Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. III: Colonial Literature, 16071764
The Life and Death of Master Thomas Hooker
By Cotton Mather (16631728)
[From Magnalia Christi Americana. 1703.]
WHEN Toxaris met with his countryman Anacharsis in Athens, he gave him this invitation, Come along with me, and I will shew thee at once all the wonders of Greece; whereupon he shewed him Solon, as the person in whom there centred all the glories of that city or country. I shall now invite my reader to behold at once the wonders of New-England, and it is in one Thomas Hooker that he shall behold them; even in that Hooker, whom a worthy writer would needs call Saint Hooker, for the same reason (he said), and with the same freedom that Latimer would speak of Saint Bilney, in his commemorations. Tis that Hooker, of whom I may venture to say, that the famous Romanist, who wrote a book, De Tribus Thomis, or Of Three Thomassmeaning Thomas the Apostle, Thomas à Becket, and Sir Thomas Moredid not a thousandth part so well sort his Thomass, as a New-Englander might, if he should write a book, De Duobus Thomis, or Of Two Thomass; and with Thomas the Apostle, join our celebrious Thomas Hooker; my one Thomas, even our apostolical Hooker, would in just balances weigh down two of Stapletons rebellious archbishops or bigoted Lord Chancellors. Tis he whom I may call, as Theodoret called Irenæus, The light of the western churches.
This our Hooker was born at Marfield, in Leicestershire, about the year 1586, of parents that were neither unable nor unwilling to bestow upon him a liberal education; whereto the early and lively sparkles of wit observed in him did very much encourage them. His natural temper was cheerful and courteous; but it was accompanied with such a sensible grandeur of mind, as caused his friends, without the help of astrology, to prognosticate that he was born to be considerable. The influence which he had upon the reformation of some growing abuses, when he was one of the proctors in the university, was a thing that more eminently signalized him, when his more publick appearance in the world was coming on; which was attended with an advancement unto a fellowship in Emanuel College, in Cambridge; the students whereof were originally designed for the study of divinity.
With what ability and fidelity he acquitted himself in his fellowship, it was a thing sensible unto the whole university. And it was while he was in this employment that the more effectual grace of God gave him the experience of a true regeneration. It pleased the spirit of God very powerfully to break into the soul of this person with such a sense of his being exposed unto the just wrath of heaven, as filled him with most unusual degrees of horror and anguish, which broke not only his rest, but his heart also, and caused him to cry out, While I suffer thy terrors, O Lord, I am distracted! While he long had a soul harassed with such distresses, he had a singular help in the prudent and piteous carriage of Mr. Ash, who was the sizer that then waited upon him; and attended him with such discreet and proper compassions as made him afterwards to respect him highly all his days. He afterwards gave this account of himself, That in the time of his agonies, he could reason himself to the rule, and conclude that there was no way but submission to God, and lying at the foot of his mercy in Christ Jesus, and waiting humbly there, till he should please to persuade the soul of his favour; nevertheless, when he came to apply this rule unto himself in his own condition, his reasoning would fail him, he was able to do nothing. Having been a considerable while thus troubled with such impressions for the spirit of bondage, as were to fit him for the great services and enjoyments which God intended him, at length he received the spirit of adoption, with well-grounded persuasions of his interest in the new covenant. It became his manner, at his lying down for sleep in the evening, to single out some certain promise of God, which he would repeat and ponder, and keep his heart close unto it, until he found that satisfaction of soul wherewith he could say, I will lay me down in peace, and sleep; for thou, O Lord, makest me dwell in assurance. And he would afterwards counsel others to take the same course; telling them, That the promise was the boat which was to carry a perishing sinner over unto the Lord Jesus Christ.
