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Thomas Hooker

Thomas Hooker.—This excellent divine was born at Marfield in Leicestershire, in the year 1586, and educated in Emanuel college, Cambridge, of which he became fellow. He acquitted himself in this office with such ability and faithfulness as commanded universal admiration and applause. During his abode at Cambridge, he was brought under such deep convictions of sin, that his mind was overwhelmed with extreme horror. The anguish of his soul, under a sense of his sin and desert, was inconceivable. He was ready to exclaim, "While I suffer thy terrors, O Lord, I am distracted." Afterwards, speaking of these mental exercises, he said, " In the time of my distress, I could reason to the rule of duty, and see there was no other way of relief but by submission to God, and by lying at the feet of Jesus Christ, humbly waiting for his favour; but when I applied the rule to myself, and endeavoured to put it in practice, my reasoning failed me, and I was able to do nothing." Having laboured under the spirit of bondage for a considerable time, he received light and comfort, and his mind became powerfully and pleasantly attached to holy and heavenly contemplations. It now became a custom with him, when retiring to rest at night, to select some particular promise of scripture, upon which he meditated during his wakeful hours. In this he found so much improvement and comfort, that he recommended others to adopt the same practice.

• Paget'! Heresiog. Pref. t Lloyd's Meinsiret, p. 510.

Mr. Hooker having tasted that the Lord was gracious, resolved to employ his time and his talents in the work of the ministry, when he commenced preaching in London and its vicinity. He soon became celebrated for his ministerial endowments, particulai ly in comforting persons under spiritual distress. In ihe year 1026, having been disappointed of a desired settlement at Colchester, lie was chosen lecturer at Chelmsford, one Mr. Witcliel being the incumbent. Hia lectures were soon numerously attended, and a remarkable unction and blessing attended his preaching. A pleasing reformation also followed, not only in the town, but likewise in the adjacent country. By a multitude of public houses iu the town, and by keeping the shops open on the Lord's day, the people of Chelmsford had become notorious for intemperance and the profanation of the sabbath. But by the blessing of God, so plentifully poured out upon Mr. Hooker's ministry, these vices were banished from the place, and the sabbath was visibly sanctified to the Lord. His zealous and useful labours, however, were not continued very long. For in about four years his difficulties were so great, on account of his nonconformity, that he gave up his pulpit and commenced teaching school. He could not defile his conscience by the observance of the superstitious ceremonies: he had rather give up his pulpit and his public ministry, which he dearly loved, than sacrifice the " testimony of a good conscience."

Though the best and most delightful employment of this worthy servant of Christ was gone, his iiifiuence was not lost. This was wholly employed to promote the Redeemer's cause. He engaged the various ministers in the vicinity of Chelmsford, to establish a monthly meeting for fasting, prayer, and religious conference. By his influence, several pious young ministers were settled in the neighbourhood, and others became more established in the fundamental aoctrines of the gospel. Indeed, so great was his popularity, and so high his reputation, when silenced, diat no less than fortyseven conformist ministers of his acquaintance, presented a petition to the Bishop of London; in which they testified, "That they knew and esteemed Mr. Hooker to be orthodox in his doctrine, honest in his life and conversation, peaceable in his disposition, and in no wise turbulent or factious." But these powerful mediators could not prevail. Mr. Hooker being stigmatized as a puritan, must be buried in silence. He was bound, about the year 1630, in a bond of fifty pounds, to appear before the high commission; but this

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bond, by the advice of his friends, he forfeited, preferring it as a lesser evil to pay so great a sum, than fall into the hands of the rulmg prelates, whose tender mercy was cruelty.*

