Finding Assurance

Finding Assurance

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.

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.

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