Taken from The Soul's Preparation for Christ © 1994 by International Outreach, Inc.
Thomas Hooker was born in July of 1586 in Marfield, Leicestershire, England.
His father was a yeoman. Thomas attended a grammer school established by
Sir Wolstan Dixie at Market Bosworth, about 25 miles from Marfield. From
there he went on to Queens College, Cambridge, and then to Emmanuel College,
graduating with a BA in 1608 and an MA in 1611. He remained on at Emmanuel
College until 1618 as a Dixie fellow and catechist.
It was while at Emmanuel College that Hooker was geniunely converted after going through a lengthy time of spiritual agony. Cotton Mather tells us, "It pleased the spirit of God very powerfully to break into the soul of this person with such a sense of his being exposed to 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."1
About 1620 he became rector of St. George's in Esher, Surrey. He was received into the home of the patron of the church, Francis Drake, having been recommended by John Dod to aid Drake's wife, Mrs. Joan Drake, who was both spiritually and emotionally distressed. Joan Drake believed she was a reprobate and that she had committed the unpardonable sin. In her numerous discourses with Dod and others "the upshot of it all was, That she was a damned reprobate, must needs go into hell forever; that her heart was harder than an Adamant or Anvil, that God had forsaken her, and given her over to a reprobate sense, her hard heart could not repent, and that in all her actions she but heaps up wrath against the day of wrath to her further condemnation...that it was in vain and too late for her to use means; and therefore, she would use none." 2 Hooker's counsel along with that of Dod and Dr. John Preston brought Mrs. Drake through her spiritual troubles and at length to an ecstatic conversion shortly before her death on April 18, 1625. The remarkable story of Mrs. Drake's conversion was recorded in a work entitled Trodden Down Strength (London, 1647), later republished as The Firebrand Taken Out of the Fire.
While living at the Drake house, Hooker met and fell in love with Susannah Garbrand, Mrs. Drake's woman-in-waiting. They were married on April 3, 1621 in Amersham, Mrs. Drake's birthplace. Their first child was named after her.
The insight given Hooker by the Lord in the circumstances of his own conversion and that of Mrs. Drake had a permanent effect upon his understanding of conversion. He devoted most of the rest of his life to preaching and teaching on preparation for grace. As far as his own abilities in dealing with souls under conviction of sin, Cotton Mather tells us: "indeed he now had no superior, and scarce any equal, for the skill of treating a troubled soul."3
After leaving the Drake household Hooker became acquainted with Rev. John Rogers of Dedham who undertook efforts to have him settled at Colchester, but the providence of God blocked the way and brought him instead to Chelmsford in Essex where he became the lecturer in St. Mary's Church in 1626. Benjamin Brooks in The Lives of the Puritans writes: "His 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 in 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."4
The joy of the people of Chelmsford was short-lived and in 1629 Bishop William Laud threatened him with arraignment before the High Commission for his non-conformity and Puritanism. Late in 1629 Hooker was silenced and forced to leave his lectureship. He moved to Little Baddow, about five miles from Chelmsford, where he opened a grammar school with John Eliot as his assistant. There godly ministers came to him for consultation and spiritual direction in handling of difficult cases. In a letter written by Samuel Collins, vicar of Braintree, Essex, to Dr. Arthur Duck, Laud's chancellor, Collins warned about the dangers of dealing rashly with Hooker because of his great popularity: "All would be here very calme and quiet if he might quietly departe...If these jealousies...be increased by a rigorous proceeding against him, the country may prove very dangerous."5 In the same letter, Collins continues: "His genius will still haunt all ye pulpits in ye country where any of his scholars may be admitted to preach...There be divers young ministers about us that spend their time in conference with him, and return home to preach what he hath brewed. Our people's pallats grow so out of taste, that noe food contents them but of Mr. Hooker's dressing. I have lived in Essex to see many new ministers and lecturers, but this man surpasses them all for learning and some considerable partes, and gains far more and far greater followers than all before him."6
On November 3rd, Dr. John Browning, rector of Rowreth, Essex, again complained to Laud about Hooker. One week later Laud received a petition signed by forty-seven ministers of Essex supporting Hooker, saying in part, "We all esteeme and knowe the said Mr. Thomas Hooker to be, for doctryne, orthodox, and life and conversation, honest, and for his disposition, peaceable, no wayes turbulent or factious."7
In 1630 Hooker was cited to appear before the High Commission Court; however, being ill at the time, Mr. Nash, an honest yeoman and Puritan, voluntarily was bound to a sum of fifty pounds for Hooker's later appearance. Upon his recovery, Hooker was advised by his friends that it would be wiser to forfeit the bond than to throw himself any more into the hands of his enemies. Hooker agreed and several people in the Chelmsford area reimbursed his surety, Mr. Nash, whereupon, Hooker fled to the Netherlands. There he entered into ministry with John Forbes, a Scottish minister, at the English Non-Conformist church in Delft. He remained there about two years and then received a call from Rotterdam to assist the celebrated Dr. William Ames, which he accepted. During his stay in Rotterdam he authored the Preface to Dr. Ames' book A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God's Worship.