The conscientious non-conformity of Mr. Hooker to some rites of the church of England, then vigorously pressed, especially upon such able and useful ministers as were most likely to be laid aside by their scrupling of those rites, made it necessary for him to lay down his ministry in Chelmsford, when he had been about four years there employed in it. Hereupon, at the request of several eminent persons, he kept a school in his own hired house, having one Mr. John Eliot for his usher, at little Baddow, not far from Chelmsford; where he managed his charge with such discretion, with such authority, and such efficacy, that, able to do more with a word or a look than most other men could have done by a severer discipline, he did very great service to the church of God, in the education of such as afterwards proved themselves not a little serviceable. I have in my hands a manuscript, written by the hands of our blessed Eliot, wherein he gives a very great account of the little academy then maintained in the house of Mr. Hooker; and, among other things, he says: To this place I was called, through the infinite riches of Gods mercy in Christ Jesus to my poor soul; for here the Lord said unto my dead soul, live; and through the grace of Christ, I do live, and I shall live forever! When I came to this blessed family I then saw, and never before, the power of godliness in its lively vigour and efficacy.
Mr. Hooker and Mr. Cotton were, for their different genius, the Luther and Melancthon of New-England; at their arrival unto which country, Mr. Cotton settled with the church of Boston, but Mr. Hooker with the church of New-Town, having Mr. Stone for his assistant. Inexpressible now was the joy of Mr. Hooker, to find himself surrounded with his friends, who were come over the year before, to prepare for his reception; with open arms he embraced them, and uttered these words, Now I live, if you stand fast in the Lord. But such multitudes flocked over to New-England after them, that the plantation of New-Town became too straight for them; and it was Mr. Hookers advice that they should not incur the danger of a Sitna, or an Esek, where they might have a Rehoboth. Accordingly, in the month of June, 1636, they removed an hundred miles to the westward, with a purpose to settle upon the delightful banks of Connecticut River; and there were about an hundred persons in the first company that made this removal, who not being able to walk above ten miles a day, took up near a fortnight in the journey; having no pillows to take their nightly rest upon, but such as their father Jacob found in the way to Padan-Aram. Here Mr. Hooker was the chief instrument of beginning another colony, as Mr. Cotton, whom he left behind him, was of preserving and perfecting that colony where he left him; for, indeed, each of them were the oracle of their several colonies.
Though Mr. Hooker had thus removed from the Massachuset-bay, yet he sometimes came down to visit the churches in that bay; but when ever he came, he was received with an affection like that which Paul found among the Galatians; yea, tis thought that once there seemed some intimation from heaven, as if the good people had overdone in that affection; for on May 26, 1639, Mr. Hooker being here to preach that Lords day in the afternoon, his great fame had gathered a vast multitude of hearers from several other congregations, and, among the rest, the governour himself, to be made partaker of his ministry. But when he came to preach, he found himself so unaccountably at a loss, that after some shattered and broken attempts to proceed, he made a full stop; saying to the assembly, That every thing which he would have spoken, was taken both out of his mouth and out of his mind also; wherefore he desired them to sing a psalm, while he withdrew about half an hour from them; returning then to the congregation, he preached a most admirable sermon, wherein he held them for two hours together in an extraordinary strain both of pertinency and vivacity.
After sermon, when some of his friends were speaking of the Lords thus withdrawing his assistance from him, he humbly replied, We daily confess that we have nothing, and can do nothing, without Christ; and what if Christ will make this manifest in us, and on us, before our congregations? What remains, but that we be humbly contented? and what manner of discouragement is there in all of this? Thus content was he to be nullified, that the Lord might be magnified!