Mr. Hooker, to avoid the storm of persecution, fled to Holland. He had no sooner taken shipping, and the vessel got under sail, than the enraged pursuivants arrived on the shore, but happily too late to reach him. During the passage, the ship was m the utmost clanger of being lost; but this holy man, in this perilous situation, exercised an unshaken confidence in God, who sent a remarkable deliverance. In Holland, he preached about two years at Delft, as assistant to Mr. Forbes, an aged and excellent Scotch minister. He was next called to Rotterdam, where he was employed for some time as colleague to the celebrated Dr. William Ames. The greatest friendship and affection subsisted betwixt these two learned divines. The latter declared, that, notwithstanding his acquaintance with many scholars of different nations, he had never met with a man equal to Mr. Hooker, either as a preacher or a learned disputant. He assisted Dr. Ames in composing his celebrated work, entitled, "A Fresh Suit against Human Ceremonies in God's Worship." But Mr. Hooker not finding Holland agreeable to his wishes, and a number of his friends in England inviting him at this time to accompany them to America, he returned to his native country to prepare for the voyage. He was no sooner come to England, than the bishop's pursuivants were again employed to apprehend him. At one time they were upon the very point of taking him, and even knocked at the door of the chamber in which he and Mr. Samuel Stone were employed in friendly conversation. Mr. Stone went to the door; when the officers demanded whether Mr. Hooker was there. "What Hooker?" replied Mr. Stone. "Do you mean Hooker who once lived at Chelmsford r" The officers answered, " Yes, that is he." "If it be he whom you look for," observed Mr. Stone, " I saw him about an hour ago at such a house in the town: you had best hasten there afier him." The officers taking this evasion for a sufficient account, went their way, while Mr. Hooker concealed himself more securely, till he went on board in the Downs. He sailed for New England in the year 1633, when Mr. Srone and Mr. Cotton, both celebrated puritans, accompanied him in the same ship. Mr. Hooker arriving at Newtown,

• Mather'i Hist, of New Eng. b. iii. p. 58—61.

afterwards called Cambridge; and being most affectionately received by his old friends, who had gone over the preceding year, he said, " Now 1 live, if ye stand fast in the Lord."

Great numbers soon after following these adventurers from England, Newtown became too narrow for them: accordingly, in 1636, Mr. Hooker, with many of his friends, removed to a fertile spot on the delightful banks of the river Connecticut, which they called Hartford. There he lived all the rest of his days, and was deservedly esteemed " as the father, the pillar, and the oracle of the new colony." As a preacher, he was remarkably animated and impressive; not only his voice, but every feature in his countenance, spoke the ardour of his soul. All was life and reality in his descriptions. His preaching was not that theatrical affectation which is exhibited by men who paint for admiration, but that zeal which is kindled by a coal from God's altar. His moving addresses flowed from his own exquisite relish of divine things, and an impassioned desire of promoting them in the hearts of others. His success, like his services, was very eminent. A profane man, for the purpose of diversion, once said to his companions, " Come, let us go and hear what bawling Hooker will say to us." For the sake of sport, they all went to Chelmsford lecture. Conviction presently seized the nriud of this person. The word of God became quick and powerful, and he retired with an awakened conscience. Also, by the subsequent instructions of Mr. Hooker, he became an humble follower of Christ; and afterwards followed this worthy minister to New England, that he might enjoy the benefit of his preaching as long as he lived. At another time, one of his enemies hired a fiddler to play in the church-yard and the church-porch, with a view to disturb him in his sermon; but the design had not the least effect upon Mr. Hooker's mind: he went on with his sermon in his unabated zeal and vivacity. When the man went to the door to hear what he said, his attention was instantly caught; conviction immediately seized his conscience; and at the conclusion of the service, he made his humble confession to Mr. Hooker, and ever after lived a religious life. By the application of his doctrine, he had a surprising talent for reaching and awakening the consciences of his hearers.

This learned divine was remarkable for humility and a holy dependence upon God. This will appear from the following circumstance. Some time after his settlement at Hartford, having to preach among his old friends at Newtown, on a Lord's day in the afternoon, his great fame had collected together a vast concourse of people. When he came to preach, he found himself so entirely at a loss what to say, that, after a few shattered attempts to proceed, he was obliged to stop, and say, that what he had prepared was altogether taken from him. He therefore requested the congregation to sing a psalm while he retired. Upon his return, as our author observes, he preached a most admirable sermon, holding the people two hours, in a most extraordinary strain both for pertinence and vivacity. After the public service was closed, some of his friends speaking to him of the Lord's withholdmg his assistance, he meekly replied, "We daily confess that we have nothing, and can do nothing, without Christ; and what if Christ will make this manifest before our congregations? Must we not be humbly contented }"•

Mr. Hooker wished to be abased, and the lx,rd alone to be exalted. He dreaded outward ease and prosperity, as that which was most likely to bring the Lord's people into spiritual adversity. When at the land's end, taking his final leave of England, he said," Farewell, England; I expect now no more to see that religious zeal, and power of godliness, which -I have seen among professors in that land. Adversity has slain its thousands, but prosperity its ten thousands. I fear that those who have been zealous christians in the fire of persecution, will become cold in the lap of peace."

