall become of the rest

" Thomas Wilcocks.'

we look for good in these evil times ?

C 1- . 11. * I 1 i 1!

the Lord knoweth. We here persuade ourselves of nothing but great extremity. The Lord grant us patience and strength in his truth for ever. The godly here desire your earnest prayers to the Lord for them, and heartily salute you in the Lord, especially my brother Edmunds, the Lord's prisoner, unto whom you promised, at my being with you, to write some letter of comfort. Surely a letter from you to him would much encourage him in the ways of the Lord; and, therefore, I desire you at your convenient leisure to write somewhat as it shall please the Lord to move you.

" Dr. Whitgift's book is not yet come out, but we look for it daily. Our brother Cartwright is escaped, God be praised, and departed this land since my coming up to London, and, I hope, is by this time at Heidelberg. The Lord bless him, and direct him in all things by his Holy Spirit, that he may do that which may serve for the advancement of his glory, and the profit of his church. His earnest desire is, that you and all the godly should remember him in your earnest and hearty prayers; therefore, I the more boldly and willingly now make mention of him.

" The commissioners caused Beza's Confession, translated into English, to be burnt in Stationcrs'-hall, on Thursday the 28th of January Inst. The pretence was, that it was ill translated : but I suppose rather because it over plainly dissolvcth the popish hierarchy, which they yet maintain. From my house in Coleman-street, this 2d of February, 1574. Yours assured in the Lord,

" Thomas Wilcocks."

Many of the letters written by Mr. Wilcocks were answers to cases of conscience. He was highly celebrated for his knowledge of casuistical divinity. Multitudes who applied to him under spiritual distress, obtained, through the blessing of God, both peace and comfort. Most of his epistles were written particularly to promote family and personal religion among his numerous connexions. Our author observes, that he had seen a large folio volume of his letters in manuscript; and, from the long list now before me, it appears that many of them were addressed to persons of quality. Mr. Wilcocks was intimate with the celebrated Sir Peter Wentworth, who had the highest respect and esteem for him.*

* Sir Peter Wentwortb, member in several of Queen Elizabeth'tparliament!, nfai a man of great piety, strong resolution, excellent abilities, and always zealous for the privileges of parliaments and a further reformation VOL. II. O

Though our divine was a decided nonconformist, he was a person of great moderation. He acknowledged the church of England to be a true church, and her ministry to be a true ministry, but greatly encumbered with the superstitions and corruptions of popery. He also occasionally attended the public service of the church, and was a divine of great learning and piety; yet, for the single sin of nonconformity, he was often prosecuted in the ecclesiastical courts, and often suspended and deprived. In the year 1581, he was convened before his superiors and suspended from his ministry; and, in 1591, he was cast into prison. He died in the year 1608, and the fifty-ninth of his age.* Wood, not knowing that he was a puritan, gives a very high character of him, styling him a frequent writer and translator, a laborious preacher, a noted casuist, a grave divine, and a person greatly esteemed in his day.t

His Works.—1. An Exposition on the book of Canticles, or Solomon's Song, 1585.—2. An Exposition on part of Komans viii., 1587.—3. A short and sound Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon, 1589.—4. An Exposition on the whole book of Psalms, wherein is contained the division and sense of every Psalm, &c., 1591. (These four articles were collected and published, in 1624, under the care of Dr. John Burgess, who married the author's daughter. It was iu one volume folio, entitled, " The Works of the Reverend Divine, Mr. Tho. Wilcocks.")J—5. A Summary of short Meditations, touching certain Points of the Christian Religion, 1579.—6. A Concordance or Table, containing the principal Words and Matters which are comprehended in the New Testament, 1579.—7. An Answer to Banister the Libertine, 1581.—8. A Glass for Gamesters, or such as delight in Cards and Dice, wherein they may see not only the Vanity, but also the Vileness of those Plays, plainly discovered and overthrown by the Word of God, 1581.—9. A Form of Preparation for the Lord's Supper, 1581.—10. The Substance of the Lord's Supper shortly and soundly set forth, 1581.—11. A comfortable Letter for afflicted Consciences, written to a godly Man greatly touched that way, 1584.—12. Three large Letters for the Instruction and Comfort of such as arc distressed in Conscience, 1589.—13. The Narration of a fearful l'iro at Woburn in Bedfordshire, 1596.— He also published the following translations into English:—1. A Catechism, 1578, by Fountcin.—2. Three Propositions, 1580, by Calvin.—3. A Treatise of the Church, wherein the godly may discern the true Church from the Romish, 1582, by Bcrtrand do Loqucs.—4. A Discourse of the true visible Marks of the Catholic Church, 1588, by Bcza.—5. Two Sermons on the Sacrament of the

of the church. In the year 159?, for making a motion in the house of commons for eotailing the succession,'be was, by the queen's tyrannical order, committed to the Fleet, and three other members to the Tower, for the same offence.—MS. Chronology, vol. ii. p. 417. (SO.) 617. (2.)

• Ibid. p. 617. (4.) t Wood's Athene Oxon. vol. i. p. 261. J Ibid.

Lord's Sapper, 1688, by I?era.—6. Bertram the Priest concerning the Body and Blood or Christ, 1582.—7. Meditations on Psalm cL, 1699, by Phil. Morney Lord of Plessiu.