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John Wilson

John Wilson, A. M.—This excellent divine was born at Windsor, in the year 1588, and educated first at Eton school, then in King's college, Cambridge, where he was chosen fellow. While at Eton, he twice narrowly escaped being drowned. He was a youth of considerable talents, application, and improvement; and when the Duke of Biron, ambassador from the court of France, visited the school, he was appointed to deliver a Latin oration in his presence, of which this honourable person manifested his high approbation by making him a very handsome present. During his abode at Cambridge he became seriously concerned about his soul. This soon awakened in his breast the warmest desires for the welfare of others, especially the malefactors in prison, whom he assiduously visited and instructed. He remained for some time exceedingly bigoted to the established church, and decidedly averse to the puritans, as if they held many strange and erroneous opinions. He utterly declined their acquaintance; yet, on account of his precise deportment, he was denominated one of them. Afterwards, by reading some of their works, he saw cause for altering his opinion, and for thinking more favourably of them, when he formed an intimate acquaintance with Mr. Richard Rogers, Mr. Greenham, Mr. Dod, and others. He now saw, as our author observes, that they who were stigmatized by the name of puritans were the most suitable companions for one seriously concerned about his own salvation. He, therefore, embarked with them, though accounted the offscouring of all things, and united with several of his brethren in the university in keeping private meetings for prayer, fasting, and religious conversation.^

Hitherto he remained a conformist, but determined to examine the subject for himself. To this end he procured all the books in bis power, both for and against conformity, and entered upon.) minute and impartial examination of the arguments on boih sides; the result of which was, that he cordially espoused the principles of the nonconformists. Mr. Wilson having, upon conviction, imbibed these sentiments, acted upon them, and omitted eertiin human impositions in the worship of (Jod; for which the Bishop of Lincoln pronounced his expulsion from the university within fifteen days, if he did not conform. His father, Dr. William Wilson, r. ctor of Cliff, and prebendary of St. Paul's, liochesler, and Windsor, used all the means in his power to bring him back to conformity, and interceded with tbe bishop to have a longer time allowed him. He sent his sou to several learned doctors, with a view to have his scruples and objections removed; but this, instead of reclaiming him, only served to confirm him the more in his principles. His lather then diverted his attention from the ministry, and directed him to the study of the law. He accordingly weut to London, and spent about three years at one oi the inns of court. All his father's efforts, nevertheless, proved ineffectual. He was still bent upon the ministry, and lie could be satisfied with no other employment. Therefore, with the consent of his father, he returned to Cambridge, and, by the favour of the Earl of Northampton, obtained admission into Emanuel college without subscription. afterwards called Boston. This they found a more healthy and agreeable situation.*

* Edwards's Gaograna, part i. p. 196. Second edit.

+ Bailie's Aoabaptism, p. 95. % See Art. Tbomas Lamb.

S Matter's Hist, of New Eng. b. iii. p. 41,42.

Mr. Wilson, having finished his studies at the university, became chaplain in several respectable families; and after preaching about three years at Bumsted, Stoke, Clare, and Cavendish, in Suffolk, lie was chosen to succeed old Mr. Jenkin, minister at Sudbury in that county. Here he preached with great acceptance and applaus- for several years; but was at length suspended by the Bishop of London; and after being restored, he was again silenced by the Bishop of Norwich. Afterwards, by the favour and mediation of the Earl of Warwick, he ag lin obtained his ministerial exercise. But, as lie found himself constantly exposed to fresh troubles, he resolved to withdraw from the scenes of persecution, and retire into a foreign land. Previous to his departure, visiting his father on his deathbed, the old gentleman thus addressed him:—" I have taken much care of thee," said he, " while thou wast at the university, l«cause thou wouldst not conform. I fain would have brought thee to some higher preferment; but Isee thy conscience is very scrupulous about somethings imposed in the church. Nevertheless, I have rejoiced to sec the grace

and fear of God in thy heart; and seeing thou hast hitherto maintained a good conscience, and walked according to thy light, do so still. Go by the rule of God's holy word, and the Lord bless thee."* Previous to his departure from his native country, he married the pious daughter of Lady Mansfield.