Hooker, however, did not find the state of relgion in the Netherlands to be as he had supposed. In a letter to John Cotton he wrote: "The state of these provinces, to my weak eye, seems wonderfully ticklish and miserable. For the better part, heart religion, they content themselves with very forms, though much blemished; but the power of Godliness, for aught I can see or hear, they know not; and if it were thoroughly pressed, I fear least it will be fiercely opposed."8 Thus dissatisfied with the state of heart religion in the Netherlands, Hooker returned secretly to England preparing to travel with his family to New England.
In July of 1633 he boarded the Griffin at the Downs to sail for Massachusetts. Also aboard the same ship were Samuel Stone and John Cotton. The Griffin docked at Boston on September 4th, after an eight week journey, and Hooker and Stone removed to Newtown (soon after renamed Cambridge), where a group of his former parishioners from the Chelmsford area had settled, calling themselves "Mr. Hooker's company." On the 11th of October, a fast day, Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone were chosen as the Pastor and Teacher of the Church of Newtown. John Cotton became the Teacher of the Boston church. The church led by Hooker and Stone prospered and in 1635 one of the church's leading members, John Haynes, was elected gov-ernor of the Massachusetts Bay.
Both Hooker and the members of his church soon became restless in their location in Newtown. The reason for this restlessness has been the subject of speculation, but cannot be definitely determined. On May 31, 1636 a majority of the congregation migrated westward across the wilderness, led by Hooker and Stone, to a site along the Connecticut River which they named Hartford, after Stone's birthplace in Hertford, England. There Hooker undertook once again the work of establishing a new community and church. Thomas Hooker remained a leader in both the religious and governmental arenas for the remainder of his life.
In 1637 he was called on to serve as one of two Moderators over the inquiry into antinomian doctrines being promul-gated in the colonies, primarily by Mrs. Anne Hutchinson and her followers. The inquiry lasted for three weeks and resulted in the condemnation of eighty-two erroneous doctrines and blasphemous opinions being taught. Not all of the eighty-two doctrines were subscribed to by Mrs. Hutchinson. The substance of Mrs. Hutchinson's teaching seems to have been 1) that since a believer was indwelt by the Holy Spirit, he was not subject to divine or human laws because he was led immediately by the inner promptings of the Spirit, and 2) that sanctification cannot help us evidence our justification, or the leading of a moral life was irrelevant to whether or not one was saved. In brief, it did not matter what a man did, what mattered was the leadings of the Spirit with him. Mrs. Hutchinson was excommunicated from her church in Boston and she and her brother-in-law, John Wheelright, were banished. Thomas Shepard, one of the prosecutors of the case when it came to trial, probably came the closest to summing up the issue when he stated that Mistress Hutchinson "never had any trew Grace in her hart."9 Hooker was not present for the trial, having returned to Hartford at the end of the three-week inquiry. Sargent Bush, Jr. makes a good case for Hooker's posthumously published work The Saint's Dignitie and Dutie (1651) being his response to the antinomian issue in his work, The Writings of Thomas Hooker.
