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John Cotton

John Cotton, B. D.—This celebrated person was boni at Derby, December 4, 1585, and educated first in Trinity, then Emanuel college, Cambridge, in the latter of which he Was chosen fellow. He received some convictions of sin under the awakening sermons of the famous Mr. Perkins; but his prejudice and enmity against true holiness, and against this holy man's preaching, were so great, thai when he heard the bell toll for Mr. Perkins's funeral, he greatly rejoiced that he was then delivered from his heart-searching ministry. The remembrance of this, when afterwards he became acquainted with the gospel, almost broke his heart. The ministry of the excellent Dr. Sibbs proved the means

* Marshall's Defence of Infant Baptism, p. 5, 6. Edit. 1046. -f Fuller's Hilt, of Cam. p. 92.

of his awakening, and of leading him to the knowledge of Jesus Christ; yet he laboured three years under the most disconsolate and painful apprehensions, before he experienced joy and peace in believing. After this important change, Mr. Cotton had to pre.ich at St. Mary's church, when the wits of the various coiieges expected a sermon flourishing with all the learning of the university; but, to their great disappointment and mortification, he preached a judicious and impressive discourse on repentance, shooting the arrows of conviction to their consciences. And though most of the collegians manifested their disapprobation, this sermon was instrumental, under God, in the conversion of the celebrated Dr. Preston, then lellow of Queen's college. From this time, the greatest intimacy and affection subsisted betwixt these two learned divines.

Mr. Cotton, upon his leaving the university, was chosen minister of Boston in Lincolnshire; but Bishop Barlow, suspecting him to be infected with puritanism, used his utmost endeavours to prevent his settlement. The learned prelate could openly object nothing, only " that Mr. Colton was young, and, on this account, not suitable to be fixed among so numerous and factious a people." Indeed, Mr. Cotton had so much modesty, and so low an opinion of himself, that he at first agreed with his lordship, and intended to have returned to Cambridge; but his numerous friends, anxious to have him settled among them, persuaded the bishop of his great learning and worth, who at length granted his institution.*

Mr. Cotton met with a more favourable reception than could have been expected. From the convictions and distress under which he laboured, all the people clearly saw, that, instead of serving any particular party, his great concern for some time was about his own salvation. But, afterwards, the troubles in the town, occasioned by the arminiaii controversy, became so great, that he was obliged to use his utmost endeavours to allay them. And he is said to have so defended the scripture doctrines of election, particular redemption, effectual calling, and the final perseverance of the saints, that, by the blessing of God upon his efforts, the foundations of arminianism were destroyed, those disputes ceased, and the arininian tenets were heard of no more.t

Mr. Cotton married Mrs. Elizabeth Horrocks, sister to Mr. James Horrocks, an excellent minister in Lancashire. On the very day of his marriage, it is observed, he first obtained that assurance of his interest in the favour of God, which he never lost to the day of his death. He therefore used to say, "The Lord made that day a day of double marriage."

• Mather's Hi»t. of New England, b. iii. p. 14—16.

+ Ibid. p. 17.—Clark's Livei annexed to bis Mariyrologic, p. 220.

This worthy servant of Christ having been about three years at Boston, began to examine the corruptions in the church, and to scruple conformity to its superstitious ceremonies. He did not keep his sentiments to himself. Whatever appeared (o him to be truth, he freely and fully made known to others. Such, indeed, was the influence of his opinions, that nearly all the inhabitants of the town, it is said, espoused his sentiments, and became decided nonconformists. But complaints were presently brought against him to the bishop, and he was suspended from his ministry. During his suspension, his liberty was offered to him, with very great preferment, if he would have conformed to the ecclesiastical ceremonies, though it were only in one act But he refused to pollute his conscience by the observance of such base, worldly allurements. He did not, however, continue long under the ecclesiastical censure, but was soon restored to his beloved work of preaching.*

The storm having blown over, he enjoyed rest for many years; and, during the calm, was always abounding in the work of the Lord. In addition to his constant preaching, and visiting his people from house to house, he took many young men under his tuition, from Cambridge, Holland, and Germany. Dr. Preston usually recommended his pupils to finish their studies under Mr. Cotton. His indefatigable labours, both as pastor and tutor, proved a blessing to many. There was so pleasing a reformation among the people of Boston, that superstition and profaneness were nearly extinguished, and practical religion abounded in every corner of the town. The mayor and most of the magistrates were styled puritans, and the ungodly party became insignificant.

