Brief Biography - by Alexander Whyte
It was in my third year at the University that I first
became acquainted with Thomas Goodwin. On opening the 'Witness' newspaper one
propitious morning, my eye fell on the announcement of a new edition of Thomas
Goodwin's works. The advertised 'Council of Publication', as I remember well,
made a deep impression upon me, and it will not be without interest to you to
hear their honoured names even on this far-distant day. They were Dr Lindsay
Alexander, of this city; Dr Begg, of this city; Dr Crawford, of the University
of Edinburgh; Principal Cunningham, of this College; Mr Drummond, of St
Thomas's Episcopal Church; Dr William Goold, of Martyr's Church. I entered my
name at once as a subscriber to the series; and not long after, the first
volume of Goodwin's works came into my hands. And I will here say with simple
truth that his works have never been out of my hands down to this day. In those
far-off years I read my Goodwin every Sabbath morning and every Sabbath night.
Goodwin was my every Sabbath-day meat and my every Sabbath-day drink. And
during my succeeding years as a student, and as a young minister, I carried
about a volume of Goodwin wherever I went. I read him in railway carriages and
on steamboats. I read him at home and abroad. I read him on my holidays among
the Scottish Grampians and among the Swiss Alps. I carried his volumes about
with me till they fell out of their original cloth binding, and till I got my
book-binder to put them into his best morocco. I have read no other author so
much and so often. And I continue to read him till this day as if I had never
read him before.
Thomas Goodwin was born October 5, 1600 at Rollesby, a little village in Norfolk. He was brought up with great care by his Puritan parents, who had from his birth devoted him to the Christian ministry. He was educated at Cambridge where he attained a great proficiency in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He kept up his reading in those three languages to the end of his life, and to the lasting enriching and adorning of his pulpit work. 'By an unwearied industry in his studies', says one of his biographers, 'Goodwin so much improved those natural abilities that God had given him, that, though so very young, he gained for himself a great esteem at the University. But all the time', adds the biographer, 'he walked in the vanity of his mind, and ambitious hopes and selfish designs entirely possessing him, all his aim was to get applause and raise his reputation, and in any manner to advance himself by preferments. 'But', adds his biographer, 'God, who had designed Goodwin to higher ends than those he projected in his own thoughts, was graciously pleased to change his heart and to turn the course of his life to the divine service and to the divine glory'. After his conversion, Goodwin attached himself openly and boldly to the Puritan party in the University, and he remained one of the great pillars of that party as long as he lived. He was wont to say that it was his deep reading of his own heart, taken along with his deep reading of his New Testament, that made him and kept him an evangelical Puritan through all the intellectual and ecclesiastical vicissitudes of his after life.
Owing to Archbishop Laud's persecution of the Evangelical party in the English Church, Goodwin was compelled to resign all his ecclesiastical appointments and to take refuge in Holland. By this time his scriptural and historical studies had made him a convinced Independent, both in politics and in church government. After Laud fell Goodwin was able to return to England. He settled in London where his unparalleled power in the pulpit soon gathered a large and influential congregation around him. In the porch of the City Temple there is a monumental tablet to the memory of the first minister of that famous congregation, which runs thus: 'The church assembling here was founded by the Reverend Thomas Goodwin, D.D.: Preacher of the Council of State; President of Magdalene College, Oxford; Member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines; and chaplain to Oliver Cromwell . . . This tablet is erected by this church to perpetuate the Hallowed Memory of her venerable and illustrious founder'. And his Latin epitaph, in Bunhill Fields Cemetery has been translated thus: 'Here lies the body of Thomas Goodwin, D.D. He had a large acquaintance with ancient, and above all, with Ecclesiastical History. He was exceeded by no one in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. He was at once blessed with a rich invention and a solid and exact judgment. He carefully compared together the different parts of Holy Writ, and with a marvellous felicity discovered the latent sense of the divine Spirit who indited them. None ever entered deeper into the mysteries of the Gospel, or more clearly unfolded them for the benefit of others ... In knowledge, wisdom and eloquence he was a truly Christian pastor ... Till having finished his appointed course, both of services and of sufferings' in the cause of his Divine Master, he gently fell asleep in Jesus in February 23rd, 1679 in the eightieth year of his age.