Thomas Hooker was a leader in the area of government as well. In May of 1638 he was asked to address the General Court of Connecticut which apparently had been given the responsibility of drafting a constitution. It was there he preached his famous sermon on Deuteronomy 1:13: Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. "In this sermon he laid down three doctrines. Doctrine I. That the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God's own allowance. Doctrine II. That the privilege of election which belongs unto the people must not be exercised according to their humour, but according to the blessed will of God. Doctrine III. That they who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power also to set the bounds of the power and the place unto which they call them."10 In January 1639 the "Fundamental Orders" were adopted, serving as the constitution of Connecticut. Thomas Hooker's leadership and influence in the final document has been recognized by historians.
Hooker's reputation remained strong even in England
and in the summer of 1642 letters arrived at Boston invit-ing Thomas Hooker, John Davenport, and John Cotton to represent New England at the Westminster Assembly of Divines. Hooker declined to attend although he apparently tried to have an influence on the assembly by the publication of two books and a catechism in London in 1645. The books were A Brief Exposition of the Lord's Prayer and Heaven's Treasury Opened in a Faithful Exposition of the Lord's Prayer. The catechism was entitled An Exposition of the Principles of Religion.
Hooker was a man given to much prayer. Cotton Mather reports, "He would say, 'That prayer was the principal part of a minister's 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.'"11
Mr. Henry Whitfield a godly man who knew the most considerable divines in England, after becoming acquainted with Thomas Hooker wrote, "I did not think," says he, "there had been such a man on the earth, in whom shone so many incomparable excellencies; and in whom learning and wisdom were so admirably tempered with zeal, holiness, and watchfulness."12
Thomas Hooker died a victim of an epidemic sickness on July 7, 1647. "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!'"13 Cotton Mather called him "the Light of the Western Churches." Dr. Thomas Goodwin said of him, "if
any of our late Preachers and Divines came in the Spirit and power of John Baptist this man did."14
There is no known portrait of Thomas Hooker. A statue which has stood by the Old Connecticut State House near the site of the First Meeting House of the Hartford church, was made by comparing the likenesses of his descendants.
Some of his numerous works include The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ (1629), The Soul's Preparation for Christ (1632), The Soul's Humiliation (1637), The Soul's Ingrafting into Christ (1637), The Soul's Exaltation (1638), The Christian's Two Chief Lessons (1640), An Expostion of the Principles of Religion (1645), A Brief Exposition of the Lord's Prayer (1645), A Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline (1648), The Saint's Dignitie and Dutie (1651), and The Application of Redemption (1656-57).
William C. Nichols
International Outreach, Inc.
July 16, 1994
1 Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), p. 333.
2 The Firebrand Taken Out of the Fire, (London: Thomas Matthews, 1654), p. 23.
3 Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), p. 334.
4 Benjamin Brook, The Lives of the Puritans, Volume 2, (London: J. Black, 1813), p. 65.
5 Frank Shuffelton, Thomas Hooker 1586-1647, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 126.
6 H. Clark Wooley, Thomas Hooker, A Bibliography Together with a Brief Sketch of His Life, (Hartford: Center Church Monographs, 1932), p. 12.
7 Frank Shuffelton, Thomas Hooker 1586-1647, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 129.
8 Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), p. 340.
9 Sargent Bush, Jr., The Writings of Thomas Hooker, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980), p. 91.
10 Warren Seymour Archibald, Fundamental Principles, (Hartford: The Descendants of the Founders of Hartford, 1938), pp. 3-4.
11 Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), p. 344.
12 Benjamin Brook, The Lives of the Puritans, Volume 2, (London: J. Black, 1813), p. 70.
13 Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), p. 350.
14 Thomas Goodwin, Preface to The Application of Redemption, (London: Peter Cole, 1657), To the Reader.