Archives For 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge

Who is Joseph Alleine?

Tim Brister —  December 3, 2008 — 7 Comments

[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of Richard Baxter. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]

Joseph Alleine (1634-1668)

Born at Devizes, Wiltshire, early in 1634, Joseph Alleine loved and served the Lord from childhood. A contemporary witness identified 1645 as the year of Alleine’s “setting forth in the Christian race.” From eleven years of age onward, “the whole course of his youth was an even-spun thread of godly conversation.” When his elder brother Edward, a clergyman, died, Joseph begged that he might be educated to take Edward’s place in the ministry of the church. He entered Oxford at age sixteen and sat at the feet of such great divines as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin.

Alleine began his studies at Lincoln College in 1649. Two years later, he became a scholar of Corpus Christi College, where the faculty was, in general, more thoroughly Puritan than at Lincoln. Alleine studied long hours, often depriving himself of sleep and food. He graduated from Oxford in 1653 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and became a tutor and chaplain of Corpus Christi. He also devoted much time to preaching to prisoners in the county jail, visiting the sick, and ministering to the poor.

In 1655, Alleine accepted the invitation of George Newton, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church, Taunton, Somerset, to become Newton’s assistant. Taunton, a wool-manufacturing city of some 20,000, was a Puritan stronghold. Shortly after moving to Taunton, Alleine married his cousin, Theodosia Alleine, whose father, Richard Alleine, was minister of Batcombe, Somerset (see below). She was an active woman who feared God deeply. Early in their marriage, she ran a home school of about fifty scholars, half of them boarders. She would later serve as her husband’s biographer after his death.

Alleine rose early, devoting the time between four and eight o’clock in the morning to the exercises of private worship. His wife recalled that he “would be much troubled if he heard smiths or other craftsmen at work at their trades, before he was at communion with God: saying to me often, ‘How this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?’”

His ministry in Taunton as preacher and pastor was very fruitful. Richard Baxter recalled Alleine’s “great ministerial skillfulness in the public explication and application of the Scriptures-so melting, so convincing, so powerful.” Alleine was also an excellent teacher, devoting much time to instructing his people, using the Shorter Catechism. He was a passionate evangelist. One contemporary wrote, “He was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls, wherein he had no small success.”

Ejected for nonconformity in 1662, Alleine took the opportunity to increase his public  labors, believing that his remaining time was short. He preached on average one or two sermons every day for nine months until he was arrested and cast into the Ilchester prison. The night before, Alleine had preached and prayed with his people for three hours and had declared, “Glory be to God that hath accounted me worthy to suffer for His gospel!”

Alleine’s prison cell became his pulpit as he continued to preach to his people through the prison bars. He also wrote numerous pastoral letters and theological articles. Released on May 20, 1664, after about a year in prison, he resumed his forbidden ministry until arrested again on July 10, 1665 for holding a conventicle. Once more released from prison, his remaining time was “full of troubles and persecutions nobly borne.” He returned to Taunton in February, 1668, where he became very ill. Nine months later, at age thirty-four, weary from hard work and suffering, Alleine died in full assurance of faith, praising God and saying, “Christ is mine, and I am His-His by covenant.”

The Act of Conformity (RE; 47 pages; n.d.)

This small, polemical tract is bound with RE Publications’ edition of Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted. It is not included in the list of Alleine’s works compiled by Charles Stanford in 1861. No one is certain that it was written by Alleine, though its style is similar to that of his other works. The work is an in-depth examination of the Oath of Allegiance passed on August 24, 1662, and whether or not a nonconformist minister could conscientiously subscribe to it. The Act of Conformity offers an emphatic “No,” saying, “Taking this oath will encourage Parliament (when they shall see how glibly and smoothly we swallow every pill) to think themselves either infallible in imposing, or us as ductile, flexible and sequatious souls” (p. 45).