Works Goodwin's works, in their original editions, occupied five massive folio volumes. 'And', says Andrew Bonar, in one of his learned notes to Rutherford's Letters, 'they are five invaluable volumes'. In the Edinburgh edition the whole works fill twelve closely-printed octavo volumes. The first volume of the Edinburgh reprint is wholly occupied with thirty-six sermons on the first chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Ephesians was Goodwin's favourite Epistle. I know nothing anywhere at all to compare with this splendid exposition, unless it is Bishop Davenant on the Epistle to the Colossians, or Archbishop Leighton on First Peter. Goodwin cannot be said to have the classical compression, nor has he the classical finish that so delight us in all Leighton's literature. But there is a grappling power; there is 'a studying down' of the passage in hand; and withal, there is a height and a depth, and a fertilizing suggestiveness in Goodwin that neither Davenant nor Leighton possess. I never open this great volume that I do not recall the words of my dear old friend, John More of Woolwich, who said on one public occasion that he owed all his divinity to Goodwin on the Ephesians.
Goodwin's second volume contains his famous sermon on what he calls 'the strangest paradox ever uttered'. That strangest of paradoxes is the passage in which the Apostle James tells the twelve tribes to count it all joy when they fall into divers trials or temptations. Goodwin's loss of his valuable library in the great fire of London was the occasion of his remarkable discourse entitled 'Patience and her Perfect Work'. In that great calamity our author lost £500 worth of selected and cherished books; a greater loss to such a student than any number of pounds could calculate. 'I have heard my father say that God had struck him in a very sensible place. But that since he lost his books much too well, so God had sharply chastised him by this sore affliction'. This recalls to my mind what Dr Duncan of this college was wont to say: 'My Semitic books', he said, 'are my besetting sin' But, as God would have it, out of the red-hot ashes of Goodwin's burned-up books there sprang up a sermon that has been the calming and the consolation of multitudes amid crosses and losses such that, but for Goodwin's teaching and example, would have completely crushed and overwhelmed them.
The third volume contains 'An Exposition of the Book of Revelation,' which is followed by 'Three Select Cases Resolved.' And Goodwin's Three Cases are as lastingly valuable to me as his Revelation is worthless. Goodwin warns his readers that some of them may find his Revelation somewhat 'craggy and tiresome.' And I am fain to confess that I am one of those readers. The true key to the Book of Revelation had not been discovered in Goodwin's day. And, therefore, I thankfully accept his offered permission to leave his Revelation alone. But if his Revelation is 'craggy and tiresome' to me, his 'Select Cases 'are everything but that. The truth is, there is no part of Goodwin's twelve volumes that has been more thumbed by me from my youth up than just his 'Three Select Cases.' 'Likewise, at the same time,' says James Fraser of Brea, 'I received much knowledge and much comfort from Mr. Goodwin's works, especially from his 'Growth in Grace'. 'The Heart of Christ in Heaven towards Sinners on Earth' is the gem of the fourth volume. And it is a gem of the purest water, if I am any judge. Happily for the evangelical faith, Goodwin's fifth volume is full of the purest and strongest and sweetest New Testament truth. Christ the Mediator is the all-comprehending title of this massive and most scriptural book. And throughout, this grand subject is grappled with, and is handled, as only Goodwin can grapple with and handle Paul. And then every chapter is carried down into the hearts of his hearers and readers with that powerful, and at the same time tender, homiletic of which Goodwin is such a master.
