Thomas Wilson, A.M.—This excellent minister was born at Catterly in Cumberland, in the year 1601, and educated in Christ's college, Cambridge; where he was greatly admired for his indefatigable industry, and great progress in useful learning. Upon h'is leaving the university, he taught school for some time at Chart wood in Surrey; then entered into the ministry at Capel, in the same county. Here, by his judicious preaching and holy example,,he directed the' people in the way to eternal life. Though he received little or nothing for his pains, he was not the less faithful and laborious in promoting the welfare of souls, lie sought not theirs, but them, and was greatly beloved by his people. Afterwards, he removed to Farlington, near Portsmouth, where he laboured among very ignorant and heathenish people. He did not continue long at this place, but removed to Teddington, near Kingston-upon-Thames. In this situation he continued several years, and was made a blessing to many souls. He next accepted a presentation to the benefice of Otham, near Maidstone, in Kent. At this place he was the means of awakening many careless sinners, and of building them up in faith and holiness. Multitudes flocked to hear him from Maidstone and its vicinity; and the church was soon found too small to contain them. His great popularity and usefulness presently awakened the envy of profane sinners, and several neighbouring ministers; but he went on undismayed, the Lord blessing his labours.
Notwithstanding his labours and usefulness, he was at length silenced for refusing to read the Book of Sports. In the month of April, 1634, he was inhibited by Archbishop Laud's vicar-general, from part of his public ministerial exercises. But, upon the publication of the Book of Sports, he refused to read it, when the archbishop sent for him to Lambeth; and, April 29, 1635, no less than fourteen charges were exhibited against him, to each of which he gave his answer, May 28th following. The substance of these articles, together with Mr. Wilson's answers, was as follows:
1. That canonical obedience is due by your oath, taken at your institution.
Answer. It is true, as I understand the oath, it is according to the canons of the church of England.
2. That a minister must have a popular election, as necessary to hold his place.
Ans. I never held such an opinion, nor ever spoke it, privately or publicly.
3. That there is little comfort for a minister instituted and inducted, without the approbation of the people.
Ans. I know and believe the contrary.
4. You have held conventicles in your house, and in other houses in the town of Otham, within this two years, and used exercises of religion by law prohibited.
Ans. I deny that I have holden conventicles, and used exercises of religion by law prohibited.
5. Within this four years you have collected in private houses, or caused to be collected, forty or fifty persons, and to them repeated sermons, expounded scripture, made tedious extemporary prayers, full of tautologies, and delivered dangerous doctrine, to the perverting and corrupting of his majesty's subjects.
Ans. I protest against such doctrine, and any such effect. I also deny that I collected, or caused to be collected, any such persons.
6. You refused to read the King's Declaration for Sports on Sundays, and spoke disdainfully to the apparitor and officer of the court.
Ans. I said to the apparitor, " Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy;" and 1 said no more. 1 refused to read the book, not out of contempt of any authority, being commanded by no law. The king's majesty doth not in the book command or appoint the minister to read it, nor it to be read, but published. And seeing there is no penalty threatened, nor authority given to any one to question those who refuse to read it, my refusal to read it was upon sufficient grounds of law and conscience; which, for the satisfaction of this high court, and to clear myself from contempt, I shall briefly express myself thus: His majesty's express pleasure is, that the laws of the realm, and the canons of die church, be observed in all places of the kingdom; and therefore at Otham in Kent: but this book, as I conceive, is contrary to both.— It is contrary to the statute laws.—It is contrary to the ecclesiastical laws.—It is contrary to the scriptures.—It is contrary to the councils.—It is contrary to divines, ancieut and modern.—It is contrary to reason.*
7. In 1633, when the commission was granted for repairing' St. Paul's, you said, to build sumptuous temples is to justify antichrist.
Ans. I deny this altogether.
8. In 1634, you bade the people, in scorn and derision, to take heed of dealing with high priest's servants.
Ans. I deny both the time and the words.
9. At Boxley, June 29, 1632, you said, No man can have a broken heart, who hath two steeples; meaning two benefices, alleging Acts xx. 20.
Ans. I never spake such words. But at the funeral of a grave and learned minister, I entreated the ministers present to prepare to give an account of their lives and livings, shewing the vanity of those who plead for pluralities, saying, " That if a man's heart were broken, it would not be with the weight of three churches;" and herein I followed no new opinion, but the general opinion of learned divines, both ancient and modern.
10. You have scandalized the governors and government of the church of England, as persecutors of God's faithful ministers and people.
