Challenging the System
An excerpt from my latest book Televangelicalism
Robert Wurtz II
Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) was first a non-conformist and later a prominent Puritan colonial leader who founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts. In 1633 he was made pastor of Newtowne, Massachusetts. The church was composed of men that had been his followers in England, who had crossed the ocean, established themselves at Newtowne, and called him to be their preacher while he was still in exile in Holland. His concern was religious liberty. He did not find it in Massachusetts. What he did find was a theocracy and consequently an aristocracy. Here the church ruled, almost as the church ruled in Rome, only it was another church and there was no Pope. No man could vote unless he was a church member. No person could be a church member unless they could give a conversion narrative. Only one in ten men of mature age was qualified to vote. Though a minister, Hooker carried his gun in one hand and His Bible in the other; and is assigned the title, “The First American Democrat.” He preached on Sundays and fought Indians on weekdays.We must bear in mind that this was a different time, not far removed from the violence that attended the enforcement of established beliefs up to this time. Hooker moved his family from Massachusetts so that his posterity would not grow up under their theocracy, but in liberty. He was considered a man of valor, in a time when it took more courage to speak the truth than to bear ones chest to the sword of the enemy.
A taste of preparation narrative
For all that America is indebted to this man for his ideals concerning liberty and democracy, there is another aspect to Hooker that we must consider at this juncture. In 1632 in London and again in 1638 in the Netherlands, one of Hookers most significant preparationist writings was published. It was entitled, THE SOULS PREPARATION FOR CHRIST: Being a Treatise of Contrition. Wherein is discovered how God breaks the heart, and wounds the soul, in the conversion of the sinner to Himself. This protracted title was followed by the text in Psalm 51:17: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou will not despise. He begins the work with the text from Acts 2:37, Now when they heard this they were pricked in their hearts, and said to Peter and the other Apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved? Hooker’s view of awakening sinners was as follows: “A special application of particular sins, is a chief means to bring people to a sight of their sins, and to a true sorrow for them. The Apostle does not in a general sense set forth their sins; but he comes home to their hearts, and it is not only done in this place; but it has been the practice of all faithful ministers heretofore. As John the Baptist, he goes not cunningly to work, secretly to intimate some truths; but he deals roundly with them, and says, O generation of vipers, who forewarned you to flee from the wrath to come? And he shows them their sins in particular. And when the publicans came to be baptized, he says, Receive no more then is appointed for you; and he says to the soldiers, do violence to no man, and be content with your wages (Luke 3:13, 14); he was the minister of humiliation and preparation: and therefore he deals thus plainly with them. When Ahab had slain Naboth, the prophet Elijah came to him and said, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, Shall dogs lick thy blood: Ahab said, Hast thou found me out, o my enemy? And he said, I have found thee out, because thou hast sold thy self to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord (I Kings 21:20); and the text says, when he heard this, he put on sackcloth and went softly. This was the power of a particular reproof, though he were a miserable, wicked man. Thus did Paul deal with Peter, when he halted before the Jews, he did plainly reprove him to his face, and that not secretly, but because he had sinned openly, therefore he reproves him openly: so also our Savior Christ shakes up the scribes and Pharisees. And this is the rule in general, as the Apostle says; Reprove them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:13).
Many ministers can tell a grave tale, and speak of sins in general; but these common reproofs, these intimations of sin, are like arrows shot low or over their heads, they touch no man; but when a minister makes application of sin in particular, and says, oh all you drunkards and adulterers, this is your portion, and let this be as venom in your hearts to purge out your lusts. When our Savior Christ lapped up the Pharisees all in one speech, it is said, that they heard the parable, and knew that he meant them (Matthew 21:45). When particular application comes home to the heart, and a minister says; this is your drunkenness, and your adultery and profaneness, and this will break your neck one day: what assurance have you got of God’s mercy? And what can you say for heaven? Then men begin to look about them. There was never any convicting ministry, nor any man that did in plainness apply the Word home, but their people would be reformed by it, or else their consciences would be troubled, and desperately provoked to oppose God and his ordinances, that they may be plagued by it. The Word of God is like a sword; the explanation of the text is like the drawing out of this sword and the flourishing of it, and so long it never hits: but when a man strikes a full blow at a man, it either wounds or puts him to his fence: so the application of the Word is like the striking with the sword, it will work one way or other, if a man can fence the blow so it is: but if not, it wounds. I confess it is beyond our power to awaken the heart, but ordinarily this way does good.”After the person has been made to see their sins, it was expected that they meditate upon them in order to gain a right understanding of the crime committed. Hooker made use of means in order to prepare the unconverted for receiving Christ.
Thomas Hooker pastorally
Although Hooker was straight forward in bringing a person around to Christ, he did not agree with the strict requirements for church membership that characterized the New England Puritans. He believed that if a person was required to give an account of their conversion it should be done with “rational charity” because one man cannot know the heart of another, nor truly discover it. Even at that, Hooker was criticized for making the standard of grace too high. Some believed he had made “rules” that amounted to legalism that risked overshadowing a person’s legitimate conversion experience. This is overstated, as Hooker believed that a person’s sorrow for sins would be proportional to their severity and aggravations. Nor did he believe that a person needed to be seized with fear for their soul in order to be saved. He believed God deals with people where they are. “If a man have been an outrageous, rebellious wretch, alas it is not a little matter will do the deed, it is not now and then a gracious promise that will break his heart; but the Lord must come down from heaven and break open the door by strong hands, by awakening his conscience, that all the country rings of him.”Hooker gives an example of Lydia that underwent no such pains, but she was willing that the Lord should open her heart to receive the Word of God. At any rate, man must be willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He brings him to Christ. As a pastor he admitted external covenanters on the basis of preparatory “motions,” or a charitable “hope.”