The chapters in the sixth volume to which I oftenest turn are those on True Spirituality; on true and pure scriptural and evangelical spirituality; what it is; and why and how it is what it is; on spiritual persons and spiritual things; and on the supreme blessedness of the truly spiritual mind. The chapters on conscience in the sixth volume are simply masterly, even to this day. Let the great treatise in his seventh volume, 'Of the Creatures, and the condition of their state by Nature,' be read in proof of this eulogium. Even in these Darwinian days, when Adam has been dissolved and distributed into so many protoplasms, and potencies, and preludes of the human being who was to come in the far future, I am bold to recommend Goodwin's seventh volume to all serious-minded students of Moses, and of Paul, and of themselves.
Editing the eighth volume, Goodwin's dutiful son says of it: 'In this book of my father's you have the infinite mercy of the divine nature displayed as far as human thought and human language can reach. And what you here possess in my poor English does not at all reach the rich eloquence of his Latin.' So far Goodwin's grateful son. 'I write this book,' says its author, 'for the use of thoroughly humbled and thoroughly broken hearts.' The great acknowledgment I have to make concerning Goodwin's eighth volume is this. I had often read the thirty-fourth of Exodus before ever I came upon Goodwin's exposition of that great fountain-head of Old Testament grace and truth. But from the day when I first read Goodwin's epoch-making discourses on that wonderful chapter, it has been a source of daily salvation and of daily song to me. 'Thank you, sir,' writes one of our ministers to me; 'thank you for urging us to study Goodwin. Nowadays he is never out of my hands.' After you have read his ninth volume, 'On Election,' you will confess that amid much that is somewhat craggy and tiresome 'to you, at the same time you have come upon chapters that only Goodwin could have written, notably those chapters on the election of Christ Himself, and on your election in Him. As also the specially Goodwinian Book iv. on 1 Peter v. 10. Indeed, I will stake all I have ever said about Goodwin on this book: that is to say, when the book comes into the hands of the prepared and proper reader.
His tenth volume is a comprehensive treatise on the Prophetic, Apostolic, and Puritan anthropology. It cannot be denied that this treatise is somewhat sombre and even solemnising and overawing reading. But it would not be true to mankind if it were not both sombre and solemnising and overawing. The whole volume is an exhaustive and a conclusive answer to the Catechism question: 'Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?'And once mastered by the true student this massive treatise will remain a quarry of scriptural and experimental material both for his personal religion and for his pulpit work.
The eleventh volume contains an elaborate treatise on 'The Constitution, Right Order, and Government of the Churches of Christ.' As to the manner in which Goodwin's defence of Independency, and his assault on Presbytery and Episcopacy is conducted, I will let the author's son speak: 'Here,' says young Goodwin, 'is no pride nor arrogance. Here are no reproaches, no base and sly insinuations, none of those invidious reflections with which controversies are usually managed. But here are sober thoughts, calm reasonings, and the truth showing itself in such a mild and lovely aspect as may create inclinations to it in the souls of all persons whom passion or interest have not too much prejudiced.' And thus it comes about that book after book, and chapter after chapter, is but another example and illustration of that endlessly interesting method of his. It cannot be too much signalised, for it is his outstanding and honourable distinction over all the great divines of his own and every other day, that every head of doctrine, every proposition of divinity, every chapter and every sentence and every clause of creed or catechism is taken up and is discussed down to the bottom by Goodwin, not as so many abstract, dogmatical propositions, but as so many fountain-head passages of Holy Scripture.
All his work, throughout all his twelve volumes, is just so much pulpit exposition and pulpit application of the Word of God. The Fathers, Greek and Latin; the Schoolmen; the Reformers, the Remonstrants, the Anglicans, the Arminians, the Antinomians, the Socinians, the Quakers, the English and American Puritans, the Scottish Presbyterians, they are all laid under pulpit contribution, and they all get their generous meed of praise, or their regretful word of passing blame. Till it must have been a Biblical and a theological education to sit under Goodwin, not only to his Bible students, but to all his hearers. And till I can see the Bible-loving Protector and all his preaching officers rubbing their hands with holy glee as they crowded round Goodwin's pulpit, now in the House of Commons, and now in the camp, and congratulated evangelical England and themselves that they had such a 'trier' as Goodwin was, by whom to waken up the sleeping incumbents of the parish pulpits all over the land.
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