In his magisterial history of New England, Magnalia Christi Americana, Cotton Mather notes that, after finishing his time with Mrs. Drake, Thomas Hooker “in a little time . . . grew famous for his ministerial abilities, but especially for his notable faculty at the wise and fit management of wounded spirits.” The Puritan divine who would grow in stature both in England and America started out as a young college graduate called to a seemingly hopeless situation. As would soon become evident, his love for others and his skill in handling the Scriptures aided him in ministering to a woman teetering on the verge of heaven and hell.
The Troubled Mrs. Drake
About fifteen miles from London, the small parish of St. George’s in Esher, Surrey, called young Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) to serve as rector. Due to the congregation’s size, the wealthy Francis Drake, relative of the renowned English explorer Sir Francis Drake, served as Hooker’s patron and invited him to live in his home. However, Hooker’s presence would also serve another end.
Francis Drake’s wife, Joanna, struggled with severe spiritual and emotional affliction. Deemed to be “an invalid and hypochondriac,” she was known to have suicidal tendencies. On one occasion, Mrs. Drake woke up, screaming that “shee was undone, undone, undone, shee was damned, and a cast away, and so of necessity must need goe to Hell!” Gripped with constant terror, she feared that she had committed the unpardonable sin and was thereby consigned to eternal punishment. Two capable ministers were called upon for help, Rev. John Dod (1549–1645) and Dr. James Usher (1581–1656), but both would eventually step aside, frustrated in their efforts. However, Dod had heard of a young Cambridge lecturer named Thomas Hooker and recommended him for the task.
“New Answering Methode”
Upon moving into the Drakes’ home in 1618, Hooker began to minister immediately to the aged woman. Where the previous ministers failed, Hooker seemed to have great success. “For Mr. Hooker being newly come from the University had a new answering method . . . wherewith shee was marvellously delighted.” What exactly was his “new” method? One biographer attributes his success to his Cambridge training in “the new Ramist logic and rhetoric.” The scholastic hypothesis is that since he was trained in the art of logic, he would better be able to give Mrs. Drake well-reasoned answers to her objections to divine truth. However, this underestimates the inherent power of the Word of God applied to the heart of the believer.
As a Puritan minister known for his “piercing judgment, solid learning, extraordinary sanctity, deep acquaintance with the Scriptures and experimental divinity,” Hooker would have no doubt thrown himself into the reading, explaining, and applying of the Word of God to Mrs. Drake’s condition. As a biblical counselor, he placed his confidence not in his own wisdom or abilities but in the power of the Spirit and of the Word to “entereth through, even unto the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit, and of the joints, and the marrow . . . [discerning] the thoughts, and the intents of the heart.” In the end, Hooker was able to help Mrs. Drake considerably, with the result that she was “more cheerful in mind” and in “a Fit of sudden, extream, ravishing, unsupportable Joy, beyond the Strength of Mortality to retain, or be long capable of.” When Mrs. Drake died on April 18, 1625, she passed on peacefully and fully assured of her salvation in Jesus Christ.
Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ
The story of Thomas Hooker’s ministry to the troubled Mrs. Drake soon became the stuff of legend. Within a few years, Hooker had the opportunity to see the substance of his counseling published as a book titled The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ (1629). At the start, Hooker states his purpose of addressing the “divers[e] impediments which hinder poor Christians from coming to Christ.” The main concern is not for the unbeliever—that is a separate issue—but for the believer who struggles to apprehend the grace and kindness of the Savior.