An Alarm to the Unconverted (BTT; 148 pages; 1995)

This evangelical classic was first printed in 1671 (subtitle: A Serious Treatise on Conversion), when 20,000 copies were sold, and subsequently reprinted in 1675 as A Sure Guide to Heaven, which was the title given to the latest BTT editions. It is a powerful manual on conversion and the call of the gospel, as the chapter titles reveal: Mistakes about Conversion; The Nature of Conversion; The Necessity of Conversion; The Marks of the Unconverted; The Miseries of the Unconverted; Directions to the Unconverted; The Motives to Conversion.

Alleine’s model of Puritan evangelism is well suited to correct today’s distortions of the gospel. For example, he shows us that dividing the offices and benefits of Christ is not a new idea. The true convert is willing to receive Christ, both as Savior from sin and as Lord of one’s life. He asserts:

All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert. He loves not only the wages but the work of Christ, not only the benefits but the burden of Christ. He is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke. He takes up the commands of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ. The unsound convert takes Christ by halves. He is all for the salvation of Christ, but he is not for sanctification. He is for the privileges, but does not appropriate the person of Christ. He divides the offices and benefits of Christ. This is an error in the foundation. Whoever loves life, let him beware here. It is an undoing mistake, of which you have often been warned, and yet none is more common (p. 45).

This book, reprinted some five hundred times and the most famous of Alleine’s nineteen treatises, has been used for the conversion of many souls. It greatly influenced the evangelistic approach of famous preachers such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon. Despite a smattering of statements that may be misconstrued as promoting human ability in salvation, Alleine’s classic remains a golden example of evangelistic preaching and a spur to personal evangelism.

The Life and Letters of Joseph Alleine (RHB, 332 pages, 2003)

A definitive biography of Alleine has yet to be written. The longest sustained seventeenth century narrative was written by his wife, Theodosia, following his ejection and imprisonment after the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662. In 1672, four years after his death and a year after the first printing of Alarm to the Unconverted, Alleine’s Christian Letters, Full of Spiritual Instructions was printed in London. The following year, fragments of biographical information and personal reminiscences were brought together by his widow and Richard Baxter and were printed with his letters. That volume was reprinted with corrections in 1677 as The Life and Death of that Excellent Minister of Christ Mr. Joseph Alleine (London: Nevil Simmons).

Additional printings of the 1677 volume with minor additions or deletions took place in 1806, published by J. Gemmill; in 1829, by the American Sunday School Union; and in 1840, by Robert Carter in New York. The RHB reprint of 2003 includes the Carter edition, plus two letters from the Gemmill edition and three letters from Alleine’s Remains. Thus, for the first time, all forty-nine of Alleine’s extant letters are printed in one volume. An appendix contains George Newton’s Sermon Preached at the Funeral of Mr. Joseph Alleine (London: Nevil Simmons, 1677).

Charles Stanford’s biography, Joseph Alleine: His Companions and Times, appeared in 1861. Though Charles Spurgeon called it an “admirable biography,” it, too, is incomplete, no doubt partly due to the paucity of details of Alleine’s life. Although Alleine’s Life and Letters suffers somewhat from not being a sustained narrative, it has the advantage of having been written by Alleine’s contemporaries. Allowing for some repetition and hagiographical tendencies, these pages display the portrait of a minister who had a large heart for God and for the precious souls of those who sat under his ministry.

In this book, Richard Baxter wrote chapter 1 of Alleine’s biography. Richard Alleine, his father-in-law, wrote chapter 3. Other chapters were written by his senior colleague, George Newton (chap. 4), his widow (chap. 6), and his close friend and ministerial colleague, Richard Fairclough (chap. 9). The remaining chapters were written by several close friends who preferred to remain anonymous.