Ans. This is not true, in the whole or in any part.
11. In April, 1633, you delivered a dangerous doctrine, even that if a subject suffer the penalty of the law from the civil magistrate, he is free from sin.
Ans. I deny the time, and words, and doctrine. I never ■ taught, nor read, nor heard of this doctrine, till I heard this article; and I abhor it, and disclaim it as dangerous.
12. April 22, 1634, you lectured and expounded, after inhibition by the vicar-general.
Ans. This is not true. I did not preach, excepting on Lord's days and holidays; neither did I expound. Yet I had a license to expound, and was not forbidden expounding. I constantly instruct, by question and answer, in the cathechism, such as come to prayers, for which I had my institution and license, and from which I never received any prohibition; nor, so far as I understand, is it any sin against God or man.
* Mr. Wilson enlarges upon each of these topic* with great judgment, but the whole is too long for insertion.
13. You are accounted an enemy to the church of England, and draw others into schism after you..
Ans. I deny the whole of this, and every part.
14. You are to promise, by your word and honour, to speak the truth.
Ans. I believe what I have confessed, and deny what I have denied in every part.*
From the above articles, together with Mr. Wilson's replies, it is manifest that Laud had laid the snare to catch him, chiefly for refusing to read the Book of Sports. In this his lordship succeeded according to his wishes: for Mr. Wilson's answers, in which he declared his refusal to read the book, were no sooner given, than the archbishop replied, J suspend you for ever from your office and benefice till you read it; and he continued suspended for the space of four years.t About the same time he was committed to Maidstone jail for nonconformity, but how long he remained in confinement it does not appear.* At the expiration of the above period, he was brought into the high commission court by means of the archbishop; and, to his great cost and trouble, was again prosecuted for the same crime. Indeed, the archbishop, in answer to this, said, that Mr. Wilson was not censured for not reading the book; but, according to his own confession, for dilapidations, in not repairing his house.$ With what kind of evidence this is asserted, the candid and intelligent reader will easily perceive. .
Mr. Wilson, remaining under suspension, and being dissatisfied with the ministry of his successor, removed to Maidstone, where he gave private instructions among his friends. His adversaries, at the same time, traduced his character, and slandered him as a favourer of schism. Therefore, to wipe off the reproach, he addressed a letter to the parishioners of Oiham, exhorting them "to fear God and honour the king, and walk in love one towards another." For the information and satisfaction of all, this letter was read to the public congregation on the Lord's day. The news of this, however, soon reached London, when Mr. Wilson and Dr. Tuck, who had read the letter, were cited to appear before the high commission. Mr. Wilson was charged in the court with having sent a scandalous and offensive letter to Otham, to nourish schism, and to confirm the people in the dislike of government; upon which he acknowledged his writing a letter, but denied its evil tendency, saying, " 1 know that it was to exhort the people to fear God and the king, and to meddle not with those that are given to change; to walk in faith and love, and to call upon God: but 1 utterly deny all occasion of derogating from the church of England, or confirmation of any in a dislike of the government, and protest against all aspersions and imputations of schism or scandal: neither did I direct any one to read it, nor intended or desired it should be read in the church."* Notwithstanding ail they could allege in their own defence, they were enforced to continue their attendance no less than three years, to their great cost and trouble.f
• Life of Mr. Wilson, p. 67—89. Edit. 1678.
+ Prvnne's Cant Doomr, p. 149 —Clark's Lives, part i. p. 18—21.
iNral's Puritans vol. iv. p. 632.
Vvii.ii tun's Troubles of Laud, vol. i. p. 344.
In the year 1G39, the Scots having entered England, and a parliament being called, Laud took off Mr. Wilson's suspension. But his troubles and sufferings were not ended; for, September 30, 1640, he was cited to appear before the archbishop's visitors at Feversham, together with other ministers in Kent, to answer for not reading the prayer against the Scots. Upon their appearance, Mr. Edward Bright, being called first, was asked whether he had read the prayer; and when he said he had not, the archdeacon instantly suspended him from office and benefice, without admonition, or even giving him the least time to consider of it. Mr. Wilson, who witnessed this rash proceeding, was next called. When he was asked whether he had read the prayer, he answered in the negative; "because," said he, "in the rubrick of the Common Prayer, it is enjoined that no prayer shall be publicly read excepting those which are contained in the Book of Common Prayer, and that prayer against the Scots is not." This unexpected answer so confounded the archdeacon that he did not know what to sayi It cooled his fury, and caused him to proceed more deliberately with Mr. Wilson than he had done with Mr. Bright. He'gave him fourteen days to consider of it, and then deliver his answer at Canterbury ;• but whether he delivered any other answer, and what afterwards followed relative to this case, we are not able, for want of information, to relate.
