THOMAS SHEPARD was born in Towcester, near Northampton, in Great-Britain, November
5, 1605. He was the son of Mr. William Shepard, who called him Thomas, because
his birth was supposed to be at the very hour, when the Gunpowder Treason was
designed to be perpetrated; a plot, concerning which he observed, This
child of his would hardly believe that ever such wickedness could be attempted
by the sons of men. At the age of fifteen, he became prepared for the
university, and entered Emanuel College in Cambridge. Here, after a residence
of about two years, he was impressed with very powerful convictions of his misery
which, though occasionally suspended, were effectualy renewed through the instrumentality
of that celebrated Divine, Dr. Preston, in 1624. From this time, he gave himself
to daily meditation, which he attended every evening before supper. Having proceeded
A.M. at Cambridge, he accepted an invitation to Earls Coln, where he held
a lecture, supported by the pious charity of Dr. Wilson, for three years. At
the close of this term, the inhabitants of Earls Coln were so reluctant
to part with him, that they raised a salary among themselves for his support;
and prevailed on him to continue with them. Although he was yet a young man,
there was an unusual majesty and energy in his preaching, and a holiness in
his life, which rendered him eminently useful to his own people, and to the
towns in the vicinity, from which several afterwards accompanied him to New-England,
to enjoy the benefit of his ministry.
When Dr. Laud became bishop of London, Mr. Shepard was silenced for his Puritanism. Being invited into Yorkshire, he officiated there, for sometime, as a private chaplain, in the family of Sir Richard Darly, whose near kinswoman he afterwards married. To that family and neighbourhood he appears to have been a great blessing. Bishop Neal refusing him liberty for his ministry without subscription: he removed to Heddon, in Northumberland, where his labours were very successful. But the zeal of the bishop reached him, even in this remote corner of the kingdom, and prohibited him from preaching here any more. (89)
The removal of Mr. Cotton, Mr. Hooker, Mr. Stone and others, to America had already excited many pious people, in various parts of England, to contemplate a similar removal. Several of Mr. Shepards friends in New England, and others who purposed a removal, uniting their solicitations, at this juncture, he resolved to repair to this new plantation. Having, accordingly, preached his farewell sermon at Newcastle, he went in disguise to Ipswich, and thence to Earls Coln; whence, accompanied by Mr. Norton, he went to Yarmouth, intending to embark there for New England. Pursuivants, however, were employed to apprehend him. These pursuivants having discovered Mr. Shepards quarters, had, by a sum of money, obtained a promise, from a boy belonging to the house where he lodged, to open the door for them at a certain hour of the night. But by the singular providence of God, the design was frustrated. Some serious expressions of Mr. Shepard being uttered in the hearing of this boy, he was struck with horror at the thought, that he should be so wicked as to betray so good a man; and, with tears, discovered the whole plot to his pious master, who took care immediately to convey Mr. Shepard out of the reach of his enemies.
Toward the close of the year 1634, Mr. Shepard embarked at Harwich; but in a few hours the ship was driven back into Yarmouth road, where arose one of the most tremendous storms ever known. The ship was almost miraculously saved, but so materially damaged that the proposed voyage was relinquished. (90) Mr. Shepard, after spending the winter at Bastwick, went, in the spring, to London, where, by a removal of his lodgings, he again narrowly escaped his pursuivants. In July, he sailed from Gravesend, and, on the third of October, 1635, after a hazardous voyage, he arrived at Boston. His friends at Newtown [Cambridge] soon conducted him to that infant settlement, destined to be the field of his future labours.
After a diligent, laborious, and successful ministry, he died of the quinsy, August 25, 1649, aetat. XLIV. On his death-bed, he said to the young ministers around him, That their work was great, and called for great seriousness; and mentioned to them three things concerning himself: That the study of every sermon cost him tears; That before he preached any Sermon he got good by it himself; and, That he always went into the pulpit, as if he were to give up his accounts to his Master.
He is said to have been a poore, weake, pale complectioned man. He was distinguished for his humility and piety; and as a preacher of evangelical truth, and an author of experimental religion, he was one of the foremost of his day. (91) He was an influential patron of learning, as well as of religion, and was zealous in promoting the interests of the infant college, as well as those of the infant church, at Cambridge. (92) By his death, not only the church and people at Cambridge, but also all New-England, sustained a very great loss. He not only preached the gospel profitably and successfully, but also left behind him divers worthy works of special use, in reference unto the clearing up the state of the soul toward God. (93)
Mr. Shepards printed works are: Theses Sabbiticae, in which he hath handled the morality of the sabbath, with a degree of reason, reading, and religion, which is truly extraordinary. [C. Mather.]
A Discourse, in which is handled the controversy of the Catholic visible church, tending to clear up the old way of Christ, in the churches of New-England.
A letter on The church membership of children, and their right to baptisme. This letter was printed at Cambridge, 1663.
A letter, entitled, New-Englands Lamentation for Old Englands errors.
A Sermon, entitled, Cautions against spiritual drunkenness.
A Treatise, entitled, Subjection to Christ, in all his Ordinances and Appointments, the best means to preserve our liberty: to which is subjoined another Treatise, Concerning ineffectual hearing of the Word.
The Sincere Convert, which the author called his ragged child, on account of its incorrectness, it having been surreptitiously published.
The Sound Believer, which is a discriminating Treatise on Evangelical Conversion.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins, a posthumous work, in folio, transcribed from his sermons, preached at his Lecture from June 1636 to May 1640; concerning which the venerable divines Greenhil, Calamy, Ash, and Taylor observed, That though a vein of serious, solid and hearty piety run through all this authors works; yet he hath reserved the best wine till the last.
Singing of Psalmes a Gospel-Ordinance, which, in the title-page, is said to be By John Cotton, Teacher of the Church at Boston in New-England; but which was really, in substance, the work of Mr. Shepard. On a blank leaf of the copy now before me, there is the following memorandum, probably written by the Rev. Thomas Shepard, of Charlestown, whose name is on the book: Mr. Edward Bulkley, pastor of the church of Christ in Concord, told me Sept. 20, 1674, that when he boarded at Mr. Cottons house at the first coming forth of this book of singing of Psalmes, Mr. Cotton told him that my father Shepard had the chief hand in the composing of it, and therefore Mr. Cotton said, I am troubled that my brother Shepards name is not prefixed to it. It is a quarto, of 72 pages, and was printed at London, in 1647.
The clear Sun-Shine of the Gospel upon the Indians, published in London 1648.
Neal mentions a work of Mr. Shepard, entitled, Evangelical Call; as one of his most noted Treatises. I find no notice of it elsewhere.
Select Cases resolved: First Principles of the Oracles of God, or, Sum of Christian Religion: Meditations and Spiritual Experiences, extracted from Mr. Shepards Private Diary. These three were published by the Rev. Mr. Prince, of Boston, (the last of them from the original MS.) in 1747. The Select Cases and First Principles were published together, first at London, and then at Edinburgh, in 1648; and have, since, passed through several editions.
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