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Thomas Doolittle

Extended Biography of Thomas Doolittle

THOMAS DOOLITTLE was born at Kidderminster in Worcestershire, in the year 1630. He early discovered an inclination to learning, and, at a proper age, was sent to Cambridge, and admitted into Pembroke Hall. Here he bent his studies for the ministry, in which he had Mr. Baxter's encouragement. Whilst at school at Kidderminster, he heard Mr. Baxter preach those sermons, which were afterwards printed in his book of The Saint's Rest: Some of which discourses were blessed of God to his conversion, which was the ground of that peculiar esteem and affection which he would often express for that holy man, whom God had made his spiritual father. Some of his friends would have had him brought up to the law, and he was actually put upon trial to an attorney in the country, with whom he did not stay long, as Providence had designed him to other work. Being set to copy out some writings on the Lord's Day, he obeyed his master with great reluctance; and the next day went home to his father, and complained of the wound it had made in his spirit; adding, that he could no more think of returning to his place, or of applying himself to any thing else, as the business of his life, but serving Christ in the work of the gospel.

Thus he went to the university under the privilege and blessing of a tender conscience, and a heart betimes set right with God; by which he was an experienced Christian, before he was a minister; and, as he improved in learning, he grew also in grace, which qualified and disposed him to lay out all other attainments to the honor of his Lord. Having staid in the university till he had taken his degree of master of arts, he left Cambridge, and came to London, where he was soon taken notice of for his warm and affectionate preaching. The parish of St. Alphage, by London-Wall, being at that time without a minister, several preached as candidate for the place; but the inhabitants, upon hearing Mr. Doolittle, centered in him, and gave him a call to be their pastor. He has been heard to speak of the great concern he was under upon this occasion, in a deep sense of the weight of the work, and from the consideration of his youth; but having prayed earnestly to God, and advised with his friends, he accepted of the call given him, and applied himself with all his might to his work, and the hand of the Lord was with him; so that to old age, on proper occasions, he was wont to remember with thankfulness the divine power that at tended his ministrations, at his first setting out. Some time after his settlement here, he married a very prudent and pious gentlewoman, whom he found every way suitable, and a great help to him, especially in the persecuting times. He continued a faithful laborer in this place nine years, viz. till the sad Bartholomew-day, 1602, when he, and about two thousand of his brethren, were silenced for non-conformity. Before the act took place, Mr. Doolittle carefully studied the terms required, and prayed to God for light; and, upon the whole, thought it his duty to be a non-conformist, and resolved accordingly, though he bad now three children and a growing family. From St. Alphage he went into Moorfields, where he opened his house for boarders, and had so many desirous to have their children with him for instruction, that he was constrained to hire a larger house in Bunhill Fields, where he continued to the time of the great plague; when he removed to Woodford Bridge, by Epping Forest; leaving the Reverend Mr. Thomas Vincent in his house, who was of great use to many in the general calamity. This village was a Zoar to him, where he continued in safety, while the plague was raging, and making such dreadful havoc in the city. And though many resorted to his house for the worship of God, he had not one sick of his numerous family, consisting at that time of more than thirty. Here he wrote an address to his friends in London, entitled, “A Spiritual Antidote in dying Times.”