Valuable as the account of Alleine’s life by his contemporaries is, his letters which form the second half of the book are of greater worth. While the narrative of his life gives us an account of his outward circumstances, his letters reveal the secret springs of his heart, exhibiting the fervor of an evangelist, the heart of a pastor, and the patience of a sufferer for Jesus Christ. Many of these letters were written from prison to parishioners in Taunton when he was no longer able to minister the Word of God to them in person. With their emphasis on Christ and true godliness, these letters breathe the atmosphere of heaven itself. Here is a passage expressing his love for his people in Taunton:

You are a people much upon my heart, whose welfare is the matter of my continual prayers, care, and study. And oh that I knew how to do you good! How it pities me to think how so many of you should remain in your sins, after so many and so long endeavors to convert you and bring you in! Once more, oh beloved, once more hear the call of the Most High God unto you. The prison preaches to you the same doctrine that the pulpit did. Hear, O people, hear; the Lord of life and glory offers you all mercy, and peace, and blessedness. Oh, why should you die? Whosoever will, let him take of the waters of life freely. My soul yearns for you. Ah, that I did but know what arguments to use with you; who shall choose my words for me that I may prevail with sinners not to reject their own mercy? How shall I get within them? How shall I reach them? Oh, that I did but know the words that would pierce them! That I could but get between their sins and them (pp. 150-51).

Truly, as Iain Murray writes, “Never did the evangel of Jesus Christ burn more fervently in any English heart!”

When the Scottish missionary Alexander Duff (1806-78) read this book, he was deeply impressed by Alleine’s rich variety of gifts and graces, mature judgment, fervent devotion, and pervasive seriousness. Duff wrote: “What inextinguishable zeal! What unquenchable thirstings after the conversion of lost sinners! What unslumbering watchfulness in warning and edifying saints! What profound humility and self-abasement in the sight of God! What patience and forbearance, what meekness and generosity, what affability and moderation!  What triumphant faith-what tranquil, yet rapturous joy!” No wonder John Wesley called Alleine “the English Rutherford.”

In a day when the desire for personal happiness and self-esteem have replaced the biblical mandate for holiness of life, a reading of Alleine’s life and letters can be a real tonic to the soul.

The Precious Promises of the Gospel (SDG; 40 pages; 2000)

This booklet is extracted from Richard Alleine’s Heaven Opened. It is one of the two chapters written by Joseph Alleine. Impersonating God in addressing His people, Alleine provides us with a moving declaration of the loving, merciful heart of the Triune God, revealed in the promises of Scripture, which are woven into nearly every sentence.

Other Puritan Profiles in the 08PRC:

* Who Is Richard Baxter? (November)
* Who Is William Guthrie? (October)
* Who Is Sameul Bolton? (September)
* Who Is William Bridge? (July)
* Who Is John Bunyan? (May)
* Who Is Jeremiah Burroughs? (April)
* Who Is Thomas Watson? (March)
* Who Is John Flavel? (February)
* Who Is Richard Sibbes? (January)

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Who Is William Guthrie?

Tim Brister —  October 12, 2008 — 3 Comments

[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of William Guthrie. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]

William Guthrie (1620-1665)

William Guthrie was born in 1620 to James Guthrie, Laird of Pitforthy, Angus. He was the eldest of five sons, three of whom would become ministers of the gospel. He studied under his cousin, James Guthrie, at the University of St. Andrews, graduating with a Master of Arts degree in 1638. He stayed in St. Andrews to study theology under Samuel Rutherford, whom God used to call Guthrie both to salvation and to the ministry. Once called, Guthrie decided to give his family inheritance to a younger brother so that he would be free to minister unencumbered by earthly cares. Meanwhile, he remained close friends with his cousin until James died as a martyr at the gallows, one of the first to be executed in the persecution that followed the restoration of Charles II.

Guthrie was licensed to preach by the presbytery of St. Andrews in 1642. For two years he was tutor to Lord Mauchlin, eldest son of the earl of Loudoun, a leading Covenanter. In 1644, he was ordained as minister in Fenwick, an Ayrshire parish that recently had been established as an offshoot of Kilmarnock. Conditions in the parish were dismal. Ignorance abounded. People did not fear God. Many villagers refused to attend church services and would not take time for catechizing or family worship. Nevertheless, Guthrie served diligently as pastor. He even offered half of a crown to a man who preferred hunting birds on the Sabbath if he promised to attend church. The next Lord’s Day, the man came to church. Guthrie promised him the same amount the next week. The man never missed church again. He was converted and later became an elder in the church.