Mr. Cotton, after a close and unbiassed examination of the controversy about ecclesiastical discipline, was decidedly of opinion, that it was unlawful for any church to enjoin rites and ceremonies not enjoined by Jesus Christ or his apostles; that a bishop, according to the New Testament, was appointed to rule no larger a diocese than one

• Mather's Hist. b. iii. p. 17.

congregation: and that (lie kejs of government were give* to every congregational church. The public worship of God at Boston was, therefore, conducted without the fetter* and formality of a liturgy, or those vestments and ceremonies which were imposed by the commandments of men. Many of his people united together as a christian church, and enjoyed the fellowship of the gospel, upon congregational principles, "entering into a covenant with God and one another, to follow the Lord Jesus in all the purity of gospel worship."*

Mr. Cotton was a celebrated divine, and obtained a most distinguished reputation. The best of men greatly loved kim, and the worst greatly feared him. For his great learning, piety, and usefulness, he was highly esteemed by Bishop Williams, who, when he was keeper of the great sail, recommended him to the king, and his majesty allowed him, notwithstanding his nonconformity, to continue in the exercise of his ministry.+ The celebrated Archbishop Usher had the highest opinion of him, and maintained a friendly correspondence with him. One of his letters, written by the learned prelate's request, dated May 31, 1626, is upon the subject of predestination.J He was also grcntly admired and esteemed by the Earl of Dorset, who kindly promised him, that, if lie should ever want a friend at court, he would use all his interest in his favour.^ But, in the midst of all this honour and applause, his meekness and humility remained untarnished.

Mr. Cotton, having preached at Boston nearly twenty years, found it impossible to continue any longer. He beheld the storm of persecution fast approaching, and wisely withdrew from it. A debauched fellow of Boston, to be revenged upon the magistrates, for punishing him according to his deserts, brought complaints against them, together with Mr. Cotton, in the high commission court; and swore,| "That neither the minister nor the magistrates of the town kneeled at the sacrament, nor observed certain ecclesiastical ceremonies." Bishop Laud having got the reins of government mto his own hand, by his arbitrary influence, letters missive were sent down to apprehend Mr. Cotton and bring '.inn b fore the enmmissiou; but he wisely concealed himself. Great intercessions were made for him by the Earl of Dorset and others, but all to no purjKwe. This worthy earl sent him word, " That if he had been "gmlty of drunkenness or uncleanness, or any sudi lesser "crime, he could have obtained his pnrdon: but as he was "guilty of nonconformity and puritauism, the crime was "unpardonable. Therefore," said he, " you must tiy for "your safety."* So it was undoubtedly from painful experience, that Mr. Cotton afterwards made the following complaint: "The ecclesiastical courts," said he, " are like the courts of the high-priests and pharisces, which Solomon, by a spirit of prophesy, styleth, dens of lions, and mountains of leopards. Those who have had to do with them have found them to be markets of the sins of the people, the cages of uncleanness, the forgers of extortion, the tabernacles of bribery, and contrary to the end of civil government; which is the punishment of evil-doers, and the praise of them that do well."

* Mather's History, b. iii. p. 18.

+ Fuller's Church History, h. it. p. 2S8.

% Parr's Life of Usher, p. SS8.

S Clark's Uvc»,js. 820, 881.

| When this vile-informer first appeared before the commission, he complained only of the magistrates; and when the spiritual rulers said he must include Mr. Cotton, be replied, " Nay, the minister is an honest man, and never did me any wrong.*' But when they signified that all his complaints would be to no purpose, unless he included the minister, be swore against them all.—ilathn't Hist, b, iff. p. 19.

