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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.”1 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,”2 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!”3 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.”4 What exactly was his “new” method? One biographer attributes his success to his Cambridge training in “the new Ramist logic and rhetoric.”5 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,”6 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.”7 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.”8 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.”9 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.

The real issue of hindrance is based on the Christian who foolishly believes that he can rescue and reform himself by his own strength.

Hooker diagnoses several core hindrances but settles in on the primary stumbling block. The real issue of hindrance is based on the Christian who foolishly believes that he can rescue and reform himself by his own strength—that he may be able to make some amends for his own sins before God. Hooker argues: “Is it not plain then that it is thy pride and thy self-conceitedness that hinders thee? Thou thinkest thou must have thus much grace and holiness; and Christ must not justify the ungodly, but the godly man. But I tell thee, that, upon such terms, he will never justify thee, or any man while the world stands.”10

Hooker further asserts that the stubborn, prideful person must be dealt with by God supernaturally. “The same hand must bring us out of ourselves, that must bring us to Christ.”11 Our part is not that of self-reformation but of faith in the promises of God. “Therefore,” Hooker concludes, “build not your comfort upon sense and feeling, which is to build upon the sand; but go to the promise, as to the rock, for it.”12

In the face of stubbornness, the sinner must resolve to be comforted by the Lord. There is an awful pride that feigns distress that one’s sins are too great and too numerous to confess. Hooker attacks this bogus belief: “You think you speak against yourself now: no, no, you speak against the Lord. And know, this is one of the greatest sins thou committest, to say thy sins cannot be forgiven.”13 What is at the heart of the matter? How can a poor, doubting Christian come to Christ? By believing in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Now the Lord lifts up his voice, and says from heaven, “thy sins are pardonable.” O the infiniteness of God’s power! though the guilt of sin is powerful to condemn the soul. But when the infinite power of the Lord is considered, as able to overpower all his sins, this lifteth up the heart in some expectation that the Lord will show mercy to a man; though it is a hard thing to hope, when the soul is thus troubled.14

 

  1. Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702; repr., Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 1:334. ↩︎
  2. George Leon Walker, Thomas Hooker: Preacher, Founder, Democrat (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1891), 36. ↩︎
  3. Cited in Frank Shuffelton, Thomas Hooker, 1586–1647 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977), 31. ↩︎
  4. Cited in Walker, Thomas Hooker, 36–37, emphasis added. ↩︎
  5. Shuffelton, Thomas Hooker, 35. ↩︎
  6. Thomas Prince, “Biographical Sketch,” in Thomas Hooker, The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ (1629; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1981), 9. ↩︎
  7. Hebrews 4:12 (1599 Geneva Bible). ↩︎
  8. Cited in Walker, Thomas Hooker, 37. ↩︎
  9. Thomas Hooker, The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ (1629; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1981), 25. ↩︎
  10. Hooker, Poor Doubting Christian, 33. ↩︎
  11. Hooker, Poor Doubting Christian, 43. ↩︎
  12. Hooker, Poor Doubting Christian, 47. ↩︎
  13. Hooker, Poor Doubting Christian, 54. ↩︎
  14. Hooker, Poor Doubting Christian, 51. ↩︎

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