* Life of Mr. Wilson, p. 90, 91.
+ Dr. Tuck's case was, indeed, more distressing than Mr. Wilson's; for, •n account of bodily infirmities, he was unable to ride, and necessitated to Bake all his journies on foot.—Ibid. p. 13.
X Ibid. p. 14—16.
About the same time a warrant was issued from the lords of the council, among whom were Archbishop Laud and the Bishop of London, to apprehend Mr. Wilson. With this warrant a pursuivant was sent to bring him to London. It does not appear for what crime this prosecution was designed; yet no doubt it was the sin of nonconformity. The pursuivant, having received his warrant, hastened without delay to Otham; where, though he heard Mr. Wilson preach, and was afterwards in the same room with him in his own house, he let him slip out of his hands. Mr. Wilson, suspecting him as soon as he entered the room, retired and hid himself, and so escaped the snare. The pursuivant was enraged at his loss, and said he had been employed in this service thirty-six years, and had never been served so before. Mr. Wilson, having escaped the snare, withdrew from the storm till the meeting of the long parliament, when he went to London, and presented his case and petition to the house of commons. The house appointed a committee to take his case into consideration; and, November 30, 1640, Mr. Rouse, who was one of this committee, reported to the house, " That Mr. Wilson had been suspended tour years from his living, worth sixty pounds a year, only for not reading the Book of Recreations on the Lord's day; that the archbishop himself had suspended him; and that for thr*ee years he had attended upon the high commission." The house therefore resolved, "That Mr. Wilson had just cause of complaint; and that there was just cause for the house to afford him relief."* Upon the presentation of his petition, Sir Edward Deering, one of the members for Kent, said, " Mr. Wilson, your petitioner, is as orthodox in doctrine, as laborious in preaching, and as unblemished in his Hfe, as any minister we have. He is now separated from his flock, to both their griefs: for it is not with him as with many others, who are glad to set a pursuivant on work, that they may have an excuse to be out of the pulpit; it is his delight to preach."+ Sir Edward further observes of Mr. Wilson, "He is- now a sufferer, as all good men are, under the general obloquy of a puritan. The pursuivant watches his door, and divides him and his cure asunder, to both their griefs. About a week since," he adds, "I went to Lambeth, to move that great bishop (too great indeed) to take this danger from off this minister, and to recall
• Knshworth's Collrc. vol. v. p. GG.—Nalson's Collec. vol. i. p.57l. + Life of Mr. Wilson, p. 17—22.
the pursuivant. And I did undertake for Mr. Wilson, that he should answer his accusers in any of the king's courts at Westminster. The bishop made me answer,' I am sure that he will not be absent from his cure a twelvemonth together.' "•
Upon the above resolution of the house, he was released from all his troubles, wheu he returned to his charge and wonted labours at Otham. In the year 1643, he was nominated one of the assembly of divines ; and, though at so great a distance, he constantly attended. In the assembly he was much esteemed for his meek and humble deportment, and his grave and judicious counsels. Having continued some time at Otham, he removed to Maidstone, where he remained to the day of his death. Here his first care was to promote the reformation of the church, and to administer the sacraments, according to his views of the word of God. To this end he preached upon the necessity of observing scriptural discipline, and the qualifications necessary to church-fellowship. At first he met with considerable opposition, but by prudence and perseverance things were brought to a favourable issue.
Mr. Wilson was indefatigable in his attendance upon his numerous duties, and usually observed the following method: he protracted his studies on Saturdays nearly till midnight, and rose by two or three o'clock on a sabbath morning, being much displeased if he was later. About seven he came out of his study, and called his family together, when he read and expounded a portion of scripture, requiring those present to give some account of the exposition; then sung a psalm, and concluded with prayer. At nine o'clock he went to church, and entered upon public worship by singing, then prayed for a blessing, and expounded out of the Old Testament about an hour; then, besides singing and prayer, he preached an hour, and concluded. Then, going home, he invariably prayed with his family before dinner. In the afternoon he observed the same method as in the morning, only his exposition was upon some part of the New Testament. The public services of the day being ended, he called his family together, when many neighbours attended; then they repeated the sermons and expositions, sung a psalm, and concluded with prayer. After this he usually went to a friend's house in' the town, where many attended, and did the same. He administered the Lord's supper regularly once a month, delivered weekly lectures, attended meetings for religious conference, and was
• Collection of Deering'i Speeches, p. 9, 10. Edit. 1642.