As this holy and excellent divine had no prospect of ever enjoying his liberty in his native country, he resolved to transport himself to New England. Upon bis departure from Boston, he wrote a very modest and pious letter to the Bishop of Lincoln, dated May 7, 1633, signifying his resignation of the living.t Dr. Anthony Tuckney, afterwards silenced in 1092,t who had lor some time been hit assistant, became his successor in the pastoral office. Mr. Cotton's resolution to remove into a foreign laud was not hasty and without consideration: the undertaking was the result of mature examination, and founded upon most substantial reasons. He observed, that the door of public usefulness was shut against him in his own country; that our Lord commands his disciples, when they arc persecuted in one place to flee unto another; and that he wished to enjoy all the ordinances of God in their scriptural purity.*

* Mather's Hist. b. iii. p. If).—While this pinus, learned and useful divine was treated with great severity, persons guilty of drunkenness and other foul crimes, very common among the clergy of those times, were very seldom noticed. One instance, however, it may be proper here te mention. The mayor of Arundel, in thr year 1634, imprisoned a clergyman for notorious drunkenness and misbehaviour, though he continued only one night under confinement. Rut, surprising as it may appear, ibe mayor, for this act of justice, was fined and censured by the high commission at Lambeth.—Hunlleyi Prelates' Usurpation*, p. 164.

+ Massac husets' Papers, 249—2o 1.

{ Palmer's Nonaoo. Mem. vol. i. p. 264.

Taking leave of bis numerous friends at Boston, he travelled to London in disguise. Upon his arrival in the metropolis, several eminent ministers proposed to have a conference, with a view to persuade him to conform, to which he readily consented. At this conference, all their arguments in favour of conformity were first produced; all of which Mr. Cotton is siid to have answered to their satisfaction. He then gave them his arguments for nonconformity, with his reasons for resolving to leave the country, rather than conform to the ecclesiastical impositions, in the conclusion, instead of bringing Mr. Cotton to embrace their sentiments and conform, they all espoused his opinions; and from that time Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Thomas Goodwin, Mr. Philip Nye, Mr. John Davenport, Mr. Henry Whitfield, and some others, became avowed nonconformists, for which they were all afterwards driven into a foreign land.t Mr. Davenport, one of the opponents, giving his opinion of this conference, thus observes: " Mr. Cotton," says he, "answered all our arguments with great evidence of scripture, composediiess of mind, mildness of spirit, constant adherence to his principles; keeping them unshaken, and himself from varying from them, by any thing that was spoken. The reason of our desiring to confer with him, rather than any other, upon these weighty points, was, our former knowledge of his approved godliness, excellent learning, sound judgment, eminent gravity, and sweet temper, whereby he could quietly bear with those who differed from him." J

Mr. Cotton having fully resolved upon crossing the Atlantic, John Winthrop, esq. governor of the new plantation, procured letters of recommendation from the church at Boston to their brethren in New England, He took shipping the beginning of July, 1633, and arrived at Boston in New England the beginning of September following. He had for his companions in the voyage, the excellent Mr. Hooker and Mr. Stone, both driven from their native country by the intolerant proceedings of the bishops. After being about a month at sea, Mrs, Cotton was delivered of a son; who, from the place of bis birth, was

• Massachnsets' Papers, p. 55—67.
+ Mather's Hist. b. iii. p. 20—218.
t Norton's Lite of Mr. Cotton, p. 32, 33. Edit. 1658.

called Seaborn. Upon their arrival at Boston, the town, which had been hitherto called Trimountain, on account of its three hills, was, out of respect to Mr. Cotton, who went from Boston in Lincolnshire, now called Boston.*

This learned divine, presently after his arrival, was chosen colleague to Mr. John Wilson, in the church at Boston, which soon proved an unspeakable blessing to the town. It was in part owing to his wisdom and influence, that in a few years it became the capital of the whole province. Previous to Mr. Cotton's arrival, the civil and ecclesiastical constitutions were both in a very shattered state; but, by his vigorous and judicious efforts, the utmost order and agreement were promoted; and, it is said, he was more useful than any other person in the settlement of the civil as well as tho ecclesiastical polity of New England.* About the year 1642, when the episcopal power began to decline in England, several of the leading members in both houses of parliament wrote to him, warmly pressing him to return to his native country; but he, enjoying the blessings of peace and safety, was unwilling to venture out in the midst of the storm.t He therefore continued at Boston to the day of his death.

