Free eBook: Getting Through the Storms in Life

Thomas Shepard

Thomas Shepard, A. M.—This most pious divine was bom at Towcester in Northamptonshire, November 5, 1605, and educated in Emanuel college, Cambridge. Here he was brought under deep conviction of sin, and led to receive Jesus Christ for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. This work was wrought chiefly by the instrumentality of the celebrated Dr. Preston. Upon Mr. Shepard's removal from the university, he became lecturer at Earls Colne in Essex, where God greatly blessed his labours, and many souls were converted by his ministry. His labours and bis usefulness, however, were of no long continuance; for in about three years he fell into the hands of Bishop Laud, who silenced him for nonconformity, and forced him out of the country. He then retired into the north, and became domestic chaplain to Sir Richard Darly, of Buttercomb in Yorkshire, where his labours were eminently useful to Sir Richard and his family. But Archbishop NeUe would not suffer him to preach, without subscription to the ecclesiastical impositions,

• Wood's Athens: Oxon. vol. ii. p. 66.
+ S\ Welter's Life of Baxter, part i. p. 34.
$ Jackson's Annotations, Dedica. Edit. IG5S.
S Palmer's Noncoa. Mem. vol. i. p. 120.

contrary to his conscience." lie next removed to Heddon in Northumberland, where, as in other places, his labours v\ ure made a blessing to many souls. But even in this remote corner of the land, the eye of Laud was upon him, and this tyrannical prelate would not suffer him to preach without a perfect conformity to the ecclesiastical injunctions and the new ceremonies. Thus, being shut out from all prospect of future usefulness, he resolved to withdraw from the storm, and retire to New England. Previous to his departure, he very narrowly escaped being taken by the bishop's officers. And, towards the close of the year 1634, having taken shipping at Harwich, the ship had not been many hours at sea before a most tremendous storm arose, in which they were in the utmost danger of being lost. An eminent, but profane officer on the shore, observing their distress, was heard to say, "As for that poor collier, 1 pity him much: but as for the puritans in the other vessel, bound for New England, I am not concerned; for their faith will save them." The ship at last returned safe into the harbour. The next day Mr. Shepard went ashore to bury his first-born son; but, on account of the watchful pursuivants, who were still anxious to take him, he dare not be present at the funeral, r

In the month of July, 1635, Mr. Shepard, after having again narrowly escaped falling into the hands of the bishop's officers, sailed from Gravesend in company with Mr. Wilson, Mr. Jones, and others, and arrived at Boston in New England, in the beginning of October following. Previous to his arrival, Mr. Hooker and his congregation having removed from Cambridge to the banks of the river Connecticut, Mr. Shepard was chosen pastor of the, church at Cambridge, and there continued to the day of his death. When the antinomian and familistic errors broke out in the new colony, this worthy divine, by his endeavours and influence, was the happy means of stopping the progress of the infectious malady. He was an excellent preacher, and took great pains in his preparations for the pulpit. He used to say, " God will curse that man'i labours who goes idly up and down all the week, and then goes into his study on a Saturday afternoon. God knows that we have not too much time to pray in, and weep in, and get our hearts into a rit frame for the duties of the sabbath."

* It is observed of Dr. Neile, (hat, when he was Bi-liop of Lincoln, and "when any man preached before Kins James that had renown of piety, he, unwilling the king should hear him, would in the sermon-time entertain the king with a merry tale, after which he would laugh, and tell those near him, he could not hear the preacher for the old bishop." It is added: "When be was Archbishop of York, his head was so filled with Arminian impiety, that in the next king's reign he was looked upon by the parliament to be one of the great grievances of the kingdom."—jVei's'f Livi, vol. i. part ii. p. 146, 147.

t Mather's Hist, of New England, b. iii. p. 84—87.

Mr. Shepard's great care and attention to the duties of the

pastoral office will appear from the following extracts colected from his diary :—" August 15, 1641, 1 saw four evils," says he, "attending my ministry.— 1. The devil treads me down by shame, discouragement, and an apprehension of the unsavoury spirits of the people.—2. I am become too careless, because I have done well, and have been enlarged and respected.—3. Weakness and infirmities: as the want of light, life, and spirit.—4. The want of success.—I saw these things, and have cause to be humbled for them. I have this day found my heart heavy, depressed, and untoward, by musing upon the many evils to come. But I was comforted by recollecting, that though in myself I am a dying, condemned sinner, 1 am alive and reconciled by Christ; that 1 am unable to do any thing of myself, yet by Christ I can do all things; and that though 1 enjoy all these only in part in this world, 1 shall shortly have them in perfection in heaven.