In the year 1630, Mr. Wilson, together with a number of his friends, embarked for New England, where they arrived in the month of July. As the great object of these christian pilgrims, in leaving their native country and settling in* this wilderness, was " to enjoy the ordinances of the gospel, and worship the Lord Jesus Christ according to his own institutions;" so they were no sooner arrived than Mr. Wilson, Governor Winthrop, and some others, entered into a formal and solemn covenant with each other, to walk together in the fellowship of the gospel. This covenant was as follows:—" In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, "and in obedience to his holy will and divine ordinance, "we whose names are here underwritten, being, by his most "wise and good providence, brought together to this part of "America, in the Bay of Massachusets, and desirous to "unite ourselves in one congregation or church, under the "Lord Jesus Christ our head, in such sort as becometh all "those whom he hath redeemed and sanctified to himself, "do hereby solemnly and religiously (as in his most holy "presence) promise and bind ourselves to walk in all our "ways according to the rule of the gospel, and in all "sincere conformity*to his holy ordinances, and in mutual "love and respect to each other, so near as God shall give "us grace.

"John Winthrop, Isaac Johnson, .

Thomas Dudley, John Wilson, &c."t

A foundation was thus laid of the church at Charlestown, in the Massachusets colony. This was in July, immediately on their arrival; and in the month of August the court of government ordered, that a dwelling-house should be built for Mr. Wilson at the public expense, and the governor and Sir Richard Saltonstall were appointed to put the same into effect. By the same authority it was also ordered, that Mr. Wilson's salary, till the arrival of his wife, should be twenty pounds a year. However, before the following winter, he, with the greater part of the church, removed from Charlestown #nd settled at Trimountain,

• Mather's Hist, of New Eng. p. 42—44. t Backus'* Hist, of Baptists, vol. i. p. 46.

Some time after Mr. Wilson's settlement at Boston, be came over to England, when his wife, with many others, returned with him to the new plantation. >le afterwards came to England a second time, and, upon his return, four ministers and n< a rly two hundred passengers accompanied him. He continued pastor of the church at Boston to the day of his death, and was greatly admired and beloved. The celebrated Dr. Ames used to say, " If I might have my choice of the best situation on this side heaven, I would be teacher to a congregational church of which Mr. Wilson was pastor." This happiness enjoyed Mr. Cotton, and after him Mr. Norton, in the church of Boston. He was a most exact and judicious preacher, especially in his younger years, and wns greatly admired by Dr. "Goodwin, Mr. Burroughs, and other celebrated divines, during the latter part of his life he took greater liberties ; when his sermon's chiefly consisted of exhortations, admonitions, and counsels, delivered with much warmth and affection.

He was a man of great piety, and uncommon charity and liberality, employing all his estate to supply tho wants of the necessitous. Being of a sweet natural disposition^ he was universally beloved, and accounted the very father of the new plantation. All the inhabitants of the town being once upon a general muster called together, a genileman present thus observed to Mr. Wilson:<" Sir," said he, " here is a mighty body of people, and there are not seven of them all who do not love Mr. Wilson." To which he replied, "Sir, I will tell you something as strange: There is hot one among them all but Mr. Wilson loves."

Mr. Wilson was a man of a meek and quiet spirit, and • always discovered a becoming resignation to the will of fcJodi When at any time he sustained any outward IdssCs, he quietly submitted lrimself to his heavenly Father's will. Having been once on a journey, a person of his acquaintance met him on the road and told him, saying, "Si^'I have bad news for you. While you have been abroad, your house is burnt down." To which he meeklyreplied, "Blessed be God: he has burnt down Ibis house, because he intends to give me another." He vigorously opposed the antinomian and familistic errors in the synod of 1637, but too much favoured the prosecutions of the quakcrs and

baptists, by encouraging the magistrates to put the penal laws in execution against them. Indeed, this was the common error of those times.*

Mr. Wilson, during his last sickness, was visited by all the neighbouring ministers, who took their final farewell wi(h many tears. The eiders of his own church also came to see him, when the venerable old man, after offering up a short prayer, lifted up both his hands, and blessed them, saying, " I am not likely to be long with you. The Lord pardon and heal us, and make us more heavenly, and take us off from the world, and make us burning lights by our doctrine and example. I beseech the Lord, with all my heart, to bless you, and to bless all his churches, to bless all his