About this time, numerous antinomian and familistic errors began to be propagated in various parts of New England, particularly at Boston. This raised a dreadful tempest among the people. Mrs. Hutchinson, and Mr. Wheelwright, her brother, were at the head, and Mr. Cotton was deeply involved in the unhappy affair. Indeed, some of our historians do not hesitate to affirm, that he imbibed some of their wild opinions; but, upon farther examination, he saw his error, and renounced them.$ Others deny the whole charge, and endeavour to prove it altogether a slander intended to injure his reputation.|| All, however, agree, that at the synod of Cambridge, in 1646, he openly declared his utter dislike of all those opinions, as being some of them heretical, some blasphemous, some erroneous, and all incongruous. At the above synod, Mr. Cotton, Mr. Richard Mather, and Mr. Ralph Partridge, were each appointed to draw up a platform of church government, with a view to collect one out of them all at the next synod; which was done accordingly. Till this platform was adopted, the churches of New England made frequent use of Mr. Cotton's book, entitled, " The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven."*

• Morse and Parish's Hist, of New Eng. p. 40. t Ibid. p. 54.

t Mather's Hist. I>. iii. 90—23.

\ Bailies Dissuasive, p. 57—59.—Morse and Parish's Hist. p. 148. | Mather's Hist. b. iii. p 21.—Peircc's Vindication, part i. p. 207.

This celebrated divine, after his removal to New England, held a friendly correspondence with many persons of distinction in his native country, among whom was the Protector Cromwell. One of the protector's letters, written with his own hand, dated October g, 1652, is here inserted verbatim, for the satisfaction of every inquisitive reader. Theaddress is, " To my esteemed friend, Mr. Cotton, pastor to the church at Boston in New England;" and the letter itself is as follows:

"Worthy sir, and my christian friend,

"I received yours a few dayes since. It was welcome "to me because signed by you, whome I love and honour »' in the Lord: but more to see some of the same grounds of "our actinges stirringe in you, that have in us to quiet us «' to our worke, and support us therein, which hath had "greatest difficultye in our engagement in Scotland, by "reason wee have had to do with some whoe were (I "verily thinke,) godly; but, through weaknesse and the "subtiltyc of Satan, involved in interests against the Lord "and his people. With whnt tendernesse wee have pro"cecded with such, and that in synceritye, our papers «' (which I suppose you have seen) will in part manifest, "and 1 give you some comfortable assurance off. The "Lord hath marvellously appeared even against them ; and "now againe, when all the power was devolved into the "Scottish kinge and malignant partye, they invadinge "England, the Lord raynetlupon them such snares as the "inclosed will shew, only the narrative is short in this, that . "of their whole armie, when the narrative was framed, not "five of their whole armie returned. Surely, sir, the Lord "is greatly to be feared as to be praised. Wee need your "prayers in this as much as ever; how shall we behave u ourselves after such mercyes? What is the Lord a "doeinge? What prophesies are now fulfillinge? Who "is a dod like ours? To know his will, to doe his will, "are both of him.

"I tooke this libertye from businesse to salute thus in a u word : truly I am ready to serve you, and the rest of our "brethren, and the churches with you. I am a poor weake "creature, and not worthye of the name of a worme; yet "accepted to serve the Lord and his people. Indeed, my "dear friend, between you and me, you knowe not me; my "weaknesses, my inordinate passions, my unskillfuUncsse, "and every way unfitnesse to my worke; yett the Lord, "who will have mercye on whome he will, does as you "see. Pray tor me. Salute all christian friendes, though "unknown.

* Morse and Parish's Hist. p. 145,146.