"March 19, 1642; I said, as pride was my sin, so shame would be my punishment. 1 had many fears of Eli's punishment, for not sharply reproving sin. Here I considered that the Lord may make one good man a terror, and a dreadful example, that all the godly may fear, and not slight his commands as Eli did.

"October 10th. When I saw gifts and honours conferred upon others, I began to affect their excellencies. The Lord therefore humbled me, by letting me see, that all this was diabolical pride. And he made me thankful for seeing it, putting me in mind to watch against it in future."

His very humble and contrite spirit will appear from the following extracts, written on days of special fasting and prayer:—" November 3rd. I saw sin to be my greatest evil; and that 1 am vile; but God is good, against whom I have sinned. I saw what cause I had to loathe myself. It was a good day to me. I went to God, and trusted in him. I considered whether all the country did not fare the worse for my sins. I saw it did, and was deeply humbled.

"April 4th. May not I be the cause of the church's present sorrows? My heart hath been long at a distance from the Lord. The Lord first sent a terrible storm at sea; and my deliverance, in being snatched from apparent death, was so sweet, that I hoped my future life would be wholly devoted to God. I then set my face towards New England, where I resolved to be the Lord's in all manner of holiness. Afterwards the Lord took my dear wife from me. Thit made me resolve to delight no more in creatures, but in the Lord alone. When God threatened my child with blindness, his affliction was sweet to me, but much more his commands and promises. Then I could do his will and leave ail things to him. But how is my gold become dim! 1 have no cause to blame the Lord who has persuaded me; but the Lord pardon my sin. To serve Satan without promise, and forsake the Lord against his promise, is grievous indeed! Wilh respect to my people, I have not pitied them, nor prayed for them, nor visited them, nor loved them, so much as I ought to have done. The gospel which 1 have preached has not been seen in its glory, nor been believed, nor proved effectual. Because I have greatly neglected to seek to Christ for supplies, all hath been dead work, and the fruit of pride. I have now had a long sickness, as if the Lord would use me no more. Oh! my God, who is like unto thee, pardoning and subduing mine iniquities!"* These are some of the severe censures which this eminently holy man pronounced against himself.

Mr. Shepard, when on his death-bed, was visited by many of his friends and brethren in the ministry. Several young ministers having called to see him, he addressed them as follows: "Your work," said he, "is great, and requires "great seriousness. For my own part, 1 never preached a * sermon which, in the composing, did not cost me prayers, "with strong cries and tears. I never preached a sermon "from which I had not first got some good to my own soul. "I never went up into the pulpit but as if I were going to "give an account of myself to God."t Before his departure, addressing his friends, he said," Oh! love the Lord Jesus very dearly. That little part which I have in him is no small comfort to me now." He died of a quinsey, August 25, 1649, aged forty-three years. He was a person of great learning, a hard student, an admirable preacher, and an excellent writer. His work on the "Parable of the Ten Virgins," observes Dr. Williams, is a rich fund of experimental and practical divinity: the dress is plain, but the strain of thought is extremely animated and searching.) Fuller has honoured him with a place among the learned

• Malkrr'i Hist. b. iii. p. 91—93. + Ibid. p. 236.

% l uiirtiun Preacher, p. 435.

writers who were fellows of Emanuel college, Cambridge.* The two Mr. Thomas Shepards, successively pastors of the church at Charlestown in New England, were his son and grandson.+

His Works.—1. The Doctrine of the Sabbath, 1649.—2. Certain Select Cases Resolved, 1650.—3. Subjection to Christ in all hia Ordinances and Appointments, the best moans to preserve our Liberty, 1652.—4. The Sincere Convert, 1652.—5. A Treatise of Liturgies, 1653.—6. The Parable of the Ten Virgins, 1660.—7. The Sound Believer, 1671.—8. The Churchmembership of Children, and their right to Baptism.—9. New England's Lamentations for Old England's Errors.—10. A Treatise of Hearing the Word.—11. Win* for Gospel Wantons; or, Cautions against Spiritual Drunkenness.

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