Mr. Hooker, that had been born to serve many, and was of such a publick spirit that I find him occasionally celebrated in the life of Mr. Angier, lately published, for one who would be continually inquisitive how it fared with the church of God, both at home and abroad, on purpose that he might order his prayers and cares accordingly; [which, by the way, makes me think on Mr. Firmins words: I look on it, saith he, as an act of a grown Christian, whose interest in Christ is well cleared, and his heart walking close with God, to be really taken up with the publick interest of Christ.] He never took his opportunity to serve himself, but lived a sort of exile all his days, except the last fourteen years of his life, among his own spiritual children at Hartford; however, here also he was an exile. Accordingly, wherever he came, he lived like a stranger in the world! When at the Lands-end he took his last sight 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! And he had sagacious and prophetical apprehensions of the declensions which would attend reforming churches, when they came to enjoy a place of liberty; he said, That adversity had slain its thousands, but prosperity would slay its ten thousands! He feared, That they who had been lively Christians in the fire of persecution, would soon become cold in the midst of universal peace, except some few, whom God by sharp tryals would keep in a faithful, watchful, humble, and praying frame. But under these preapprehensions, it was his own endeavour to beware of abating his own first love! and of so watchful, so prayerful, so fruitful a spirit was Mr. Hooker, that the spirit of prophecy itself did seem to grant him some singular afflations. Indeed, every wise man is a prophet; but one so eminently acquainted with Scripture and reason, and church-history, as our Hooker, must needs be a seer, from whom singular prognostications were to be expected. Accordingly, there were many things prognosticated by him, wherein the future state of New-England, particularly of Connecticut, has been so much concerned, that it is pity they should be forgotten. But I will in this history record only two of his predictions. One was, That God would punish the wanton spirit of the professors in this country, with a sad want of able men in all orders. Another was, That in certain places of great light here sinned against, there would break forth such horrible sins, as would be the amazement of the world.
He was a man of prayer, which was indeed a ready way to become a man of God. He would say, That prayer was the principal part of a ministers work; twas by this, that he was to carry on the rest. Accordingly, he still devoted one day in a month to private prayer, with fasting, before the Lord, besides the publick fasts, which often occurred unto him. He would say, That such extraordinary favours as the life of religion, and the power of godliness, must be preserved by the frequent use of such extraordinary means as prayer with fasting; and that if professors grow negligent of these means, iniquity will abound and the love of many wax cold. Nevertheless, in the duty of prayer, he affected strength rather than length; and though he had not so much variety in his publick praying as in his publick preaching, yet he always had a seasonable respect unto present occasions. And it was observed that his prayer was usually like Jacobs ladder, wherein the nearer he came to an end the nearer he drew towards heaven; and he grew into such rapturous pleadings with God, and praisings of God, as made some to say, That like the master of the feast, he reserved the best wine until the last. Nor was the wonderful success of his prayer, upon special concerns, unobserved by the whole colony; who reckoned him the Moses which turned away the wrath of God from them, and obtained a blast from heaven upon their Indian Amalekites, by his uplifted hands, in those remarkable deliverances which they sometimes experienced. It was very particularly observed, when there was a battle to be fought between the Narraganset and the Monhegin Indians, in the year 1643. The Narraganset Indians had complotted the ruin of the English, but the Monhegin were confederate with us; and a war now being between those two nations, much notice was taken of the prevailing importunity, wherewith Mr. Hooker urged for the accomplishment of that great promise unto the people of God, I will bless them that bless thee, but I will curse him that curses thee. And the effect of it was, that the Narragansets received a wonderful overthrow from the Monhegins, though the former did three or four to one for number exceed the latter. Such an Israel at prayer was our Hooker! And this praying pastor was blessed, as, indeed, such ministers use to be, with a praying people; there fell upon his pious people a double portion of the Spirit which they beheld in him.
That reverend and excellent man, Mr. Whitfield, having spent many years in studying of books, did at length take two or three years to study men; and in pursuance of this design, having acquainted himself with the most considerable divines in England, at last he fell into the acquaintance of Mr. Hooker; concerning whom, he afterwards gave this testimony: That he had not thought there had been such a man on earth; a man in whom there shone so many excellencies, as were in this incomparable Hooker; a man in whom learning and wisdom were so tempered with zeal, holiness, and watchfulness. And the same observer having exactly noted Mr. Hooker, made this remark, and gave this report more particularly of him, That he had the best command of his own spirit which he ever saw in any man whatever. For though he were a man of a cholerick disposition, and had a mighty vigour and fervour of spirit, which as occasion served was wondrous useful unto him, yet he had ordinarily as much government of his choler as a man has of a mastiff dog in a chain; he could let out his dog, and pull in his dog, as he pleased. And another that observed the heroical spirit and courage with which this great man fulfilled his ministry, gave this account of him, He was a person who, while doing his Masters work, would put a king in his pocket.