"I rest your affectionate friend to serve you,

"O. Caomwell."* Mr. Cotton was a divine indefatigably laborious all his days. He lived under a conviction of that sacred precept, "Be not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." He rose early, and commonly studied twelve hours a day, accounting that a scholars day. He was resolved to wear out, rather than rust out. He was a man of great literary acquirements, and so well acquainted with the Hebrew, that he could converse in it with great ease. He was a most celebrated preacher, delivering the great truths of the gospel with so much gravity and judgment, that his hearers were struck with admiration and reverence; and with so much plainness, that persons of the weakest capacity might understand him. He was remarkable for practical religion and christian benevolence, and his whole life was filled with acts of piety and charity. He was a person of great modesty, humility, and good-nature; and though he was often insulted by angry men, he never expressed the least resentment. A conceited ignorant man once followed him home after sermon, and with frowns told him his preaching wes become dark or flat. To whom he meekly replied, " Both, brother; it may be both: let me have your prayers that it may be otherwise." At another time, Mr. Cotton being, insulted by an impudent fellow in the street, who called him an old tool, replied, "I confess I am so. The Lord make thee and mc wiser than we are, even wise unto salvation." We give one instance more. Mr. Cotton having, by the desire of a friend, given his thoughts upon the doctrine of reprobation, against the exceptions of the arminians, the manuscript fell into the hands of the celebrated Dr. Twisse, who published a refutation of it; upon which Mr. Cotton thus modestly observed, "I hope God will give me an opportunity to consider the doctor's labour of love. I bless the Lord, who has made me willing to be

• Sloane'i MSS. No. 4156.

taught by a meaner disciple than such a doctor: whose scholastical acuteness, pregnancy of wit, solidity of judgment, and dexterity of argument, all orthodox divines so highly honour; and before whom all arminiuns and Jesuits fall down in silence. God forbid that I should shut my eyes against any light brought to me by him. Only I desire not to be condemned as a pelagian or arminian before I am heard."«

Mr. Cotton often wished not to outlive his work. Herein his desire was granted; for his last illness was very short. Having taken leave of his beloved study, he said to Mrs. Cotton, "/ shall go into that room no more." He was desirous to depart, that he might enjoy Christ and the company of glorified saints, particularly his old friends, Preston, Ames, Hildersham, Dod, and others, who had been peculiarly dear to him while he lived. Having set his house in order, and taken a solemn leave of the magistrates and ministers of the colony, who came to see him in his sickness, he sweetly slept in Jesus, December 23, 1652, aged sixty-seven years. His remains were interred with great lamentation and funeral solemnity. He is denominated "an universal scholar, a living system of the liberal arts, and a walking library. He was deeply skilled in Latin, Greek, and i-lebrcw, and an extraordinary thcolo

!rian."t Fuller has honoured him with a place among the earned writers and fellows of Emanuel college, Cambridge. J Dr. Cotton Mather, the pious historian, was his grandson.

His Works.—1. The Way of Life, 1641.—2. Doubts of Predestination, 1646.—3. Exposition upon Ecclcsiastcs and Canticles, 1648. —-4. The Way of the Congregational Churches Cleared, 1648.—■ 6. Commentary on the First Epistle of John, 1666.—6. Milk for Babes.—7. A Treatise on the New Covenant.—8. Various Sermons. —9. Answer to Mr. Ball about Forms of Prayer.—10. The Grounds and Ends of Infant Baptism.—11. A Discourse upon Singing Psalms. — T2. An Abstract of the Laws in Christ's Kingdom, for Civil Government.—13. A Treatise on the Holiness of Church Members. —14. A Discourse on Things Indifferent—15. The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.—16. Answer to Mr. Cawdry.—17. The Bloody Tenet Washed and made White in the Blood of the Lamb.—18. A Copy of a Letter of Mr. Cotton's of Boston in New England, sent in Answer of certain Objections made against their Discipline and Orders there, directed to a Friend.

• Mathpr's Hist. b. iii. p. 86—29. + Ibid. p. SS.

% Fuller's Hist, of Cam. p. 147.