People, all your families, all your wives, and all your children, and your children's children, and make us all more and more meet for our inheritance, and in good time bring us to enjoy it." As the hour of his departure approached, he Idled up his hands towards heaven and said, " I shall now soon be with my old friends, Dr. Preston, Dr. Gouge, Dr. Sibbs, Dr. Taylor, Dr. Ames, Mr. Cotton, Mr. Norton, and my children and grandchildren in the kingdom of my God." And after offering a short and affectionate prayer, he died, August 7, 1667, in the seventy-ninth year of his age, having been pastor of the church at Boston thirty-seven years.+ During all the changes through which he lived, " he continued unmoved in his principles, full of faith and prayer, eminent for sincerity and humility, and highly distinguished for love and acts of kindness. He was eminently charitable in his deportment, orthodox in judgment, and holy in conversation ; and few ever left the world so universally reverenced, beloved, and lamented."*

Abraham Chearewas born at Plymouth; and being favoured with religious parents, he enjoyed a pious and useful education. He knew the scriptures from a child, and found constant delight in searching them. Having espoused the peculiar sentiments of the baptists, he was baptized by immersion, and, about the year 1648, admitted a member of the baptist church at Plymouth. He was soon after called by the church to the office of pastor. He possessed eminent gifts and graces, and preached the gospel with great success. The Lord having owned and blessed his labours, the church, by its united efforts, purchased

• Matter's Hist. b. iii. p. 44—16. + Ibid. p. 4^-49

J Morton's Memorial, p. 183.

certain premises within the borough of Plymouth, near Frankford-gate, about the year 1651, and after making suitable alterations for their own convenience, they used the same for a place of public worship. Here they continued to assemble in peace and comfort till the fatal year 1662; when Mr. Chearc was apprehended, and cast into prison, for holding an unlawful conventicle. The church now became as sheep without a shepherd, surrounded with cruel and hungry wolves. The worth}' pastor endured five years' confinement in six different prisons, and was at last banished, for a testimony of his love to Christ, to the island of St. Nicholas, near Plymouth; where he died a most happy death, March 5, 1668. The church, at the time of his death, consisted of one hundred and fifty members.*

Crosby, by mistake, says he was ejected from Plymouth, and was afterwards minister to a numerous congregation at Looe in Cornwall. He was a very pious, laborious, and useful preacher; he took great pains in his ministry, and wrote many seasonable lessons to youth while he was in bonds for Christ. In the year 1665 he was imprisoned in the Guildhall, Plymouth; from whence, after a month's detention, he was sent to the above island. Previous to this removal he affixed the following lines to the wall of the prison:+

Nigh four years since, sent oat from hence

To I'.xon goal was I;
But special grace, in three months' space,

Wrought out my liberty.
Till Bartholomew, in sixty-two,

That freedom did remain:
When, without bail, to Exon goal

1 hurried was again.
Where having lain, as do all the slain,

'Along dead men, wholly free;
Full three years' space, my native place

By leave I come to see.
And thought not then, I here again

A month's restraint should find:
Since to my den, cast out from men,

I'm during life design'd.
But since my lines, the Lord assigns

In such a lot to be;
I kiss the rod, confess my God

Deals faithfully with me.
My charged crime, in his due time

He fully will decide;
And until then, forgiving men,

In peace with him I 'bide.

* Meen'i MS. Collee. p. 494,485. + Croiby'i Baptists, vol. iii. p. 12.

This excellent person, after suffering the most cruel usage, and enduring numerous inhumanities from merciless jailers, for more than three years, was continued a prisoner under military guard upon the foregoing island. On the 1-ord's day preceding his death, he addressed a christian lady, then all the family, in the following manner:

"Ah! sister," said he, " the Lord gave you a heart to own and profess him, his name, and ways early, when they were ways evert/ where spoken against; and you have held up, and Qut, the profession thereof in a flourishing day, and now are concerned in, and with the same, in this hour of temptation, at which I beseech you be not affrighted or offended. You know how it fared with our Lord and Master, whom the religious, as well as the profane world, persecuted and expelled their coasts. The servant is not above his master. It is true, you have had the name of agentlcwoman, and of being descended of great parentage, and raised to great things on a worldly account: but keep these all under foot as you ought, and let that still be the song, Worthy is the Lamb to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honour and glory, and blessing. Oh! give up all to him, as Araunah of old, as a king to a king, so let the offering be given up cheerfully, and resignedly, entirelj to him.