He was indeed of a very condescending spirit, not only towards his brethren in the ministry, but also towards the meanest of any Christians whatsoever. He was very willing to sacrifice his own apprehensions into the convincing reason of another man; and very ready to acknowledge any mistake, or failing in himself. Ill give one example: There happened a damage to be done unto a neighbour, immediately whereupon, Mr. Hooker meeting with an unlucky boy that often had his name up for the doing of such mischiefs, he fell to chiding of that boy as the doer of this. The boy denied it, and Mr. Hooker still went on in an angry manner, charging of him; whereupon said the boy, Sir, I see you are in a passion, Ill say no more to you; and so ran away. Mr. Hooker, upon further enquiry, not finding that the boy could be proved guilty, sent for him; and having first by a calm question given the boy opportunity to renew his denial of the fact, he said unto him: Since I cannot prove the contrary, I am bound to believe; and I do believe what you say; and then added: Indeed, I was in a passion when I spake to you before; it was my sin, and it is my shame, and I am truly sorry for it; and I hope in God I shall be more watchful hereafter. So, giving the boy some good counsel, the poor lad went away extremely affected with such a carriage in so good a man; and it proved an occasion of good unto the soul of the lad all his days .
He would say, that he should esteem it a favour from God, if he might live no longer than he should be able to hold up lively in the work of his place; and that when the time of his departure should come, God would shorten the time; and he had his desire. Some of his most observant hearers observed an astonishing sort of a cloud in his congregation, the last Lords day of his publick ministry, when he also administered the Lords supper among them; and a most unaccountable heaviness and sleepiness, even in the most watchful Christians of the place, not unlike the drowsiness of the disciples when our Lord was going to die; for which one of the elders publickly rebuked them. When those devout people afterwards perceived that this was the last sermon and sacrament wherein they were to have the presence of the pastor with them, tis inexpressible how much they bewailed their unattentiveness unto his farewell dispensations; and some of them could enjoy no peace in their own souls until they had obtained leave of the elders to confess before the whole congregation with many tears, that inadvertency. But as for Mr. Hooker himself, an epidemical sickness, which had proved mortal to many, though at first small or no danger appeared in it, arrested him. In the time of his sickness he did not say much to the standers-by; but being asked that he would utter his apprehensions about some important things, especially about the state of New-England, he answered, I have not that work now to do; I have already declared the counsel of the Lord; and when one that stood weeping by the bed-side said unto him, Sir, you are going to receive the reward of all your labours, he replied, Brother, I am going to receive mercy! At last he closed his own eyes with his own hands, and gently stroaking his own forehead, with a smile in his countenance, he gave a little groan, and so expired his blessed soul into the arms of his fellow-servants, the holy angels, on July 7, 1647. In which last hours, the glorious peace of soul, which he had enjoyed without any interruption for nearly thirty years together, so gloriously accompanied him, that a worthy spectator, then writing to Mr. Cotton a relation thereof, made this reflection, Truly, sir, the sight of his death will make me have more pleasant thoughts of death than ever I yet had in my life!
Thus lived and thus died one of the first three. He, of whom the great Mr. Cotton gave this character, that he did, Agmen ducere et dominari in consionibus, gratia Spiritus Sancti et virtute plenis; and that he was, Vir solertis et acerrimi judicii; and at length he uttered his lamentations in a funeral elegy, whereof some lines were these:
This was he of whom his pupil, Mr. Ash, gives this testimony: For his great abilities and glorious services, both in this and in the other England, he deserves a place in the first rank of them whose lives are of late recorded. And this was he of whom his reverend contemporary, Mr. Ezekiel Rogers, tendered this for an epitaph; in every line whereof methinks the writer deserves a reward equal to what Virgil had, when for every line, referring to Marcellus in the end of his sixth Æneid, he received a sum not much less than eighty pounds in money, or as ample a requital as Cardinal Richelieu gave to a poet, when he bestowed upon him two thousand sequins for a witty conceit in one verse of but seven words, upon his coat of arms:
America, although she do not boast
Of all the gold and silver from that coast,
Lent to her sister Europes need or pride;
(For that repaid her, with much gain beside,
In one rich pearl, which heaven did thence afford,