incessant in catechizing. He did the Lord's work faithfully, and found his reward in the labour. Some, iudeed, thought he laboured too much, and that he ought to have spared himself; but he was of a contrary opinion, being persuaded that -God makes no difference betwixt an idle and an evil servant. Hence, when his friends attempted to dissuade him from so intense an application, he was ever deaf to their counsel, saying, " Would you have my Lord, when he cometh, to fmd me idle r"
He was always exact in setting a good example before his children and servants, knowing them to be much influenced by the deportment of superiors. What he preached to them on the sabbath, he practised before them all the Week; and "in all things he shewed himself a pattern of good works." He was a strict observer of the sabbath, and eminently successful in promoting the same among his people. This was the happy fruit of his labours at Maidstone, as well as at other places. One of the judges taking notice of this at the assize, publicly declared, that, in all his circuit, there was no town where the Lord's day was so strictly observed. Mr. Wilson was of a courageous spirit, and feared no obstacles irt the path of duty. He feared God, and none else. He knew God would take care of his own cause, whatever sufferings his servants might endure; therefore, when trials came upon him, he said, with Luther, "I had rather fall with Christ than reigh with Civsar." He shewed his courage in reproving sin. If men were bold in sinning, he was bold in reproving them, even withont respect of persons. His sincerity, humility, and great piety, w ere manifest to all. The excellent Mr. William Fenner, after being in his company, said, " I am ashamed of myself, to see how Mr. Wilson gallops towards heaven, and I do but creep at a snail's pace."* Indeed, his treasure was in heaven, and his heart was there also. This excellent trait in his character will appear from the following anecdote:—During the insurrection in 1648, the soldiers took from him a legacy of a hundred pounds left to his daughter, though it was afterwards restored. But when the money was gone, being asked whether he was not much troubled, he replied, " No; I was no more troubled when I heard the money was carried off, than when it was brought to my house."t Mr. Wilson's great piety was most manifest in his affliction and death. When the bridegroom came, he had his lamp trimmed, oil in his vessel, and his light burning. He endured his extreme pain with exemplary patience: he mourned, but never murmured. He was willing to drink his heavenly Father's bitter cup. When lying upon his death-bed he called his family around hiin. He desired his wife not to be cast down, or to sorrow as those who have no hope; but to trust in the Lord; and added, "Though, we must now be separated for a season, we shall meet again to part no more for ever." He exhorted his children to fear the Lord, saying, "Look you to it, that you meet me not in the day of judgment in an unconverted state." He praised God, and spoke much of the preciousness of Christ. The prospect of" his approaching death afforded comfort to his soul. To a pious lady of his acquaintance, who was leaving Maidstone, he pleasantly said, " What will you say, Mrs. Crisp, if 1 get the start of you, and get to lieavcn before you get to Dover i" Another person saying, "Sir, I think you are not far from your Father's house;" he immediately replied, " That is good news indeed, and is enough to make one leap for joy." To those who mourned over him, he said, "I bless God, who hath suffered me to live so long to do him some service ; and now I have finished the work appointed for me, that he is pleased to call me away so soon." He fought the good fight, lie finished his course, he kept the faith, and died in peace, towards the end of the year 1653, aged fiftv-two years. He had a clear understanding, a quick invention, a sound judgment, a tenacious memory, and was a hard student, a good scholar, an excellent preacher, and clothed with humility.* Mr. Wilson was twice married, and by his second wife he had eleven children, ten of whom were living at his death. Mr. Thomas Wilson, ejected in 1602, is supposed to have been his son.t When upon his death-bed he recommended Mr. John Crump,afterwards ejected in 16G2, to be his successor.* We are informed that Mr. Wilson was a baptist, and in the year 1638, joined Mr. John Spilsbury's church, London ;$ but whether he continued to adhere to the baptists' sentiments, and acted upon them to the end of his days, we are unable to ascertain, lie was author of a sermon preached before the house of commons, entitled, " Jerechoe's Downfall," 1643; and probably some others.
* Life of Mr. W ilnon, p. 22—494 + Ibid. p. 51.
• Life of Mr. Wilson, p. S4, 58—64.
+ Palmers Noncon, Mem. vol. ii. p. 182. % Ibid. p. 332.
S Croibv's Baptists, vol. i, p. 149.—Neal'l Puritans, vol. iv. p. 632, 633.