"I bless God, I have learned something of this in conversing with you, of your readiness and freeness heretofore and now to lay out for the Lord. Though I now go the way of all flesh; yet you know in all your hearts, and in all your souls, that we have rione of us cause to be sorry or repent for what we have laid out for the Lord. And you, for your part, have heretofore entertained saints, yea, it may be angels, unawares. The Lord reward you for it; and the God, under whose wings you trust, be your great reward. But, oh! take heed your good be not evil spoken of; and that your table become not a trap, nor what was

Provided for good, turn to your hurt. I desire the Lord csus may teach you to look carefully about you, that you lose not the things you have wrought, but receive a full reward. I remember it is said of Abel, that though dead, he yet speaketh; and have thought that word, in a bad sense, looked at me and many others, who, while living, have been but dead speakers: but I am now hastening to another kind of death, where, after worms have consumed this flesh and bones, I may be brought forth as a living, speaking witness in those words of mine, against such as slight the instruction of them."

He then gave thanks to God for the hope he possessed of eternal life through Jesus Christ, and warned his friends to improve (he present dispensation, and the religious opportunities now afforded. He spoke, with the deepest concern, of the national guilt in persecuting God's faithful, servants; and, with the strongest assurance and joy of the delight which God takes in his suffering saints, and,, the ample recompence with which he will crown their present sorrows. Fie then addressed his friends as follows:

"I charge you," said he, "in the name of the Lord Jesus, and as you will ever answer it at the great day, that you make religion your business, and that yon make not godliness a slight thing, nor walking with God a small matter, as. ever you hope to stand with boldness before ,God in judgment. God, indeed, hath taken strength from these arms of mine. I speak it not as if I murmured at it, or by way of discouragement, as if he could not, if it pleased him, raise dead bones, and of stones make children to Abraham."* .

This pious servant of God, having thus addressed those about him, desired them (o lift up his arms, when he solemnly charged them, that they would, by lifting and holding up his hands, bear witness to it as his dying charge to them all. He pressed them to make it their great business the remainder of their days, to live to the praise and glory of the Lord Jesus, and in true obedience to his "will. During nearly the whole of his illness, he continued glorifying God, and exhorted all who visited him to steadfastness and perseverance, notwithstanding the perils of the times. About three hours previous to his dissolution, a friend perceiving him under great pressures, said to him, "They looked unto the Lord, and were lightened: a right look will bring down relief under all difficulties." "Yea," replied he, with great earnestness, " and their faces were not ashamed;" after which he spoke no more, but fell asleep in the Lord.

Mr. Cheare, during his imprisonment, wrote many excellent letters lo his friends, in which he warmly and affectionately exhorted them to holy constancy and steadfastness. One of these epistles was occasioned by certain

• Crosby's Baptists, vol. iii. p. 13—!•i - • --'

provisions sent to him and Iris fellow-prisoners; and is dated the 22nd of the 9th month, 1667, and addressed, "Unto our brethren and friends, in the bonds and bowels of the gospel, whose hands have made them willing, under the bounteous influences of the God of Israel, to comfort the hearts of the unworthy prisoners of the Lord in Plymouth Island "by a costly present; and to every one who hath contributed or helped therein to a tender groan, or the value of a cup of cold water, be a large recompence of reward given in grace, and ascertained in glory, by him who is not unfaithful to forget such labour of love shewed to his name." This letter, containing many pious and generous sentiments, is still preserved.*

This holy man wrote, several religious tracts, some of which were published after his death, entitled, "Words in Season;" to which was annexed the following account of the author:—"If any inquire," says. the writer, "what might occasion so much severity as to detain the author a prisoner so many years;, and till death? It may suffice to insert here, that he left the state of his case, under his hand, setting forth the illegality, and unrighteousness of the pi oceediugs against him. lie never, in the former wars, was enlisted in any troop or company under pay; and in the trained-bands of the town where' he served, never was accounted worthy of promotion; nor in the corporation, whereof he was a member, ever advanced so high as a constable; and never bettered his estate one farthing by all the propitious advantages that might have given him opportunity of so. doing; tior was lie conscious to himself of the least desire of adding to what he possessed, by any present or future advantages, to which any favourable overtures of the times might tempt him. He never improved his own interest in any place or office of trust or profit, civjj, military* or ecclesiastical; save only fp? a few weeks, unknown to him, and against his will, he was made a chaplain to the fort, but quickly got himself discharged from it. ■ Never was he concerned in, or truly charged with any plot, .mutiny, or tumult, giving the least disturbance, occasion of .tear, or jealousy. This then was the only thing that could give colour to such proceedings; that he, being convinced of his duty to his Lord, by die light of scripture, joined liimself in a holy covenant, to walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless, to the best of his light and power, in fellowship with a poor and despised people."*

• Ccoiby'i BaptiiU, Toi. iii. p. 17—24. + Ibid, p. 84—8ft.