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The Reverend 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 in unregeneracy, 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 Earl’s 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 Earl’s 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. Shepard’s 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 Earl’s 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. Shepard’s 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. Shepard’s 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-England’s Lamentation for Old England’s 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 author’s 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. Cotton’s 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 Shepard’s 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. Shepard’s 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.
89 ^ The following extract from Mr. Shepard’s MS. Diary, furnishes an interesting speciment of the barbarous treatment, which our pious ancestors received, under the inquisitorial domination of bishop Laud; “Dec. 16, 1630. I was inhibited from preaching in the Diocese of London, by Doctor Laud, bishop of that Diocess. As soon as I came in the morning, about 8 of the clock, falling into a fit of rage he asked me, What degree I had taken at the University? I answered him, I was a Master of Arts. He asked, Of what College? I answered, Of Emanuel. He asked, How long I had lived in his Diocess? I answered, Three years and upwards. He asked, Who maintained me all this while? charging me to deal plainly with him, adding withal, that he had been more cheated and equivocated with by some of my malignant Faction than ever was man by Jesuit. At the speaking of which words he look’d as tho’ blood would have gush’d out of his face, and did shake as if he had been haunted with a Ague Fit, to my apprehension, by reason of his extream malice and secret venom. I desired him to excuse me: He fell then to threaten me, and withal to bitter railing, calling me all to naught saying, You prating coxcomb! Do you think all the Learning is in your brain? He had pronounced his sentence thus: I charge you, that you neither Preach, Read, Marry, Bury, or exercise any Ministerial Function in any part of my Diocess; for if you do, and I hear of it, I’ll be upon your back, and follow you wherever you go, in any part of the kingdom, and so everlastingly disenable you. I besought him not to deal so, in regard of a poor Town; and here he stopt me in what I was going on to say, A poor Town! you have made a company of seditious factious Bedlams; and what do you prate to me of a poor Town? I prayed him to suffer me to catechise in the Sabbath Days in the afternoon: He replied, Spare your breath, I’ll have no such fellows prate in my Diocess, get you gone, and now make your complaints to whom you will. So away I went; and blessed be God that I may go to him.”
90 ^ “In the meane time the master, and other seamen, made a strange construction of the fore storme they met withall, saying, their ship was bewitched; and therefore made use of the common charme ignorant people use, nailing two red hot horse shoos to their main mast.” Wonder-working Providence.
91 ^ President Edwards styles Mr. Shepard “that famous experimental divine;” and, in his very judicious and elaborate “Treatise concerning Religious Affections,” makes a greater use of his writings, particularly of his “Parable of the Ten Virgins,” than of any other writings whatever.
Johnson, who wrote a few years after Mr. Shepard’s death, says: “Thousands of souls have cause to blesse God for him even at this very day, who are the seal of his ministrey, and hee a man of a thousand, indued with abundance of true saving knowledge for himselfe and others.” (Wonder-working Providence, XXXIV. This very scarce and valuable book, (obligingly put into my hands by the venerable antiquarian Judge Craneb, of Quincey,) was first published without the author’s name; and, afterward, erroneously ascribed to Sir F. Borges. The real author was Mr. Johnson, of Woburn, in N. England. See Preface of Prince’s Chron. ii.) Later writers have not overlooked Mr. Shepard’s antiquated merit. Dr. Mayhew, in one of his controversial essays, mentions him as a person of great note in his day, and a learned man. Dr. Chauncy, in his “Seasonable Thoughts,” quotes him with great respect, styling him, in different parts of his work, “the memorable,” “the celebrated,” “the famous” Shepard.
92 ^ In 1644, he wrote to the Commissioners of the United Colonies, representing the necesssity of further assistance for needy scholars at Cambridge; and desired them to encourage a general contribution through the colonies. The Commissioners approved the motion, and recommended it to the consideration of the Legislatures of the several colonies, which adopted the recommendation; and an annual contribution was, accordingly, made through the United colonies, for many subsequent years. Trumbull’s Hist. Connect. I. 148. Hazard’s Hist. Collections, II. 17, where Mr. Shepard’s Proposition to the Commissioners is preserved entire.
93 ^ Morton. — Mr. Shepard’s monument is not now distinguishable among the tombs. In the burying ground in Cambridge, there are several monuments, of hard stone, with incisions, evidently designed to admit a softer stone with an inscription. By the ravages of time, or of sacrilegious hands, these inlet stones are now removed, and the inscriptions are unhappily lost. But for this injury, we might, perhaps, now have the melancholy pleasure of visiting the monuments of the pious and renowned SHEPARD and MITCHEL, and others, of revered memory. — The slab, which covered the grave of the great President Chauncy, is broken into three pieces; and the fragments are carefully laid aside. A line of Horace would form an apposite inscription for the tomb of many a great and good man:
Oblitusque meorum oblivissendus et idis.