Under Guthrie’s twenty-year ministry in Fenwick, the town received a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. The new church was filled. Hundreds of people became regular attenders, were reborn, and grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus. Matthew Crawford, who was the minister at Eastwood, said that Guthrie “converted and confirmed many thousand souls, and was esteemed the greatest practical preacher in Scotland” (cited by Matthew Vogan, “William Guthrie,” Free Church Witness [March 2003], p. 4). George Hutcheson, who assisted Guthrie at Communion, said that, if there was a church full of saints on the face of the earth, it was at Fenwick.

Guthrie married Agnes Campbell one year after he settled in Fenwick. Less than a year after he married, he was called to serve as chaplain during the Civil War in the Scottish army. When Guthrie fell seriously ill before his departure, his bride stopped worrying about his safety in the war. She bowed under God’s sovereignty, realizing that her husband was in God’s hands everywhere. Guthrie was preserved through his time in the army and returned to his parish.

Guthrie suffered numerous physical ailments related to stress. He tried to overcome these, in part, through fishing and bird hunting. Even while hunting, he discussed spiritual truths with fellow sportsmen.

Guthrie’s work was marked by zeal and courage. On one occasion, several soldiers who lacked proper credentials approached the Lord’s Table. Guthrie talked to them with such loving gravity that they immediately returned to their seats.

In 1647, a treaty was signed between Charles I and some Scottish nobles, binding the king to a limited support of Presbyterianism in exchange for freedom to return to the throne. Guthrie then joined his cousin James, Samuel Rutherford, and John Livingston, who supported the minority Protestors in opposition to the Resolutioners. In 1654, Guthrie served as moderator of the Protester Synod of Glasgow and Ayr.

Other appointments also came Guthrie’s way. In 1649, he was appointed as a commissioner to visit the University of Glasgow. A few years later, he became one of the Triers to approve ministers and lecturers before they assumed their ecclesiastical positions. By that time he had received pastoral calls to several larger parishes, but he declined them all.

In 1657, a collection of Guthrie’s unedited notes from his sermons on Isaiah 55 were published without his consent as A Clear, Attractive, Warning Beam of Light. In response, Guthrie published those sermons the following year as The Christian’s Great Interest. John Owen was much impressed with these writings. He said Guthrie’s little book contained more divinity than all of his own writings combined. “He is one of the greatest divines that ever wrote,” Owen said.

Because of his connection with William Cunningham, earl of Glencairn, Guthrie was allowed to retain his pulpit for several years following the restoration of Charles II. The archbishop of Glasgow, Alexander Burnet, embarrassed by Guthrie’s refusal to submit to episcopacy and envious of the crowds that attended Guthrie’s services, however, deprived him of his ministry in 1664. On the Wednesday before the Sunday on which the suspension was to take effect, the people of Fenwick observed a day of prayer and fasting. Guthrie preached to them from Hosea 13:9: “O Israel! Thou hast destroyed thyself.” The following Sunday he preached his last sermon on the remainder of the text: “but in me is thine help.” By the end of the sermon, much of the congregation was in tears.

When twelve soldiers seized Guthrie at noon that Sabbath, he said to one, “The Lord may pardon your countenancing this business.” When the soldier responded, “I wish we never do a greater fault,” Guthrie replied, “A little sin may damn a man’s soul” (John Howie, Lives of the Scottish Covenanters, p. 287).

Guthrie lived for about a year in the Fenwick manse. While visiting Pitforthy to settle the family estate due to the death of the brother, he fell very ill and died of kidney disease on October 10, 1665, at age forty-five. He was survived by his wife and two daughters. Four of his children predeceased him.