After the sickness, he returned to his house, and the next year saw with sorrow the city in flames, by which most of the churches were laid in ashes. This and the former judgment were very awful, and when the voice of the Lord cried so loudly to the city and nation, he thought it no time for ministers to be silent. Though forbidden to preach by the Act of Uniformity, he could not take that for a discharge from the work and office of the ministry, to which he believed himself solemnly separated, according to the rules of the word. Zeal for God, and compassion to souls, led him to set up a meeting-house, first, near his dwelling in Bunhill Fields; and when that proved too strait, and the city began to be rebuilt, he took a piece of ground, and erected a large and commodious place of worship in Mugwell-Street, near Cripplegate. Here he preached to a numerous auditory, and had many seals to his ministry. Among others, there was one that was wont to rail against him, and abuse his wife, who was a pious woman, for going to hear him. This poor creature, on a Lords Day, told his wife, he had a mind for once to go with her himself, and hear the minister of whom she had talked so much. She answered, if he would, he would never speak against him more. And so it proved; for, while he was hearing, the Spirit of God, which, like the wind, bloweth where it listeth, so effectually applied what was said to his heart, that from that time he became a new man and serious Christian, and held it to the last; adoring the grace of God, which, by Mr. Doolittle's ministry, had plucked him as a brand from the burning. The rest of his brethren, who about the same time left their retirements, and entered with more freedom on the exercise of their ministry, were witness to the like success. With reference to this, a great and effectual door was opened to them, which excited the rage of many adversaries, who would not suffer. Them long to go on, in such work as this, without disturbance. The then Lord Mayor, understanding what was designed against them, privately sent for Mr. Doolittle and Mr. Vincent, engaging his word of honor that they should not be detained. When they waited upon his Lordship, he endeavored to dissuade them from preaching, intimating the danger they might otherwise be in. But they told his Lordship, they were satisfied of their right and call to preach the gospel, and therefore could not promise to desist; and in the way of their duty they could trust Providence with their persons and concerns. Upon which, as had been promised, they were dismissed. The Saturday following, a messenger of the king's, with a company of the train bands, came about midnight to seize Mr. Doolittle in his house; but, while they were breaking open the door, he got over the wall to a neighbor's house, and so escaped. After they had searched in vain, and were gone, he returned in the morning, purposing to preach. But a gentleman belonging to Mr. Watson, hearing of what had been done, came early to see him, and gave an account that the like search had been made after Mr. Watson and Mr. Vincent, who therefore thought it not proper to preach, and advised him to desist also, as it looked as if there was some design against them in particular. Mr. Doolittle had one who readily undertook to preach for him, by which means he was preserved that day; for when the minister was in his sermon, a company of soldiers came into the place, and the officer that led them cried aloud to the minister, “I command you, in the king's name, to come down.” The minister answered, “I command you, in the name of the King of Kings, not to disturb his worship, but let me go on.” Upon which the officer bade his men fire. The minister, undaunted, clapt his hand upon his breast, and said, “Shoot, if you please: you can only kill the body, and after that can do no more.” Upon which, the people being all in an uproar, and the assembly breaking up, the minister got away in the crowd, unobserved, and without hurt.

After this, Mr. Doolittle was obliged to be absent from his dwelling-house for several weeks, as guards were set before the meeting-house, to prevent the worship of God there; and at length the justices came, and had the pulpit pulled down, and the doors fastened, with the king's broad arrow set upon them. Upon the license granted by King Charles, in 1672, he resumed his place and work as a preacher, and, moreover, taking a large house at Islington, set up an academy, and as a tutor fitted several young men for the ministry, among whom his own son was one, the late Reverend Mr. Samuel Doolittle, who was many years pastor of a congregation at Reading in Berkshire. When King Charles's license was recalled, and the act came out, driving dissenting ministers five miles from a corporation, Mr. Doolittle broke up house-keeping, and went with his family to board at Wimbleton. Several of his pupils went with him, lodging themselves in neighboring houses, from whence they went to him at appointed hours to be instructed. After this he removed to Battersea, where his goods were seized and sold: And not only here, but in other places, his house was rifled, and his person often in danger; but Providence still favored his escape, so that he was never imprisoned. At length the toleration gave him an opportunity of returning to his old place and people in Mugwell Street, where he continued as long as he lived, a faithful preacher and pastor, watching for souls, as one that must give an account. Besides his preaching twice every Lord's Day, he had also a weekly lecture on Wednesdays. He also printed many practical books, by which, being dead, he yet speaketh. He had a great felicity and delight in catechizing, and urged ministers to it, as of special tendency to propagate knowledge, establish persons in the truth, and prepare them to read and hear sermons with greater advantage.

In 1602 his wife died, who was truly the desire of his eyes, and the most agreeable companion of his life for thirty-nine years; He had by her three sons and six daughters. The loss of his affectionate wife made a very deep impression upon his spirits, which occasioned his preaching and printing those discourses which he called “The Mourner's Directory.” In his latter years he was greatly afflicted with the stone, and by that and other distempers, more than once brought, to appearance, very near the grave; but, on his people's meeting in prayer for him, he was wonderfully restored, and longer spared on this side heaven, as a happy instrument to help others thither.