•He was highly celebrated as a man of prayer. He used to say, " Prayer is the principal work of a minister; and it is by this he must carry on the rest." Accordingly, he devoted one day in every month to private prayer and fasting, besides the observance of many such days publicly with his people. It was his settled opinion, that if professors neglect these duties, " iniquity will abound, and the love of many wax cold." His prayers in public were fervent, but not long, and singularly adapted to the occasion. As he proceeded his ardour usually increased; and, as the last step in Jacob's ladder was nearest heaven, the close of his prayer was mostly a rapture of devotion; and " his people," it is said, " were often surprised with the remarkable answers to his prayers."

Though Mr. Hooker's natural disposition was irascible, he acquired a wonderful command of his temper. He was always ready to sacrifice his own apprehensions to the better reasons of others. The meanest of his brethren, and even children, were treated by him with endearing condescension.

• Mather'i Hist, of New Eng. b. til. p. 62, 63.

One instance it may not be improper to mention. A neighbour of his having sustained some damage; when Mr. Hooker meeting a boy notorious for such mischief, warmly accused and censured him. The boy denied the charge, but he continued his angry lecture. "Sir," said the boy, " I see you are in a passion; I'll say no more to you;" and then ran off. Mr. Hooker finding, upon inquiry, that the boy could not be proved guilty, sent for him, and humbly confessed his fault, which, with the good council he gave him, made a deep and lasting impression on the mind ot the boy.

Notwithstanding Mr. Hooker's great condescension, he did not in the least degrade or depreciate his holy function. When he mounted the pulpit, he appeared with so much majesty and independence, that it was pleasantly said of him, He would put a king in his pocket. Judges, princes, and peasants equally shared in his pointed reproofs and solemn admonitions. He possessed an excellent talent for solving cases of conscience, and set apart one day in the week for any of his people to come to him and propose their scruples and difficulties. Though his own preaching was generally very practical and experimental, he recommended young ministers, when first settled, as well for their own benefit as that of their people, to preach the whole system of divine truth. He had a happy method in the government of the church. He would propound nothing to the church assembly till it had been previously considered by several of the principal brethren; and if at any time he saw an altercation beginning to rise in the church, he would put off the vote till another opportunity; previous to which, he would visit, and generally gain over, those who objected to what appeared the most proper to be adopted. He used to say, " The elders must have a church within a church, if they would preserve the peace of the church."

This holy and heavenly divine desired not to outlive his work. His last sickness was short, and he said little. When his opinion was asked concerning certain important points, he replied, " I have not that work now to perform. .1 have declared the council of God." One of his brethren observing to him, that he was going to receive his reward, "Brother," said he, " I am going to receive mercy." Afterwards, he closed his eyes with his own hands, and, with a smile on his countenance, he expired, July 7, 1647, aged sixty-one years.* He was justly styled " the grave, the godly,

* Morse and Parish's Hist, of New Eug. p. 76—78.

the judicious, the faithful, and the laborious Hooker." That peace which he enjoyed in his own mind, through believing m Christ, for the space of thirty years, continued firm and unshaken to the last.* Mr. Henry Whitfield gives the following testimony of his worth: "I did not think," says he, "there had been such a man on the earth, in whom there shone so many incomparable excellencies; and in whom learning and wisdom were so admirably tempered with zeal, holiness, and watchfulness." And for his great abilities and glorious services in both Englands, says Mr. Ashe, he deserves a place in the first rank of those worthies whose lives are preserved.t Fuller has honoured him with a place among the learned writers and fellows of Emanuel college, Cambridge.;

His Works.—1. The Soul's Implantation into Christ, 1637.— 2.The Unbeliever's Preparing for Christ, 1638.—3. The Soul's effectual Calling to Christ, 1638.—4. Tin- Soul's Humiliation, 1640.—5. A Survey of the Summe of Church-Discipline, 1648.—6. The Doubting Christian drawn to Christ, 1662.—7. The Application of Redemption by the Word, 1656.—8. The Spiritual Rule of the Lord's Kingdom.— 8. Farewell Sermon on Jer. xiv. 9. published in Mr. Fenner's Works. —And probably some others.'