Most of Guthrie’s unpublished writings were seized and destroyed in 1682 by a soldier searching his widow’s home. A collection of seventeen of his sermons was printed in 1779, then reprinted in 1880 as Sermons Delivered in Times of Persecutions in Scotland.

The Christian’s Great Interest (BTT; 207 pages; 1969).

This book is a classic on assurance of faith. It has been reprinted more than eighty times and has been translated into several languages, including French, German, Dutch, and Gaelic.

Guthrie’s book is divided into two sections. The first part provides numerous biblical tests on how one may know whether or not he is a Christian. Guthrie’s use of “Interest” in the title refers to a legal claim in the covenant that Christ makes with believers. He places us in a courtroom setting to be examined by Scripture to determine whether or not we possess saving grace. After proving that believers may be assured of their salvation, Guthrie examines various ways by which sinners are drawn to Christ. He then focuses on saving faith as a most sure evidence of having a saving interest in Christ. He also distinguishes that faith from the faith of hypocrites. He concludes the first part by explaining why some believers doubt their interest in Christ.

The second part deals with how we might attain a saving interest in Christ. In the second chapter, “What it is to Close with God’s Gospel Plan of Saving Sinners by Christ Jesus, and the Duty of So Doing,” Guthrie reaches the crux of his treatise. This is a helpful chapter for those struggling with the reality of their faith. The next chapter deals with objections one can raise against closing with Christ, such as excessive sinfulness, inability to believe, unfruitfulness, and ignorance. The final chapter describes personal covenanting with God in Christ. The book concludes with a four-page, question-and-answer summary of the work.

Throughout this book, Guthrie distinguishes between the extraordinary and ordinary experiences of the believer. In this he helps sincere believers who have discounted their own salvation because they have been looking for extraordinary experiences upon which to build their salvation rather than relying on a childlike faith that trusts in Christ alone.

This is a wonderful book for people who are searching for spiritual certainty. Thomas Chalmers claimed it was “the best book I ever read.” He added, “It has long been the favorite work of our peasantry in Scotland. One admirable property of this work is that, while it guides, it purifies.”

Other Puritan Profiles in the 08PRC:

* Who Is Sameul Bolton? (September)
* Who Is William Bridge? (July)
* Who Is John Bunyan? (May)
* Who Is Jeremiah Burroughs? (April)
* Who Is Thomas Watson? (March)
* Who Is John Flavel? (February)
* Who Is Richard Sibbes? (January)

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Continuing in the string of excerpts from Samuel Bolton’s book, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, I want include Bolton’s commentary on the “five-fold peace of a Christian man.”  Bolton writes:

1.  There is a peace which flows from the witness-bearing of our conscience to our integrity and exact walking.

2.  There is a peace which flows from the soul’s communion and converse with God in duty.

3.  There is a peace which comes to the believer from the exercise of the grace implanted in him.

4.  There is a peace which flows from the sense and knowledge of God’s grace implanted in the soul.

5.  There is a peace which flows from the assurance that God is at peace with the soul, a peace which flows from the sense of Divine favour.

- Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, 156-57.

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Samuel Bolton, in his book The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, lays out nine differences between legal obedience and evangelical obedience.  He writes:

1.  Slavish spirit vs. Childlike spirit

“In one case the man does things in a legal spirit, either hoping to get rewards by it, or fearing punishments if he omits the duty.  The godly man, on the other hand, goes about duty for the sake of obtaining communion with God, and knows it to be his reward and happiness to have that communion, while the lack of it is the greatest punishment he can endure.”

2.  Burdensome vs. Delight

“To the man who has to do with nothing but duty while he is performing duty, to him duty is tedious; but to those who have to do with God, with Christ, in their duties, to them duty is a delight. . . . The godly man has to do with God.  He labours, he breathes, his heart gapes for him.  He it is who he has in his eyes, and whom he labours after in prayer, even if he cannot enjoy Him.”