When thus delivered, he was full of care to answer the purposes of grace in prolonging his day, under the quickening apprehension that it must have an end. With this thought he did what his hand found to do, with all his might, as one waiting for his Lord, and willing and desirous to be found amongst those servants who shall be blessed by him at his coming. Upon his recovery from a sore fit of the stone, in which his life was in danger, he thus writes to his people in the epistle before the Mourner's Directory: “I am sensible I have but a little time to tarry with you; in the grave, whither I am going, I can neither preach nor catechize, nor do any thing for myself or you; the daily thoughts whereof are spurs and goads to me to put on and hasten to do all I can while I am with you. O that I could preach every sermon as a living man, and so near unto eternity! O that you may hear as those that stand upon the brink of the grave, and borders of an eternal world, not knowing which of you may pass out of time into an everlasting state before you may have an opportunity to hear again! That you and I may mind and practice what is preached and heard, according to God's word. With blushing I do acknowledge my inability for such great work; but though I have but half a talent, the Lord knows I do desire to use it and improve it for his glory, and the advantage of immortal souls that shortly must be damned -or saved, and that my endeavors may be so watered with the blessing of God, (who can work by whom he will) that they may issue in the conviction, conversion, and sanctification of the hearers, that they may be saved and not damned, and the account may be given by me and them with joy and not with grief.” Though he entered betimes into the way as a Christian, and into Christ's vineyard as a minister, he held on in both without fainting, even to the seventy-seventh year of his age, and the fifty-third of his ministry. A life prolonged to unusefulness, he would sometimes locution as the greatest trial he feared; but God was gracious to him, and prevented his being put to that trial; for he was capable of service to his last week, and the very Lord's Day before his death he preached and catechized with great vigor. The subject of his last sermon was, 1 John 5:4. And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. By this faith he had lived, and from the same principle, looking unto Jesus, he was enabled in a becoming manner to die.

The time of his sickness was short, being confined but two days to his bed, during which the physicians thought it necessary to keep him for the most part dozing, so that he could not say much to those about him. But, in the valley of the shadow of death, he had God’s gracious presence with him, and so much sense of it as proved a powerful cordial to his support, when flesh and heart were ready to fail. Being desired by his son, when he lay speechless, to signify if he had inward peace and satisfaction as to his eternal state, by lifting up his hand, he readily lifted up his hand, and soon after fell asleep. May 24, 1707, the last of the London ministers ejected by the act of uniformity. His body was carried to the burying place in Bunhill Fields, followed by a numerous train of true mourners.

The next Lord's Day after the interment, his funeral sermon was preached by Dr. Williams, from 2 Corinthians 1:12. For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity und godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world. This character, said the doctor, belonged much to, and was exemplified as plainly in, our worthy brother deceased, as in most. Thus whilst in the world be evidenced that he was not of it, and spent his life and labors in preparing himself and others for a better, to which he is now gone. Ministers, even the most holy and useful, must die as well as others. All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, but the word of the Lord endureth for ever; and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

His Works. “I. A Sermon concerning Assurance, in the Morning Exercise at Cripplegate, 4to. 1661. II. A spiritual Antidote against sinful Contagion (a Cordial for Believers, with a Corrosive for the Wicked) in dying Times, 8vo. 1665. III. A Treatise concerning the Lord's Supper, 12mo. 1665. IV. Directions how to live after a wasting Plague. 8vo. 1666. V. A Rebuke for Sin, by God's burning Anger, 8vo. 1667. VI. The young Man's Instructor, and the old Man's Remembrancer. 8vo. 1673.VII. Captives bound in Chains, made free by Christ their Surety: Or, The Misery of graceless Sinners, and their Recovery by Christ their Saviour. 8vo. 1674. VIII. A Sermon concerning Prayer, in the Supplement to the Morning Exercise. 1674. IX. The Novelty of Popery: A Sermon in the Morning Exercise against Popery. 4to. 1675. X. The Lord's last Sufferings shewed in the Lord's Supper. 12mo. 1682. XI. A Call to delaying Sinners. 12mo. 1683. XII. A Sermon of eyeing Eternity in all we do; in the Continuation of the Morning Exercise. 4to. 1683. XIII. A Scheme of the Principles of the Christian Religion. 8vo. 16S8. XIV. The Swearer silenced: Or, The Evil and Danger of Profane Swearing and Perjury demonstrated. 12mo. 1689. XV. Love to Christ necessary to escape the Curse at his coming, 8vo. 1693. XVI. Earthquakes explained, and practically improved, 8vo. 1693. XVII. The Mourner's Directory, 8vo. 1693. XVIII. A plain Method of Catechizing, 8vo. 1698. XIX. The Saints' Convoy to, and Mansions in Heaven, 8vo. 1698 XX. A Complete Body of Practical Divinity; being a new Improvement of the Assembly's Catechism, fol. 1723.”

Source: Erasmus Middleton. Evangelical Biography, or an Historical Account of the Lives and Deaths of the Most Eminent and Evangelical Authors or Preachers, etc., Vol 4. London: W. Baynes, 1816.