3.  Conviction of conscience vs. Necessity of nature

“With many, obedience is their precept, not their principle; holiness their law, not their nature.  many have convictions who are not converted; many are convinced they ought to do this and that, for example, that they ought to pray, but they have not got the heart which desires and lays hold of the things they have convictions of, and know they ought to do.  Conviction, without conversion, is a tyrant rather than a king; it constrains, but does not persuade; it forces, but does not move and incline the soul to obedience.  It terrifies but does not reform; it puts a man in fear of sin and makes him fear the omission of duty, but it does not enable him either to hate sin or love duty.  All that it does is out of conviction of conscience, not from the necessary act of a new nature. Conscience tells a man that he ought to do certain things, but gives him no strength to do them.  It can show him the right way and tell him what he ought to do, but it does not enable the soul to do it.  Like a milestone by the roadside, it shows the traveler the way, but does not give him strength to walk in the way.  On the other hand, where there is the principle of the Gospel, where there is grace, it is in the soul as a pilot in a ship who not only points the way but steers the vessel in the way which he appoints.”

4.  Satisfaction in duty vs. Satisfaction in Christ

“The one kind of man looks for his satisfaction in the duty by the performance of the duty, the other looks for satisfaction in the duty as he finds Christ thereby; it is not in the duty, but above the duty, that he finds his satisfaction.”

5.  Shell vs. Substance

“The one kind of man contents himself with the shell, the other is not content without the substance.  The godly man goes to duty as the means of communion with God; the other goes to duty merely to satisfy the grumblings and quarrels of his conscience.”

6.  Performance as self-righteousness vs. Performance as Christ’s righteousness

“The one type of man performs duty in order to live but it. . . . But the believer prays and performs duty, yet he looks beyond them, and looks to live by Christ alone. . . . Even though he has done both these things in abundance, yet for his acceptance he looks up to Christ as if he himself had done nothing at all.”

7.  Formality vs. Fervency

“The one man does things coldly and formally, the other fervently. . .  A natural man may pray earnestly at times when in fear or horror, under pangs of conscience, but he does not cry believingly.  There may be much affection in a prayer when there is but little faith; there may be fleshly affections, natural affections, affections heightened either from convictions or fears or horrors.  Yet these are but the cries of nature, of sense, and of reason, the cries of flesh, not of faith.  Affections based on true faith are not loud, yet they are strong; they may be still, yet they are deep; though they are not so violent, yet they are more sweet, more lasting.”

8.  Duty only when pressured vs. Duty continually with happiness

“The formal man does duty with a view to it serving other ends, and especially when he finds himself in extreme difficulties. . . . But it is not so with the godly man.  He closes with these duties as his heaven, as a part of his happiness, a piece of his glory.  He does not close with them from a necessity of submission, but out of delight; these things are not his penance but his glory and his desire.”

9.  Duty with reluctance vs. Duty with delight

“The one man engages in duty as it if were medicine, not food.  He is reluctant to perform it; he has no pleasure in it; he is driven to it only because he conceives that his soul’s health demands it.  But the godly man engages in duty as a healthful man sits down to meat; there is delight, desire, and pleasure in he exercise.”

- Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, 140-44.

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At the close of his first chapter in The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, Samuel Bolton gives seven positive aspects of our freedom in Christ.  Bolton writes:

1.  We are freed from a state of wrath and brought to a state of mercy and favour (Eph. 2:1-10).

2.  We are freed from a state of condemnation and brought to a state of justification (Rom. 8:1).

3.  We are freed from a state of enmity and brought into a state of friendship (Col. 1:21).

4.  We are freed from a state of death and brought to a state of life (Eph. 2:1).

5.  We are freed from a state of sin and brought into a state of service (Rom. 8:12).

6.  We are freed from a state of bondage, a spirit of slavery in service, and brought into a spirit of sonship and liberty in service (2 Pet. 1:4).

7.  We are freed from death and hell, and brought to life and gloryHeaven is our portion, our inheritance, our mansion-house.  It was made for us, and we for it; we are vessels prepared for glory (Rom. 9:23).

- Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, 47-49.

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